How (and why) Billie Eilish won Glastonbury

Glastonbury returned to great fanfare after the pandemic-enforced break, which meant it was the first one since 2019. The music world has changed a lot since then, with streaming getting bigger than ever and TikTok now established as a cornerstone of the music business. Back in 2019, the standard thing to do was to look at how much Glastonbury boosted streaming numbers of artists who were on the bill, but in today’s world, it is the impact on an artist’s fanbase that is arguably most important.

The BBC and Glastonbury partnership is a fandom engine room 

Glastonbury plays an important role because it is broadcast (TV and radio) and streamed in the UK by the BBC, which means it is a rare thing in today’s on-demand world: it is a cultural moment. Due to the splintering of culture and the fragmentation of fandom, cultural moments in music have largely gone, replaced by the asynchronous paradigm that streaming enables. In the past, summers were soundtracked by hits that everyone knew, now algorithms and personalisation mean that everyone has their own summer hit. Meanwhile, streaming has turned music into a utility, more of a soundtrack to our daily lives than a cultural touchpoint. If streaming has turned music into water, then what we now need are glasses to drink it from. In the UK, Glastonbury provides a counterpoint to that dynamic, presenting a few days in which everyone, from casual viewers through to due hard music fans, can watch great music – music that is, crucially, often outside of what they would usually listen to. The reason this matters is because streaming algorithms deliver us more of what we like and, thus, narrows our cultural scope. The handpicked and diverse line up of Glastonbury, amplified by the expert curation and programming of a national broadcaster, breaks music listeners out of the algorithm cage. There are not many algorithms that would present Wolf Alice alongside Diana Ross. The Glastonbury / BBC combination thus presents a real-world evidence point for how genuine discovery can be brought back into music. It is not instead of streaming, but, instead, amplifying it. 

Finding new audiences

So much for the consumer case, but what about the artist case? What an artist (and labels) really want is not just a temporary streaming boost, but a long-term lift to fanbases. Big streaming counts are a great calling card, but, unless they are huge, they do not add up for most artists. And a weekend bump is only of any real value if it provides the footprint for a longer term fanbase lift. So, what really matters is how a one-off event drives fandom growth. But how is that measures? Well, it just so happens that MIDiA is currently building a fandom measurement tool that we are calling Music Index. Let us take a look at some of MIDiA’s Index data to show just how much impact Glastonbury has already had on some of the artists who performed there.

One of the key things we do with Index is create artist cohorts to enable comparisons across similar artists, with the top performing artist in each category indexed as 100 and the others against that base. So, we defined a Glastonbury cohort to track fandom and engagement impact across these artists. Looking at the top five artists in our ‘engagement’ metric (a hybrid measure that includes streaming, YouTube, etc.), the clear winner was Kendrick Lamar, with AJ Tracey being a close second and Wet Leg a not-too-distant third. These three artists all saw the biggest gains during and after Glasto.

The vast majority of established artists do not rely on streaming as their primary income, so measuring engagement is only part of the picture. Which brings us onto our next metric, ‘fandom’, another hybrid metric that captures a large collection of fandom and social behaviours. What is interesting here is that the rankings are very different, with Billie Eilish, who was not even in the ‘engagement’ top five, not only coming out on top, but way ahead of the rest. Unlike with engagement, the distance to second and third spots is much larger. Notwithstanding, Kendrick Lamar grabs another podium spot and also saw a stronger uplift than Megan Thee Stallion, though the latter was already more highly ranked before Glasto and remains ahead.

One of the key inputs into MIDiA’s Music Index is Wikipedia. It is a heavily underrated artist metric that is front of mind for music marketers. Wikipedia is so useful because it reflects a consumer’s desire to go further, to learn more about the artist. It is a fandom lean-in metric. Whereas a Google search may simply be geared to going and finding a track, a Wikipedia view is a first step towards a deeper level of fandom. The Wikipedia spikes for the Glastonbury artist cohort demonstrates a very clear pattern of spikes in line with performances, thus highlighting the huge benefit of a widely broadcast and streamed live performance in penetrating new audiences for artists. Beyond the bigger acts, Sam Fender and Yungblud both saw strong spikes following their performances, further evidence of the unique power of the broadcast and streamed event helping artists connect with new fans.

Taken together, the Glastonbury impact can be defined as follows:

  • Kendrick Lamar might have gotten the biggest consumption bump, but Billie Eilish is likely the one who ended up with the largest long-term uplift to her fanbase
  • The Glastonbury / BBC partnership makes a compelling case for the power of building artist reach to wider audiences via tentpole, live performances broadcast and online 

Artists in the UK understand just how Glastonbury can create career-defining cultural moments – just ask Sam Fender. But the case here should be less about Glastonbury itself and more about how the live / broadcast / stream model presents a global use case for reinvigorating cultural moments in the era of splintered culture.

If you are interested in learning more about MIDiA’s forthcoming Music Index tool (there is a LOT more to it than what was covered here!) then drop a line to stephen@midiaresearch.com

Abbey Road 50 Years On: The Two Worlds of Music Listening

Half a century after it first after it first topped the charts, the Beatles’ Abbey Road is back at the summit of the UK charts. With the anniversary editions retailing for between $20 and $100, the impact on Universal Music’s revenue will be even more pronounced than the chart position, as we saw with the deluxe editions of the White Album (which had editions priced up to $145) helping the Beatles become the fourth-biggest UMG artist in revenue terms in 2018. The continued success of the Beatles tells us three main things:

  1. The band has enduring appeal in a way few bands have so long after their demise
  2. Universal is doing a fantastic job of managing the legacy of the Beatles with smart and effective catalogue marketing and product strategy
  3. Older, physical-focused music fans remain the quickest route to high-value, large-scale revenue

It is this last point that is going to be explored here.

Streaming is not yet everything, by a long stretch

While streaming is well established, it is still a minority activity (i.e. less than half of the population streams – the rate is even lower when you factor in emerging market regions such as sub-Saharan Africa). Most of you reading this will have been streaming for many years now, so this may sound a bit crazy, but we all live in our own filter bubbles, surrounded by people with similar world views and behaviours. The reality is that we are still in a transition period where the old and the new coexist. This dual-reality paradigm underpins the Beatles’ continued success.

MIDiA Index - Top Streamed and Top Listened to Artists - the Beatles 

Looking at data from MIDiA’s forthcoming artist insight platform Index, we can see that the top 15 biggest audiences ranked by overall listening is significantly different from the top 15 streaming audiences. The differences become far more pronounced as we work our way down the rankings. Mass market linear media (especially TV and radio) used to be the only way in which record labels turned artists into mainstream brands. The biggest artists of today (in fact all of the artists in both of the top 15 rankings) built their fanbases sitting on the shoulders of big, traditional media. Big media of course still plays a crucial role – as illustrated by the fact that the top five most-listened to artists have all recently been in major movies. In fact, movies are emerging as the mass medium that can still create globally relevant cultural moments in the way that radio and TV used to.

Niche is the new mainstream

Now though, newer artists are building their fanbases outside of traditional media, using digital marketing channels to laser-target specific audiences rather than the traditional carpet-bombing approach. As a consequence, when we look at the top 15 most-streamed artists based on those audiences that actually know the artist we see a totally different picture with artists like Post Malone, Martin Garrix and Bille Eilish among the top performing. These are still-big artists; artists that have found global niches with genuine scale, but niches nonetheless. This is the era of fragmented fandom. Niche is the new mainstream.

The first global pop band, perhaps

The Beatles were arguably the first big, global pop band – I say ‘arguably’ because there are many other claimants to that title, but whether they were first, or among the first, they helped create the template for artist success that shaped the modern recorded music industry. Now, as part of our cultural history they have an additional emphasis. The film ‘Yesterday’ will have introduced new audiences to the Beatles’ music, as will the hype around the return of Abbey Road. However, the majority of Beatles fans are old (59% are aged over 45) with an average age of 46. This aligns with average age of consumers that still buy CDs and that still listen to albums.

This does not mean that young people are not listening to the Beatles also (and on streaming they skew younger), also even with an average age of 45 this means that a large portion of the core fanbase are not from the Beatles’ original generation.

However, it is a very different demographic from Spotify users (average age 34) and, for example, Billie Eilish fans (29). Beatles fans skew towards older consumers that are more likely to buy and listen to physical albums.

For all the chart modifications, actual album sales still have key impact

 With all of the reformatting of charts to recognise streams, album sales still carry much more weight, because:

  1. A lot of streams are needed to be equivalent to an album (1,500 in the UK, 1,250 paid streams or 3,750 ad-supported streams in the US)
  2. Newer, streaming-centric artists tend to be track artists rather than album artists, and tend to have a larger share of ad-supported listeners, so it is harder for them to top album charts

When a once in a generation event like Abbey Road at 50 comes along, and the older, CD and vinyl buying audience comes out in force, you do not need too many of them to create a chart-topping album. As I illustrated in my post on the White Album, 75,000 sales of a $100 deluxe edition can generate the same label income as more than 60 million streams – though how much Universal actually retains of that due to its commercial relationships with the band and its estates is another issue entirely.

The key takeaway from Abbey Road at 50 is that we still have a long, long way to go on the streaming journey. In fact, you might say it is ‘the long and winding road’.

Niche is the New Mainstream

Fandom is fragmenting. Streaming personalization and falling radio audiences are combining to rewrite the music marketing rulebook, ushering in a whole new marketing paradigm. Hits used to be cultural moments; artist brands built by traditional mass media. However, this fire-hydrant approach to marketing lacked both accountability and effective targeting. Now, hyper targeting, both in marketing campaigns and streaming recommendations, is creating a new type of hit and a new type of artist. Global fanbases are being built via the accumulation of local niches, while a few big hits for everyone are being replaced by many, smaller hits for individuals. Niche is the new mainstream.

The marketing rulebook is being re-written

Three trends have reshaped how music marketing works:

  1. Digital targeting: The rise of social media provided label marketing teams with masses of data and unparalleled targeting
  2. Linear decline:The steady decline of linear radio and TV audiences is eroding these platforms’ contribution to music marketing effectiveness
  3. Streaming curation:Streaming algorithms and curation teams are overriding label marketing efforts, delivering users what the streaming services want to deliver rather than what labels want to

fragmented fandom midia research - niche is the new maiostream

Artist marketing used to be about building exposure and brands across mass market analogue platforms. With radio, TV and print all in decline – especially among the crucial younger audience segments – that approach is being replaced with targeted digital campaigns which in turn are fragmenting fandom and transforming what global fanbases look like:

  • The marketing transition:Marketing of media brands is locked in a transition phase, moving from the old model of one-to-many messaging to targeted digital campaigns. As in all transitions, the old and new models will co-exist for some time. For music marketers though, there is a greater need for emphasis on digital because this is where the younger music fans are that are so crucial to the success of so many frontline acts.
  • Democratization of access:In the old model, mainstream linear media (TV and radio especially) was the power tool of big record labels. Access to these finite schedules is inherently scarce and bigger record labels have an inbuilt advantage due to their scale and influence. In on-demand environments access is democratized, with anyone able to run their own self-serve campaigns on platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and Google search. The result is that labels and artists of all sizes can reach their global audiences.
  • From cultural moments to cultural movements:Linear schedules have the unrivalled ability to create simultaneous audiences at scale around a specific piece of content. Creating these cultural moments remains the crucial asset that TV and radio bring. But the weakness of this approach is that much of the impact is diluted. It is carpet bombing compared to the laser-guided missile of digital marketing, resulting in a lot of wasted exposure and effort. Mass reach is progressively less useful for driving fandom. Against this, the hyper-targeting of digital creates super-engaged fanbases that can often thrive under the mainstream radar. Kobalt artists such as Lauv (2.5+ billion streams) and Rex Orange County (0.8+ billion streams) are examples of this new paradigm, creating global-scale cultural movements rather than linear cultural moments. Niches thrive in this world of fragmented fandom, but niche no longer inherently means small. Indeed, the cumulative effect of many local niches is global-scale fanbases. Niche is the new mainstream.

The old living side by side with the new

As when every new paradigm shift occurs, the old and the new will live side by side. There will still be plenty of artists that appeal to younger audiences that become household names too across mainstream media – look no further than Billie Eilish. But make no mistake, the shift is happening. More and more global artist success stories will happen outside the mainstream. These fan bases will be increasingly passionate and loyal, acting as strong platforms for building impactful artist stories. Success will be built around audiences that want a piece of everything that artist has to offer, from streaming to merch to tickets. This is how independent artists and many independent label artists have been building careers for years. They no longer have the exclusive, however.

Fragmented fandom is an asset, not a challenge

Artists that once would have been household names – mass media brands with large but often passive fanbases – are now rising as under-the-radar superstars. It has never been more important for this to happen. With streaming pushing more listeners towards tracks and away from artists and albums, building passionate clusters of fans is not just key to success, it is the very thing that success will be built on. Fandom is fragmenting but it may be the best thing that has ever happened to it.

This blog post pulls insight from a forthcoming MIDiA report Music Marketing: Niche is the New Mainstream that will be published in MIDiA’s new Marketing and Brands service. To find out more about how to get access to this research practice – a must have for anyone involved in marketing of media brands – email stephen@midiaresearch.com