By some measures, it’s a great time to be a musician on the Internet. Sure, the whole “getting paid” thing is a crapshoot, but there’s at least one other resource available to artists in abundance: data. And now there’s even more of it.
Today, YouTube is launching Music Insights, an analytics tool for artists to use to get a clearer picture of how their music is performing on the world’s largest video hub. It takes metrics like total plays, most popular tracks, and the geographic location of listeners and breaks them down into pretty charts.
The geography data can unlock some surprising insights. The band Alabama Shakes (formed in the U.S. state you would assume) is reportedly more popular on YouTube in São Paulo, Brazil than in any city in the southern United States, according to a blog post from YouTube. Insights like this can be counterintuitive and fun, but there’s also a practical purpose: Combined with data from other sources, geographic intelligence like this can be used to help artists more smartly plan their touring schedule. That will certainly come in handy if this whole streaming thing doesn’t wind up paying bills.
YouTube’s new data tool comes with a few caveats. For one thing, it’s not for everybody. Not yet. The company is granting access to 10,000 of the most popular artists on YouTube to start, then presumably rolling the feature out to others. Another shortcoming of the data is that it only goes as far back as September 2014, due to the (somewhat newfangled) way that YouTube is calculating everything.
The new feature comes just a few weeks after Pandora acquired Next Big Sound, a data analytics service for artist that pulls in metrics from a variety of services like SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, and Bandcamp. For Pandora, that acquisition is part of a broader strategy designed to cater to artists, some of whom have grown critical of Pandora’s ongoing attempts to bring its music royalty costs more in line with that of terrestrial radio.
It also comes at a pivotal time for the industry in general. Next Monday, Apple is expected to formally announce its foray into the music subscription market. It’s a move that’s likely to have a significant impact on the streaming market, given Apple’s existing position in the music industry, not to mention its sheer size and the reach of iOS.
Apple’s relaunch of Beats Music, much like the launch of Jay Z’s competing service Tidal, is expected to have a heightened focus on the artists (and away from the surprisingly combustible Beats hardware). Apple is rumored to have struck deals with the likes of Drake and Pharrell Williams to help them boost the profile of iTunes Radio and the accompanying subscription service. Both Tidal and Apple have reportedly made moves to nab exclusive rights to some music as the competitive war over the streaming subscription market switches focus from features to content.
These services are turning more of their attention to the artists. And while the economics of streaming are still shaking out–albeit not quickly enough for the Taylor Swifts of the world–the least these companies can do in the meantime is give artists more intelligence about their own music. Whether or not music distribution continues to be a substantial source of revenue for most artists is yet to be seen (and indeed, is hotly debated), but either way, it can never hurt to be armed with data.