Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Next Big Sound Report Offers Clues To Music's Future

Zack O'Malley Greenburg/Forbes

A little less than a year ago, I profiled music data outfit Next Big Sound and its founder, 30 Under 30 member Alex White. The takeaway: his startup was leading a statistical revolution that I dubbed “Moneyball for Music.”

“Data has transformed industries before,” White explained in an interview for the story. “Music’s the next one.”

Next Big Sound has continued to shine in the intervening time, most recently partnering with Spotify to provide free data to artists and their managers. Late last week, White’s company released its “Year in Rewind” report (the Bill James Baseball Abstract of music, if you will). The numbers offer a fascinating look at an industry in flux.

Perhaps most notable is the data on streaming. Next Big Sound clocked 223 billion total online plays on YouTube, VEVO, SoundCloud, Spotify, Rdio, Vimeo and That’s up about 140% from 93 billion last year, though the increase is skewed by the addition of Spotify numbers in this year’s tally.

For what it’s worth, Nielsen SoundScan’s year end report noted a 32% increase in total streams (not to mention the first-ever drop in digital music sales). But the firm only tracked 118.1 billion plays in total; unlike Next Big Sound, its data didn’t include numbers from Soundcloud, Vimeo or, though it did tally the likes of Rhapsody and Slacker.

Regardless, the message is clear: streaming is soaring faster than demand for Cheetos at a Phish concert, and mp3s are headed the way of the CD. This reality puts even more pressure on the ongoing battle between streaming services and rights holders, namely the Pandora-ASCAP dispute that heads to federal court today.

Next Big Sound’s report also includes a trove of data on the ever-growing importance of social media in the music world. There’s a list of the top ten artists in terms of gains across the platforms of Facebook (No. 1: Shakira, with 18.1 million new likes), Twitter (No. 1: Katy Perry, with 18.3 million new followers) and Instagram (No. 1: Miley Cyrus, with 7.4 million new followers).

Despite well-publicized bad behavior, Justin Bieber is still gaining followers at a mind-blowing clip–he’s No. 2 on both Twitter (15.9 million new followers) and Instagram (7.1 million new followers). And Michael Jackson’s postmortem social media gains might not be quite as impressive as his earnings (he out-earned every living artist last year), but he added 13.5 million new Facebook likes, tenth-best of any musical act.

Next Big Sound’s report also offered data on YouTube’s most popular artists–Psy tops that chart with 1.8 billion views (yes, billion). He’s followed by Macklemore (816 million) and White’s 30 Under 30 listmate Bruno Mars (761 million). Given the latter’s upcoming Super Bowl halftime gig, he figures to fare even better in next year’s report.

“I feel like I’m just getting started,” Mars told me last month. “I haven’t even really scratched the surface yet.”

All in all, “Year in Rewind” emphasizes the industry’s new reality: there are more ways to consume music than ever before, and as a result, engagement is rising by most metrics. Monetization remains the key challenge.

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