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The Music Industry’s Oversaturation Problem

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It’s never been easier for artists to release music and find an audience in any corner of the world. Likewise, it’s never been more difficult for artists to break through the noise. The Internet and streaming services have created a double-edged sword for rising artists. To discuss this, Tatiano Cirisano joined me on the show. Tati is a music analyst at MIDiA Research and a former reporter at Billboard.

 

Tati released a research piece a few weeks ago that argues the music industry is oversaturated and fragmented — more than ever before. This shift has created a new class system for artists.

 

In Group 1 are artists that reached prominence pre-streaming in a less cluttered marketplace (e.g. Beyonce or AC/DC). Class 2 consists of artists who rose in parallel with the proliferation of streaming. Drake and Taylor Swift fall into this category. And then there’s the Class 3, that includes newer artists, who try to cultivate audiences in today’s hyper-competitive landscape against the other two groups. 

 

Tati believes the trend line for the music industry’s fragmentation is clearly pointing up. To understand how we got here, why it matters, and how it redefines success, you’ll want to listen to our interview. Here’s our biggest talking points: 

Superstar artists losing their grip

 

During our conversation, Tati brought up BPI’s annual report All About The Music. The report highlighted a staggering figure in the UK. The top 100 tracks of last year accounted for 4.4% of all streams market-wide — a figure that has more than halved from 2016 when it stood at 10.3%.

 

Tati believes the two biggest reasons for the change are on-demand music and social media algorithms tailoring feeds for niche interests. But while consumption for superstars is on the decline, it’s on the rise for mid-tier artists who aren’t mainstream, but have their own audience

 

“The silver lining is niche communities behind smaller stars are more engaged. We’re entering this age of cult stars rather than superstars.” 

 

Redefining success

 

Music has always been a hits business. Even when Tati shares her findings with record labels, she says their immediate response goes back to driving culture and creating mainstream moments, which can be somewhat intangible since the traditional measures of success are less informative than ever before.. 

 

The recorded music industry still measures success based on album sales. Every few months,we see more evidence that sales is a harder benchmark to rely on. 

 

In  January, Gunna outsold The Weeknd when both of their albums debuted the same week. But  no one would say that Gunna is more “successful” than The Weeknd, who is selling out stadiums right now. 

“It’s becoming harder to use stream counts as a metric of fandom and culture. Those things are building off of streaming platforms. Fandom is building on TikTok and Twitcher, whereas streaming is a passive activity.”

 

Artists themselves are ahead of music executives and media in the way they think of success. Tati mentioned that in surveys MIDiA conducts with artists, fame and fortune has dropped to last among their career priorities. Supplanting fame has been sustainable earnings and achieving recognition within their scene, not necessarily the mainstream.   

 

Platform > creators

 

I don’t need to remind you about TikTok’s insane reach and discovery mechanism. We’ve discussed it at length before. But what hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention is a negative effect of that. The platform users have more loyalty to platforms, and  not enough the creators on those platforms. 

 

The For You Page on TikTok is largely a passive user experience, which makes it difficult to translate those views, likes, or follows onto other platforms. That’s an issue for the music industry which uses TikTok with the intention of driving traffic to music streaming services. 

 

“If the fandom, the culture, and the consumption is happening on TikTok, you’re leaving that on the table when you’re pushing people to Spotify. We should start thinking about these platforms as their own consumption platforms.”

 

The issue stems from misaligned objectives. Platforms need scale to monetize all the combined audiences of individual creators, whereas creators are seeking to cultivate an engaged fanbase. This is a problem that many web3 startups want to address, but it’s an ongoing challenge for many artists and creators today.

 

[3:11] Why consumption is now fragmented

[8:41] Music superstars losing their reach

[10:55] Modern artists valuing fame less than prior generations

[13:24] Benefits to fragmentation

[14:48] Updated benchmark for artist success

[16:50] Active vs. passive listening

[18:53] Music industry is still tied to album sales

[25:34] Artists segmenting audiences by platform

[30:18] Trap of taking users off native platforms

[32:59] Content is becoming more important than the creator

[37:35] YouTube and other potential outlier platforms for audience-building 

 

You can read Tati’s full report here: https://midiaresearch.com/blog/music-is-not-a-level-playing-field-it-is-a-field-of-all-levels

 

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS

 

Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

 

Guests: Tatiana Cirisano, @tatianacirisano

Sponsors:

 

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TRANSCRIPTION

[00:00:00] Tatiana Cirisano: Fame is actually really low on the list of priorities of artists today. And whether that’s because they don’t really want it or because they just don’t think it’s achievable is kind of another layer to that, but the top two things are earning a sustainable income and achieving recognition within their scene. Artists’ definitions of success are changing, but I don’t know if the music industry is really catching onto that or really supporting that because the music business is a hits business and record labels are trying to create superstars and drive culture.

[00:00:38] Dan Runcie: Hey, welcome to The Trapital podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip-hop culture to the next level. 

[00:00:58] Dan Runcie: Today’s conversation is all about why the stars of today cannot be compared to the stars of yesterday in the music industry. And when I’m talking about yesterday, I’m not talking about 20, 30 years ago. I’m talking about 3, 4 even 5 years ago. The era that Drake and even Post Malone and some of these other artists came up in cannot be compared to what’s happening with the artist today and that’s as it relates to streaming, as it relates to TikTok and all the ways that things are fragmented in the creator economy. And it was great to be joined by Tatiana Cirisano. She is a music industry analyst at MIDiA Research, where she has written some insightful pieces and breakdowns on this topic in a whole lot more. We talked about the impacts and the current landscape of the streaming era, and what it looks like for artists that are prioritizing their growth and perfecting what they can do on one platform as opposed to spreading it on others. We also talked about some of the trade-offs and some of the challenges for artists in the creator economy and a whole lot more. She does some great research on this topic. So definitely check out the work she does at MIDiA Research if you haven’t yet, here’s our conversation. Hope you enjoy it. All right, today, we are joined by music industry analyst, Tati Cirisano, who is going to help us solve all of the music industry problems today. Are you ready? 

[00:02:22] Tatiana Cirisano: One can hope. I’ll do my best. 

[00:02:25] Dan Runcie: So what sparked this conversation was a really insightful piece that you had put out recently through MIDiA Research, and this was about the different levels of artists and where they are specifically in the streaming era. And you had this really good breakdown on how you had the artists that were already established in the streaming era such as your AC/DCs or your Beyoncés, they were established before streaming became a thing. You had the artists that were, folks like your Drakes or even your Taylor Swifts that rose while streaming was really huge. And then you have your artists today. Could you talk a little bit about how that differentiation between those groups impacts success and what achieving success looks like today?

[00:03:11] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, no, absolutely. And I’ll kind of back up a little bit to what is underlying all of that, which is just the fragmentation of consumption. And that’s something that we study a lot at MIDiA, and it basically means that you know, with people able to, through streaming, access all the music they could ever want to and listen at any time that they want to, and also with these increasingly sophisticated algorithms kind of pushing people to niches. It follows that there are kind of less mainstream moments or mainstream stars and more of these stars just for individuals and their communities or their niches. And I think that’s something that we’ve all kind of experienced at some point, like, maybe there’s an artist that you’re obsessed with and all of your friend’s love, and you mention it to a friend that is in another circle and they’re like, who’s that? I mean, I get that reaction. I’ve gotten that reaction talking about Bad Bunny before, and he is the top streamed artist in the world. So I think we’ve all had like this anecdotal experience of you thinking that something is mainstream, but it’s not as mainstream as you think it is and that is the fragmentation at work. So this is happening on a really, really accelerated scale now. Just because of how everything is online and on demand and because of these algorithms. So we’re in this situation where the artists that are competing today are in a much more oversaturated and fragmented landscape where it’s a lot harder to have a mainstream impact than the artists that were even chasing success three years ago, five years ago, ten years ago. So the way that I had kind of broken it down, and I think you could actually break it down way further, which I think we’re going to talk about is yeah, the artists that came up before all of this, pre-streaming, really, which are the AC/DCs, even a little bit of like the Beyoncés, and because they built their fan bases at a time before everything was so fragmented and cluttered, they’re still, like, building on that today. They’re still kind of riding that wave. And then you have the artists who came up kind of at the beginning of streaming and before all the second-order impacts happened. So basically streaming did democratize the playing field. It did make it so that way more artists could find their audiences. And there were all these benefits at the beginning, and artists like Drake, Taylor Swift, and Ed Sheeran really benefited from that. But now we’re at a point where streaming has also contributed to this really oversaturated landscape, this really fragmented landscape. And it’s only getting more and more so every year. And so the artists that are competing in that landscape now face really, really unique challenges, yet they’re still competing in the same field as the Drakes, as the Beyoncés, as the AC/DCs. So because so much of this change has happened in just, like, 5 or 10 years, we’re in a situation where the artists of today have very, very different challenges than, I think, even the artists of 2020, like the pace of fragmentation, is just insane. And I have data on that too, that I can share. 

[00:06:00] Dan Runcie: Yeah. It would be great to dig more into that ’cause you’ve mentioned 2020. I look back on that year, especially, maybe the year leading into that, Billie Eilish was someone that was being talked about more and more, and she, of course, ended up sweeping the Grammys that year. But even when she came up, things are even more different now than back then, to your point. 

[00:06:20] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah. I really like the data that BPI pulls on this in there, I think it’s called All About the Music. They have this annual report, and they look at, this is only in the UK, but they look at what percentage of total annual audio streams go towards the top 100 tracks? So, like, how much the hits are dominating basically? And that percentage has halved, more than halved, in the past 5 years. So you see that, like, we still have superstars, but their impact is just kind of lessening. And more, more consumption is going towards sort of like the mid-tier of artists, but it’s spread across them. So it’s just harder and harder to kind of have an impact. So, yeah, I think Billie Eilish is, it’s funny, I feel like she’s such a tough one because I try to use her as examples all the time, and I’m always like, but she is the exception to every rule because she is, like, such a talent. And, you know, I feel like it’s hard to use her as an example in things, but I do think that she even came up in a much less cluttered space. I think that was like, more like 2017, 2018 pre-TikTok. And that’s actually another division that I would make. Like yes, because of TikTok, the app itself, but also because of the fragmentation that it kind of has fostered and that other platforms are now following the footsteps of.

[00:07:38] Dan Runcie: It’s interesting because the BPI data is essentially telling us that a superstar has around half the reach that they maybe once did, or half of that footprint that they did. And it’s one of those things where, of course, there’s that cultural aspect of wanting to feel like something is big enough, so that, yeah, you’re not asking your friends about Bad Bunny. And even though he’s a global superstar, people still don’t know who he is, but is this necessarily an issue as it relates to artists? Because a lot of it does reflect on the expectations that someone may have for their career, so I wonder has the industry itself adapted to the expectations, right? I think a lot of folks understand that no one is necessarily going to have that 1960s Beatlemania level of fame, or even 1980s, Michael Jackson level of fame. But do you feel like people have come around to the fact that no one is going to have 2015 Drake or 2014 Taylor Swift level of fame? Do you feel like that has sunk in yet? 

[00:08:41] Tatiana Cirisano: That’s a really good question. That’s a really, really good question because so much of this is about, like, how we define success in the first place, right? So at MIDiA, we do these surveys of creators where one of the questions we ask every year is what is your definition of success? And we’re finding that, while in the past, the music industry was very much associated with, like, fame and fortune, and like, that was kind of, like, what you’re going after as an artist. Fame is actually really low on the list of priorities of artists today. It’s the last thing. And whether that’s because they don’t really want it or because they just don’t think it’s achievable is kind of another layer to that that I’m not sure the answer to, but the top two things that they choose are earning a sustainable income and achieving recognition within their scene. And I think that’s why so many artists are sort of enticed by the creator economy model because that’s what you’re doing, right? You’re earning a sustainable living from, you know, your biggest fans or the people that are recognizing you within your scene. There are a lot of problematic things about the creator economy and maybe that’s for another episode, but like, I think that what I’m trying to say is I think that artists’ definitions of success are changing, but I don’t know if the music industry is really catching onto that or really supporting that because the music business is a hits business and record labels are trying to create superstars and drive culture. And if the mainstream is almost nonexistent these days, like how do you do that? I do think that the sort of silver lining to it is that these sort of like more niche communities behind these, like, smaller stars are more engaged anyways. So it’s like, do you want this, like, are you trying to go after this passive majority that, you know, maybe isn’t ever going to be that engaged with your music, or would you rather go from a bottom-up approach and kind of find your audience, your niche, and builds from there. And I think that that can be really, really powerful, and we’re kind of entering this age of like cult stars rather than superstars in that sense. I forget what you even. Ask me that launch beyond this rant. 

[00:10:52] Dan Runcie: That was good though. 

[00:10:54] Tatiana Cirisano: Those are my thoughts on success.

[00:10:55] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I feel like that was relevant though that, ’cause cult stars is a great way to capture this because I think shadowing back to the first thing that you said fab and fortune were so linked from the legacy of the music industry. And in many ways, they were linked that you couldn’t really achieve one without the other. There was no one that was making 10 million a year from music as an artist that people really didn’t know about to a certain level in terms of their take-home pay, not in terms of, you know, the money that they’re generating, but today it’s completely different. And of course, yeah, we mentioned how someone like Bad Bunny may be unknown to those outside of the circles. But I think we see this even more so because it’s easier to achieve some of those fortunes without that same level of fame. I look at someone like Russ who, you know, he shares his TuneCore receipts and how, I forget whatever number he is pulling in, whether it’s 6 figures a week or a month, or however much he’s getting there, but he’s clearly showing that he can pull in millions. And I mean, Russ, his music doesn’t hit my circles, and if anything, the more news I hear about Russ is more related to his earnings and how he manages as an independent artist, not necessarily his music itself. And I think that speaks to me not necessarily being in that cult itself, right? But I still think that there is a space and opportunity for those artists that clearly want fame and fortune. You know, if you want to be able to perform in an arena and sell it out and gross, however many millions or, you know, doing the same thing in stadiums, you do have to likely follow a lot of the same traditional things from that path level, but still, even fame from that perspective doesn’t hit the same way that it did. So it’s a really fascinating time, and yeah, I think a lot of it does go back to both artists’ expectations and the industry expectations, if the industry and the artists still have these dreams of thinking that artists can reach the levels of fame that artists did even 6, 7 years ago, then that’s where people should probably be taking, ’cause I’ve had this conversation with so many people and they’ll mention examples like, oh, well look at BTS. Oh, well look at Bad Bunny. Oh, well look at so and so, and I do think that there’s something to be said for just the global aspect of the fame is just how music is reaching in different areas, and maybe that probably reflects that the people that are closest to that global superstar level, maybe just because of how saturated the US is, they’re more likely to come from elsewhere, but who knows? 

[00:13:24] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, no. And there’s also, like, a lot of benefits to this fragmentation, right? Like I feel like I, the way I’m talking about this is very like doom and gloom. but it’s also very beneficial to, like, the middle tier and long tail of artists that, you know, they’re actually able to have audiences. The tricky thing though is that it’s still so hard to break through. It’s such a fascinating conversation to have because whenever we present this data on fragmentation and our thinking around it, the question from labels is always like, okay, but how do we drive culture? How do we create those moments? How do we make something mainstream? And I think there’s an opportunity to kind of, like, labels are really top heavy, right? They’re focusing on like the top three artists in their roster, making them superstars, and I feel like there’s maybe an opportunity to spread resources more evenly across the middle and create those kind of cult stars that we were just talking about. So I think it is about changing your definition of success. I just don’t know, you know, if the music industry wants to. But they might have to, I don’t know. 

[00:14:22] Dan Runcie: Yeah, because to your point, it could be potentially even more profitable to reflect the current playing field and invest in the people that have these niches, and knowing that even though it’s not going to reach everyone if this person is reaching their tribe of people, then they can double down on that. And it could probably end up being even more successful, you investing all your resources to sell you know, three artists on your roster telling that they can be the next Drake.

[00:14:48] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, no, and talking about this is reminding me too of I think we both wrote about the Gunna and The Weeknd album release week, like, whenever that was, time is flying. I think that was like earlier in the year. And how, even though the weekend is like objectively a household name, a bigger star, Gunna had this more engaged niche fan base that, you know, latched onto this P phenomenon and it ended up vaulting him maybe into the mainstream. ’cause the album debuted at number one. So it’s like, which of those scenarios is success? You know, like the P phenomenon that happened, so many people didn’t even know that that was going on. It totally bypassed, like, the majority of the population, right? But for the target audience, it felt mainstream. And I think that that’s like, what’s so different about this current moment is that something can feel mainstream to that circle, but totally bypass the rest of the population. 

[00:15:42] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And there are so many factors at play in that that gets into this broader question that I’ve been thinking a lot about in terms of what does the closest thing we have to a benchmark for success look like, right? Because someone could easily look at that weekend that The Weeknd releases Dawn FM, and Gunna releases his album and Gunna outsells him, and then someone can think, oh, well, look at Gunna, you know, already selling more than the guy that performed at the Super Bowl. But if you look at it another way, The Weeknd is selling out stadiums right now and one of a handful of artists that can do that. And I love Gunna, I think he’s had a great rise in everything, but he’s nowhere near being able to sell out that much, at least in terms of where he is in his career right now. He could get there someday, but he’s not there right now. So I feel like even that makes me wonder, okay, is streaming itself as a predictor for concert tickets or other things becoming harder to inform what it is really reflecting, or is that just its own individual metric that we are looking at? 

[00:16:50] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, I think it is becoming harder to use stream counts as a metric for fandom and for culture because I think those things are building off of streaming platforms. Like, fandom is building on, you know, TikTok or Twitch or wherever, whereas streaming is a lot more of a passive activity. So that’s another thing is like, I feel like we need new metrics and one of them is, like, active versus passive listening, which is something that’s kind of hard to track. How do you do that as a streaming platform? So yeah, I think streams don’t always equal fans and that’s becoming more and more true. It’s just, it’s a lot harder to discern. 

[00:17:31] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And that goes back into this broader question of the Billboard 200 and how it’s trying to both combine streams, and pure album sales, and all these things to get to these numbers that we have. And it’s becoming tougher and tougher to use that as a metric of what success is. If anything, these things are more reflecting, marketing budgets than they are popularity of the actual underlying music. And although the marketing was always tied with it, this is another thing that’s separating further and further. And it reminds me of something that I know that MIDiA has talked about often in terms of measuring the success for these superstars when they do release albums. Remember Mark had that breakdown about Adele and how it should be, how her album for 30, we can’t even compare what she had done when 25 came out in 2015, different era. She did pure CD sales and you could do that in 2015. You can’t do that now. Although I think that vinyls have brought back an interesting conversation with some of this, but still it’s difficult to do that, and it’s making me think again because you had something similar when we looked at Beyoncé and I don’t think you can necessarily compare Renaissance’s numbers to Lemonade or the self-titled album before that. And we’re going to have this conversation again when Taylor Swift’s Midnight album comes out in a couple of months.

[00:18:53] Tatiana Cirisano: No, it’s so true. And I actually, I had that exact conversation with someone recently about, you know, the Billboard 200 and the Hot 100 and how it’s not necessarily measuring, there’s a lot of places that get left out from that count in terms of how people are consuming music. Like, I think so much of listening is happening and the fandom around it is happening off platform these days or off DSPs. It’s happening like on TikTok and all these other spaces, in games, you know, wherever. And I don’t know if we’re accurately measuring that. I also don’t think that, like I said, we’re measuring so much, you know, active versus passive listening and these sort of segments of fans on streaming. Like, streaming kind of equates everyone as the same consumer, right, whether you’re a super fan or whether you just press play on a playlist and sit back, you’re still paying the same. You’re still kind of equated as the same thing. So the question is how should we measure success today? Or how should we measure cultural impact? It’s so hard ’cause I think in a lot of ways it goes beyond music. Like, if you’re an artist who has really had a cultural impact, that impact is transcending music anyway, and that’s kind of what it means to be like an icon or to be a cultural icon in that way. So I don’t know. It’s really tough not to crack. Like, a lot of these things are qualitative, right? Like, how do you measure the cultural impact that something has? And I don’t think that it necessarily parallels commercial success. Like, you can have something that had a huge cultural impact on a certain group but didn’t really hit the charts or change the way that people think about making music but didn’t really hit consumers the same way. So now I’m just ranting and rambling.

[00:20:34] Dan Runcie: Let’s explore this a bit though. 

[00:20:36] Tatiana Cirisano: It’s tough. 

[00:20:37] Dan Runcie: Let’s explore a bit though because you brought up this point about active versus passive listening. So if I’m understanding you correctly, even if we started there, active listening is Gunna’s album’s coming out, I’m a Gunna fan, it’s midnight. I want to press play and hear this album on Friday morning. 

[00:20:55] Tatiana Cirisano: That would be a great metric to know is, right, and I guess we have first-day streams as kind of an indicator. 

[00:21:01] Dan Runcie: But I guess you’re saying, that’s different from passive listening, which may be it’s Friday. I just want to put RapCaviar on and then boom, RapCaviar has eight tracks that are going to be in the first 20 tracks that I just play as I’m going to work or something.

[00:21:17] Tatiana Cirisano: Right. Exactly. And I think that’s where it’s more and more difficult to know, and it would be really helpful information for artists to have as well because if you’re going to go this route that we’ve been talking about of, you know, finding your niche and finding your biggest fans and sort of going from a bottom-up approach in this fragmented environment, trying to become a cult star, you need to know who your most active listeners are, and I think that’s really hard for artists to know today. 

[00:21:43] Dan Runcie: I think part of the other challenge, too, with any type of metric is that the music industry itself is still tied to album sales. So anything that can translate back to that will always be there. So even if streams are how majority of music consumption is happening, as it relates to chart performance, it’s always going to be challenging from that perspective because I feel like the resurgence of vinyl brings back an opportunity to push these things. I look at how well Harry Styles’ album had performed, but a majority of the sales from that album was because of the vinyl that he had that was sold with it. But given all the shortages, how much of Harry Styles’ performance is based on the pure demand that he had, which I know, obviously, he sold them. But because of how high his number is relative to, let’s say some other artists that are signed to Sony and Columbia, what if they had the same type of inventory? I think that I had similar questions thinking about whether it was a Beyoncé or even a Kendrick Lamar. If they had the amount of vinyl inventory that he had, would it be a completely different discussion? I feel like the two of them maybe had around 300,000 or so first-week album sales, Harry Styles was over half a million. But if we were to still give them all the same inventory on that perspective, what that would look like? So there’s all these ways that when you look at the data, it’s telling you completely different things, but people are still just responding to the top line revenue number, and it brings us back into this whole thing that we just talked about with Gunna versus The Weeknd where it’s like, okay. Yep, these numbers may tell you something, but when you really dig in, it’s something completely different. So it becomes a mess to try to quantify. 

[00:23:37] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, exactly. You hit the nail on the head.

[00:23:39] Dan Runcie: Yeah, because the comparison I’ve always had as a joke is like let’s say that the music industry was still stuck on trying to measure everything by DVD and VHS sales, right? So they had some amalgamation of some calculation that had whatever percentage of streams that you had on Netflix that was weighted with this, plus how many VHS sales you had, plus how many DVD sales, and this gives you a DVD equivalent unit. If you presented that metric to someone, someone would be like, that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. 

[00:24:13] Tatiana Cirisano: Right, right. 

[00:24:13] Dan Runcie: They would laugh at you out of the door, but that’s what we’ve normalized in the music at this time.

[00:24:19] Tatiana Cirisano: That’s what we’re doing. Isn’t that just a metaphor for so much? Yeah, it’s true. I also think it goes back to exactly what you’re saying about, maybe these charts are more indicating the marketing budget and you know, how they decided about bundles or we’re going to sell vinyl or whatever we’re going to do to try to make it to the top of the charts. And I wonder what these charts would look like weighted differently, or we are talking about fragmentation. It’s so fascinating to look at, you know, the charts across different platforms and see that they’re totally different. So I do wonder a lot, like what are we actually measuring when we’re looking at, you know, the Hot 100 or the Billboard 200.

[00:24:57] Dan Runcie: Great question and great segue, too, ’cause I wanted to chat with you about this, how you look at a lot of these platform charts, especially the non-digital streaming providers and the artists who are on the top look completely different. You even see this a little bit with some of the DSPs as well, where some of the artists on top of your Amazon and Apple music may look a little different from what you see on Spotify. What’s your take on that overall and do you think that artists themselves should be keeping this in mind when they are focusing or when they are thinking about how best to build an audience? 

[00:25:34] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, no. I mean, I think that it’s just another really apparent reflection of the fragmentation that’s happening. And I think it does make sense knowing all this as an artist to rather than try and dominate every platform, which is next to impossible, trying to kind of find where you fit in and dominate there. And that is sort of like that bottom-up approach, but from a platform perspective, and also might, like, reduce the feeling from artists that they need to be, you know, popular everywhere and they need to be churning out content on every platform and all that. I think the risk though, is that, especially when we’re talking about non-DSP, there’s artists that maybe have the most followers on TikTok, but they’re not being followed for their music. They’re being followed ’cause they make funny videos or their song has the most uses because it’s become a joke that people are sharing around and not as many people are streaming it offline. So I think it is a good idea as an artist to maybe figure out what platform fits you best, but you also need to understand, like, the particular sort of idiosyncrasies of each of those platforms. I also think, I think you’ve written about this a lot like segmenting your audience across platforms as a strategy. And I think that’s another way that you can kind of use this information as an artist if you know that you have an audience on one platform that is looking for this specific thing and another, that’s looking for another, why not, you know, release your full album on Spotify, but you know, the deluxe edition only on Patreon for your biggest supporters or something like that. Or even, there’s this indie artist mxmtoon, who I think is a really interesting example of like a modern-day sort of artist slash creator where she has a presence on pretty much every platform. YouTube, she has a podcast, she’s on TikTok, she has like a Discord, I think. But every single one of those is used for something totally different. And she has audiences that kind of funnel through all of them. But YouTube is where she does ukulele tutorials and, like, TikTok is where she does Q and As, and the Discord is where the true fans go to congregate. And that’s also a path that may be unsustainable for a lot of artists, and I don’t like, I’m not trying to suggest that everyone should be on every platform, you know, there are eight octopus arms, like doing all the things. I think that’s one of the, like, things that’s problematic about the creator economy, but, but yeah, I do think that it’s really valuable for artists to understand this fragmentation and how it plays out on different platforms because I do think there are ways to navigate that and kind of use it to your advantage. 

[00:28:07] Dan Runcie: There’s definitely a benefit to focus here. And this, as you mentioned, spans beyond artists. It does look at everyone that is a creator. And maybe just for clarity for the folks listening, when we’re talking about DSPs, we’re specifically talking about the ones that a lot of people are paying monthly subscriptions to, so your Spotify, Amazon, Apple music. When we’re talking about non- DSPs, we’re talking about the place where you could still hear music and artists can still build platforms, but they’re not in the same type of way as the other. So we’re talking about TikTok, we’re also talking about YouTube and maybe some of the other platforms there, although YouTube does have some hybrid tendencies there, but to level set that piece of it. I do think that focus helps a lot because I look at someone like an NBA YoungBoy and how he’s been able to just blow up and dominate on YouTube. That takes time of really understanding the algorithm, understanding what works here, and just given how big the platform is that did help him grow and have traction on Apple music, on Spotify, and on other places. So I’ve heard a lot of people refer to this 80-20 rule. That’s a lot of content creators, which I think could be helpful for artists as well, where if there was a platform that you’re focusing 80% of your time to try to focus on and just understand, especially if there’s an advantage there where others that are in your niche, maybe aren’t necessarily doing as much. And then you’re still having your feet in the others to just understand what those opportunities could look like. I feel like that type of approach could work well because that’s how you get to the levels of, you mentioned the independent artists who essentially tailored so much of the content for each area. And while there’s a lot that benefits there, obviously, it isn’t completely scalable, but I feel like that’s how you get to these things. And we’ve seen other examples of how people have just focused on a particular platform or just doubled down the risk of that. Of course, when we can talk about this in a minute, is that you do relinquish a lot of your power to any decision that that platform does make, especially if you’re relying on so much of it for your business when you necessarily own anything underneath that. So there’s definitely trade-offs, but there’s benefits too. 

[00:30:18] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, no, that’s a huge issue there. Which we’ll get, yeah, we’ll get into more of that, that stuff in a minute, but this approach of like focusing on a platform also means that you’re seeing these non- DSP platforms as a form of consumption in their own right, rather than just using them as a funnel to streaming, which I think is like a trap that the music industry has kind of fallen into is, oh, make something go viral on TikTok and then push everybody to Spotify. And it’s like, if the fandom and the culture and a lot of consumption is happening on TikTok, you’re leaving that on the table when you’re pushing people to Spotify. And you know, I think that there’s a lot to be gleaned there, and we should start thinking about these platforms as their own consumption platforms in their own right.

[00:30:58] Dan Runcie: Yeah. As a content creator myself, I’ve heard a lot of people use that analogy of give, give, give, give, give, and then ask. So it’s not like you’re just going there and asking and trying to transport folks over. You’re still making some enough effort to make sure that you’re connecting authentically with the folks on the platform, but you still know that when there was time for an ask, you’re thoughtful about how you’re doing, and you’re not doing it all the time because trying to take people off the platform, especially TikTok, which has grown in so many ways because of passive engagement, it’s even harder. 

[00:31:31] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, yeah, no, I think this is something that you wanted to get into anyway, but just, like, the objectives of the platform and the creator are totally different because the platform has the best-case scenario when there is all this passive viewing and people are just scrolling endlessly and they’re spending a lot of time on the platform, but that’s not the best case scenario for the creator. So the audience and the platform get all the benefit. And the creator kind of falls to the wayside. And I think that’s a big issue that we’re seeing in the creator economy. 

[00:31:57] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And this is a big issue that I know that people have had about Web 2.0 more broadly and just how this can be improved. The challenge I’ve seen though is that any type of platform I’ve seen that does try to be more creator-focused and doesn’t try to do the same things that marginalize the content that the creators make, a lot of those platforms struggle to gain traction, or they’re only used in these niche type of ways. So it creates a bit of this double-edged sword where the creators themselves feel like, well, if I focus on the platforms that are solely built to cater to me and prioritize me over the content, then it’s going to be hard to get the users there because it isn’t designed in a way to keep the users engaged, just thinking about the extent that the more popular platforms do and more popular platforms are the ones that prioritize the content over the creators. So it’s one of these unfortunate situations that has continued on and on, and that’s why we’re at the point we are now.

[00:32:59] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, I think that we do see that happen more often than not. And before we even got to this point where content is becoming more important that the creator, which I could talk about in a minute the objectives are just totally, like I said, misaligned, like the platforms need scale. They need to monetize. All of the combined audiences of these individual creators. But the creators are looking more so for fan bases and engaged followers than they are looking for, you know, these passive audiences. So it actually, I think a lot of the struggles that creators are having with these platforms sort of echo issues that artists have had with streaming platforms in really interesting ways. Because it’s similar to how like rights holders, like labels are monetizing scale of being able to own all of the songs and therefore all of the audiences of dozens, if not hundreds of artists, but those artists individually will never have enough scale to earn a meaningful income from streaming. And I think the same sort of thing is playing out with creators now where the platform is getting all the benefit because they get the combination of all these audiences and it’s best for them. If people are just mindlessly scrolling, whereas creators have just totally different objectives and a different way of earning money. And then the current algorithm, or like the one that everyone’s trying to kind of copy, which is TikTok, is making matters worse because there’s no need to even actually follow anyone or, you know, really engage that much with the platform because you’re going to be served content that is tailor-made for you regardless. So we’re kind of teaching people with that kind of discovery-focused feed, not to actually follow individuals and more to just expect this constant flow of content. And again, going back to the parallels with streaming, it’s interesting how we went from a few years ago, talking about TikTok as this amazing democratizing force to now talking about how well, yeah, it’s democratized ’cause everybody can post anything, but it’s impossible for anyone to get heard. We’ve gone through the same trajectory with streaming where, 5 years ago, we were all saying, oh, my God, streaming is great. It’s democratized the industry. And in many ways it has, but now we’re seeing all these second-order impacts where it’s really, really hard for anyone to break through the noise, and it’s really, really hard for anyone to earn meaningful income, so, yeah. 

[00:35:14] Dan Runcie: The pattern is clear. You laid it out perfectly. 

[00:35:17] Tatiana Cirisano: It’s crazy. 

[00:35:17] Dan Runcie: And one thing about TikTok, everyone talks about how quick it is to grow a following, how favorable the algorithm is when you start off, and all those things are intentional. It is the easiest platform to be able to gain tens of thousands of followers and even more, but it’s the hardest to be able to translate those followers into actual fans because it’s more likely that they are going to be passive folks that are engaging versus active ones. And we’re going to see more and more of that, especially given to goals to try to expand into so many other places, and then additionally, every other app trying to copy what TikTok is doing, because they see that being the norm. And now that that’s what they see as the standard operating procedure for how to keep people’s attention and engagement, everyone is trying to have their own version of that.

[00:36:09] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, you know, and I think that people do have an appetite for, like, wanting to follow individuals. I mean, that’s what everything has been based on up until now. And people were annoyed when Meta changed its algorithm and said, it’s all going to be discovery-focused now because you go to Instagram to see updates from your friends and people that you follow, not to just get this feed of things that you’ve people you’ve never heard of. So I think that there is still, like, an appetite for that. And there’s sort of a chance to recalibrate and allow more ways to actually follow creators and not just make it all about each individual piece of content. But I think that we’re kind of in a critical window right now to preserve that. And I don’t know if we’re talking about this enough. Yeah, it’s just the situation, like to kind of bring it back to artists is really difficult because you need every individual thing that you post to do well. It’s not enough to just have one thing, draw someone in because they might not even follow you from there. And they’re just consistently scrolling and getting more and more content. So there’s just this endless churn of content happening. And it’s just, yeah, it’s benefiting audiences and it’s benefiting platforms, but it’s not benefiting creators. 

[00:37:18] Dan Runcie: The need to preserve is there, as you mentioned, and we talked a lot about some of the platforms that have made it challenging. Are there ready that stand out to you that you’re like, okay, they are at least making an effort or do you feel like there’s more opportunity there relative to some of the other platforms that exist?

[00:37:35] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah. I do think that YouTube could be an exception to the rule with this. I think that it’s a really interesting company because when you think about it, they kind of were the original creator economy company and kind of are seemingly doubling down on that now. I think that it’s great how there’s sort of this network between YouTube shorts, YouTube music, YouTube, and that’s sort of what I think is missing, but won’t be for long from TikTok is that you have to switch to a different platform to listen to the music, which is why if ByteDance, you know, release Resso worldwide or make this TikTok music app, it might become crazy powerful, but, yeah, I think YouTube does have this focus on channels and following people. And I think a lot of creators have been able to build sustainable incomes there. But I do worry that the impact of all these other platforms kind of teaching people not to follow and not to follow individuals and channels is going to have an impact, but I think YouTube has a lot of potential. 

[00:38:35] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think so, too. It definitely is the platform, bad thing has the most ability to offer this just given the full complexity of whether or not you’re an artist, you’re someone that’s creating any type of thing that has video, you’re probably going to be on there. I also do think about platforms like SoundCloud, Audiomack, and Tidal as well because…

[00:38:55] Tatiana Cirisano: A hundred percent.

[00:38:56] Dan Runcie: … even though they may not necessarily fit into the same buckets as some of the others we mentioned, I do think that the things they’ve tried to do, whether it’s with SoundCloud’s fan-powered royalties or with Tidal’s user-centric base model, which is similar, or even what Audiomack has done with its supporters program, allowing people to say, Hey, this is the person that I want to give my money to. If there’s extra money at the end of the year, this is the person I want to have a badge on and want to be able to share that with the profile, they keep the connection there. They’re willing to share who are particular artists’ followers and fans are, which is something that most of the other DSPs don’t allow to happen. So I do think that they are more unique opportunities. And also, I would say tracing back to the last thing we talked about, a place where a lot of artists, if they are trying to build up a fan base on a particular platform could be an interesting angle to prove, because I do think there is a certain type of fan and artist that thrives on each of those platforms individually, just given the brand there, everything else. So those are the ones that I keep an eye out for, the same way that we saw NBA YoungBoy and others rise up. SoundCloud, of course, had its SoundCloud rap era and there’s still artists coming out there. And of course, Tidal, I think, just given its origins will always have deep roots within hip-hop culture. So I’m always keeping an eye out for those.

[00:40:18] Tatiana Cirisano: A hundred percent. No, I’m glad you brought up Audiomack and SoundCloud. Those are two companies that, I mean, we worked with SoundCloud on a user-centric royalties white paper that was really just eye-opening with all of this. And I do think that there are opportunities to, going back to what we were saying about being able to actually segment your fans on streaming and see who are your biggest supporters and not have everyone just equated into the same bucket. I think what Audiomack is doing is really smart because those support badges are also a way for people to express themselves. If you have that in your profile, you know, it says something about who you are. And I think there’s a lot more opportunities to bring music and self-expression closer together ’cause I think that streaming has kind of pulled them apart a little bit by sort of equating everyone. So yeah, I think those are really good examples and really promising.

[00:41:04] Dan Runcie: So there you have it. We solved it. I think in this conversation, we solved it all. 

[00:41:10] Tatiana Cirisano: There we go. We can all go home. Class is dismissed. 

[00:41:13] Dan Runcie: This is great. Tati, thanks for sharing your insights and some of the highlights of the research you’ve done on this space. Excited to see what you have coming up next, especially now that things are ramping back up for the industry. So for the folks listening, where can they stay tuned to keep up with the latest research that you have coming out? 

[00:41:32] Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah. You can go to MIDiAResearch.com, where we have a blog that I write on often. Those posts are free. So even if you’re not a client, you can read them. And I also wanted to mention that I’ll be talking more about this exact topic at Stan Con in New York on October 5th, which is Denisha, who I think she had an episode with you recently, right, Dan. If you heard that episode, it’s her conference, so I’ll be there talking more about fandom and fragmentation. So looking forward to that and thank you so much for having me. 

[00:41:59] Dan Runcie: Of course, great minds coming together. I’m glad you’re going to that. That’s awesome. Thank you.

[00:42:03] Dan Runcie: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend. Copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups, wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That’s how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you’re at it, if you use Apple podcast, go ahead, rate the podcast. Give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you liked the podcast. That helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.

 

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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