How Playlists Reshaped the Music Industry

See how much playlists and streaming have replaced album sales, and get useful tips for optimizing your playlist performance.
How Playlists Reshaped the Music Industry
Sara Mekinc

With live events off the table, streaming became an important source of revenue for many artists. Just how much money are we talking about? Here’s what we found out while working on integrating playlist data into our Viberate analytics.

Playlists and streaming = new cash flows

The music industry landscape has changed A LOT in the last 20 years. There were decades when musicians and their teams could make a decent living off album sales since physical formats were king. In 1999, CD sales were peaking with $15Baccounting for 88% percent of the recorded music revenue that year, according to RIIA. 

Fun fact: in 2019, CD sales were still more profitable than album downloads, which come in at a meager $645M.

Fast forward to 2019, and the situation is quite different: the revenues are fragmented throughout numerous formats, and the recorded music revenue is half the size it was 20 years ago at $13.1B. The majority of traffic – and therefore, the revenue – happens on the streaming platforms. Paid subscriptionsbring in almost $7B (a little over half of the total revenue) and ad-supported, on-demand streaming comes in a remote second with $1B.

What a difference 20 years make. 

While streaming revenue is nowhere near replacing album sales yet, we can see why standing out on streaming platforms is important to musicians. A stable income from streaming isn’t something that an up-and-coming artist can realistically count on, but they can benefit from being featured on a playlist in other ways. 

Artists can use analytics to strategically “growth hack” their streaming performance.

Even a spot on a modestly followed one can bring significant exposure, meaning more listeners, more PR, and subsequently, new opportunities and more fans on their social channels. Some artists even go as far as to think about how they can optimize their playlist performance by writing “playlist-perfect” tracks. Usually, that includes writing shorter songs and launching them in short intervals, avoiding long intros/outros to reduce skipping, inventing new genres, and also paying attention to cover art.

What can artists do to get playlisted? 

During our Viberate analytics beta-test interviews, we've collected some top tips and ideas by artists on how they’re approaching the situation today.  

In the not-recommended section: paying for playlist placement. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually hurts you in the long run. 

Still, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between reaching millions of streams and growing a loyal fanbase. Depending solely on playlists isn’t the most reliable growth strategy. There are “playlist superstars” out there who we bet couldn’t bring 30 people to their local gig. Well, OK, that doesn’t matter right now with the Covid limitations and all, but live shows are bound to come back, so it pays to think long term. Grow your fanbase across different channels, and with different approaches. We’ll be there to support you along the way. 


Cover photo: Unsplash / Jason Leung


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Sara Mekinc

Sara Mekinc

Content Specialist at Viberate
Avid concert-goer, a sucker for creative wordsmithery, and 100 % biodegradable. Google "melomaniac".