What does it take to be a top Spotify artist? 6 fascinating stats about the top 1000 Spotify artists

This story originally appeared on Skoove and was produced and distributed in partnership with DataPulse

On the Spotify music streaming platform, Johann Sebastian Bach has the same number of followers as the 1990s grunge band Soundgarden. The Belgian rapper Stromae shares the same number of streams as 77-year old country music legend Dolly Parton.

What ties these artists together? What sets them apart?

Skoove worked with the research experts at Datapulse to compare and contrast the top 1,000 Spotify bands and solo artists. The team created a bespoke dataset from multiple sources to analyze demographic trends among artists on the list. We found some interesting insights and trends, compiled below.

The underlying data for the analyses came from multiple sources, including ChartMasters’ list of Top Spotify Artists, Wikidata, and manual research and aggregation. In order to extract insights about musicians who are in bands and groups, we looked at characteristics of the lead composer or band frontperson. Let’s dive in.

Superstars are few and far between

Before we go too deep into what makes a top artist, let’s first get a sense for who they are. Below is a chart showing the full list of Spotify’s 1,000 top bands and solo artists. What’s clear from this visual is that those who make it to the very top are breakout stars even among this elite group.

Most of the artists haven’t managed to surpass 15 billion streams or 25 million followers on Spotify. Number of Spotify streams shows popularity at the current moment, based on the number of plays to date. Number of Spotify followers, on the other hand, offers a prediction of future plays because followers tend to consume artists’ music over a long period of time.

Reaching 30 billion streams is an accomplishment only reserved for a very elite few, including BTS, Eminem, Ariana Grande, and The Weeknd. At the upper echelons of the music industry are world-famous superstars Ed Sheeran (who holds the most followers), Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, and Drake (who touts a record-holding 67 billion streams).

The vast majority of top-performing musicians did not receive private music lessons or tutoring.

From the Spotify list of top 1,000 artists by number of streams, we looked at a small subset of about 200 elite musicians — the top-streaming artists from the US and their counterparts from the UK. Among them, we found that only 11% of American artists and 30% of UK artists had ever received regular, structured training from professional music teachers or instructors. This includes consistent private lessons or tutoring.

So how did the majority of these musical stars learn their craft? Most likely it’s a combination of informal education including family and friend influences, and independent, self-taught methods with tools such as how-to books, apps, and videos. Artists in this self-taught group include Lil Wayne, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Doja Cat, and John Lennon. Stay tuned for our upcoming deep dive into the journeys of these (and many other) self-taught artists, where we'll explore their music education backgrounds in more detail.

Male artists overwhelmingly dominate the streaming platform, except in the pop genre.

On Spotify, the vast majority of the top artists are male. In our analysis of the 1,000 most streamed bands and solo artists, just shy of 80% of them have male leads versus 20% female leads. Less than 1% are nonbinary or transgender.

This trend holds true at the upper echelons of the rankings, as well: 73% of artists in the top 100 list are male, as the chart below shows:

But when broken out by the type of music these artists are best known for, the gender balance shifts. Just take a look at the top seven genres (which account for 85% of the top 1,000 Spotify artists). Latin, hip hop, and rap have extremely low rates of female representation. Rock and country, at 80% male, are roughly in line with the overall industry.

But when it comes to pop music, just under two-thirds of the top artists are male. This music genre stands out as being the most gender balanced, even though female artists are still underrepresented.

Hard rock stars are getting old.

The average age for top musical artists is 40 years old. But the range of ages spans from 18-year-old indie artist d4vd to the 91-year-old composer John Williams.

Among all the bands and artists in the Spotify database — excluding roughly 125 who are deceased or whose ages are not verified — the top artists certainly span generations, but skew older or younger depending on their genre. We found that hip hop artists have an average age of 33, while classical musicians average 57 years old.
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Of course, average age provides only a snapshot of the industry. In fact, there’s quite a range within each genre, as the chart shows below. (We only considered genres that have five or more bands or solo artists represented in the top 1,000 Spotify list.) While both pop and rock genres dominate the charts, rock has a heavier concentration of older artists: 45% of rock stars are over 50, compared with only 12% of pop stars. Hover over the triangles in the chart to see age details for each band lead or solo artist.


Renowned musicians from past eras don’t top the charts.

Even for living artists, it’s hard to stay relevant — or, at least, relevant enough to hold a spot in listeners’ playlists. For deceased artists, only the most well regarded superstars maintain an audience decades after their deaths.

How does the data show this? First, because the top 1,000 Spotify artists are almost all still living. Only 71 are deceased — and almost all of them died in the recent past, as the chart shows below. More than two-thirds (48) died within the last 25 years and most of them (38) were within the last decade. About one-in-five artists, including John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Bob Marley, died between 25 and 49 years ago.

With few exceptions, artists who died more than 50 years ago aren’t on the list. There is no one particular reason for this. Rather, it’s a combination of factors stemming from human preferences, evolving recording technology, and the way Spotify catalogs music.

Consider that music styles come and go over time and Spotify’s audience tends to skew younger; more than half of its listeners are under age 34, according to 2018 survey data published by the data aggregation firm Statista. It stands to reason, then, that Spotify’s core users are generally not making playlists of songs from their grandparents’ youth, nor are they rocking out to Classical music scores. (Other platforms like Idagio and Apple Music Classical cater more to fans of that genre.)

Additionally, music that was written prior to phonographic recordings exist on Spotify as reproductions. If, say, a modern-day orchestra performs — and records – Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the attribution for that piece can get complicated. The trouble stems from the vagaries in the metadata (or metrics that identify the music) that index each piece of music and are key to the platform’s search function. Therefore, our analysis, which uncovered only two composers from more than 200 years ago (Bach and Mozart), is both an indication of evolving musical tastes and a quirk of Spotify’s functionality.

Lyrical artists sing in English — even if it’s not their nation’s primary language.

Just about every musician on Spotify’s list is known for lyrical music (a small minority — only five artists — are known for instrumental music).

When we took a closer look at the lyrical artists, we found 25 different singing languages between them, but English is by far the most popular. About two of every three artists sing in English (64%), followed by Spanish (18%). After that, language popularity drops off quickly to Portuguese and Indian languages (4% each), and Korean (3%). All the other languages combined can be tied to the remaining 7% of artists on the list.

The clearest reason for this is the prevalence of artists from English-speaking countries. Nearly half are from the U.S., with many from the U.K., Canada, Australia, and Ireland. But, notably, a good number of singers who perform in English are from countries where English is not the dominant language.

We tallied the number of artists by country and language in the chart below and were intrigued to find that most countries have at least one English singer. In total, we found 56 artists on the Spotify list are known for their English songs, yet come from nations where English is not the primary language.


Conclusion

All in all, our analysis of the top Spotify artists left us with a wide array of remarkable findings. It’s fascinating that the vast majority of top-tier musicians do not receive private instruction. And it’s equally disappointing that the industry has yet to correct its gender imbalance. Additionally, we were surprised to uncover links between genre and age, as well as the dominance of English lyrics. These insights are ripe for further exploration.

 

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