Introducing Chartmetric's 6MO:
Music Industry Trends From H2 2020
Welcome to the fourth edition of 6MO, our semi-annual report on music industry trends. In this interactive web-based edition, we take a look back at the second half of 2020 (H2 2020, July 1-Dec. 31) to try to get a sense of the future of the music business, uncovering the world’s breakthrough artists and tracks on music streaming platforms, social media, and our own standard of overall popularity, Chartmetric Artist Rank. We'll even try to predict a few stars in 2021!
Music Trigger Cities, predominantly in Latin America and Southeast Asia, can play a huge role in building a global fan base for your career.
In this edition’s main theme, we provide a guide to Trigger Cities for artists: Where are the Latin American and Southeast Asian cities playing a major role in music streaming and the future of the music business? What can we do to define such places? How can they help artists build both local and international audiences around the world? As you’re making your way through our report, don’t forget to click through the animated infographics, and enjoy the latest important music industry trends and statistics!
Breakthrough: Music Platforms
In the digital era, music platforms aren’t necessarily all about the pure consumption of audio. Music today frequently combines with other forms of entertainment, whether through social media, television, or online videos. This section highlights five different platforms, the Top 10 rising artists and tracks within them, and five different ways that consumers interact with music: Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Shazam, and TV syncs.
Spotify is arguably the go-to digital streaming platform (DSP) for American listeners, and in H2 2020, the Top 10 gainers in Monthly Listeners (MLs) reflected this notion. This time around, five of the Top 10 came from within the contiguous United States, while the remaining five represented Venezuela, Germany, Argentina, and Sweden.
The H2 2020 focus may have shifted to Hip Hop/R&B in the United States, but whether it’s Internet Money, Nathy Peluso, or KIDDO, what seems to remain true from H1 2020 for these Top 10 Spotify MLs gainers is the benefit of collaborations with other artists — whether through remix, features, or otherwise.
The Top 3
At No. 1, with 1.6K+ percent growth, is hit producer collective Internet Money. Founded in 2016 and led by Danny Snodgrass, Jr., aka Taz Taylor, Internet Money is a combination of a YouTube channel, record label, and producer union that helps producers sell beats and brings creatives together to collaborate. The hit collective was responsible for 34 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019, and on Aug. 28, 2020, they dropped their debut album B4 the Storm, which had various high profile features, including Juice WRLD, Future, and Wiz Khalifa. Internet Money’s numbers quickly skyrocketed from there, and within three months, Internet Money’s MLs increased by almost 5x from 6.3M to 30.1M.
Venezuelan-American internet star-turned-artist Lele Pons, aka Eleonora Pons Maronese, comes in at No. 2 with more than 600 percent growth. Pons was the first Vine star to reach 1B loops, but after the short-form video platform shut down, she branched out into YouTube, acting, singing, and podcasting. 2020 saw her release YouTube docuseries The Secret Life of Lele Pons and Spotify-exclusive podcast Best Kept Secrets with Lele Pons, but what really got her MLs going in early September was the release of her single “Se Te Nota” with rising Puerto Rican rapper Guaynaa. Aside from going Platinum in Mexico and Spain, “Se Te Nota” helped reverse the direction of Pons’ gradually declining MLs and instead boosted her from 1.4M to a 15M peak at the end of November.
Quarterhead (No. 3) are a German writer/producer duo that met when they were 15 and have been making beats together ever since. Josh Tapen and Janik Riegert’s May 2020 single “Head Shoulders Knees & Toes” with Ofenbach featuring Norma Jean Martine went Gold in Poland and Platinum in France. While Quarterhead started July with around 1.5M MLs, subsequent remixes of this popular house anthem helped carry them to 8.9M MLs by the end of the year.
We recently covered the growth power of YouTube sessions for artist careers and H2 2020 only exemplifies how this global video platform has helped artists worldwide expand their fanbases. Only two of the Top 10 gainers in YouTube channel views were from the contiguous United States, while the other eight ranged from Germany, India, and Mexico to Vietnam, Brazil, and Puerto Rico.
As arguably the world’s most global music streaming platform, it’s not totally surprising to see the Top 10 YouTube channel view gainers coming from a real mix of countries worldwide. The exponential growth of most of these artists may in part be thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, as fans turn to video streaming to supplement the loss of live music. The dominance of German (three of the Top 10) and Latin American (four of the Top 10) artists this time around may signal where future talent and audiences will continue to develop.
The Top 3
19-year-old American TikTok sensation Dixie D’Amelio takes the No. 1 spot with an inspiring growth percentage of more than 2.7K. Though D’Amelio only came on the TikTok scene in 2019, her and her sister Charli’s astronomical rise to social media fame is well-documented by now. June 2020 saw Dixie turn her sights to music when she released her first single “Be Happy,” quickly translating her nearly 50M-strong TikTok following to YouTube as her channel views rose to 140M within a month. Despite her next single “Naughty List” with Liam Payne not being released as a music video on her YouTube platform (it’s on Payne’s instead), her other behind-the-scenes and more YouTuber-esque videos consistently garnered anywhere from 1.1M to 19M views. Perhaps unsurprisingly, D’Amelio rounded off 2020 at a staggering 470M, nearly 30x her channel views in June.
Coming in just behind Dixie D’Amelio at No. 2, with slightly more than 2.2K percent growth, is 21-year-old Mexican-German DJ, producer, instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter Leon Leiden. Leiden’s sound may be rooted in EDM, but the Urban and Latin twist he puts on his beats, thanks to his exploration of different objects as musical instruments, has quickly gained him a strong and dedicated fanbase. Leiden’s channel views first started to pick up in mid-May around the release of “VENTE (Como Moctezuma),” and the catchy Latin dance tunes he’s uploaded since then only accelerated his channel views from 1.5M at the start of July to an all-time high of 35M by the end of December.
Indian film composer Santhosh Narayanan slides in at No. 3 thanks to his more than 1.9K percent growth. As the film industry was hit harder than most by the COVID-19 pandemic, with movie production effectively grinding to a halt, it seems that Narayanan would have had a relatively relaxed 2020. Yet perhaps not being able to hear his compositions on the silver screen contributed to fans going online to tune in to his music. Narayanan’s YouTube channel views really took off in August, catapulting from 1.7M to 8.2M within a month. Despite his YouTube profile being an auto-generated Topic channel, Narayanan’s following continued to increase steadily in the last six months of 2020, and he gained 22M to finish off a difficult year for the film industry with more than 23M views.
The fact that Pandora is only accessible in the US, combined with the general dominance of American artists in the music market, almost makes it a no-brainer that seven of the Top 10 gainers in Pandora Streams were born and raised in the contiguous United States. The other three weren’t too far away either, with two coming from just over the border in Canada and only one hailing from across the pond in the UK.
So, while American teens may love TikTok, America is also still showing up for its tried-and-true staples of Country, Hip Hop/Rap, and Pop on Pandora. With its unwavering emphasis on radio and automotive accessibility, and the fact that it is the largest free service in the US, Pandora continues to be a reliable gauge of the ad-supported audience of the world’s largest music market.
The Top 3
“You Got It” by Michigan native R&B singer-songwriter Wilbert McCoy III, aka VEDO, is No. 1 with more than 5.4K percent growth. VEDO first found fame in 2013 as a member of Team Usher on Season 4 of The Voice. Though he didn’t make it past the Live shows, VEDO has gone on to be one of the more successful acts off of the popular reality singing show. He’s since won several music awards, and, thanks to TikTok, “You Got It” is his first song to chart on Billboard’s Hot 100. VEDO’s 73K stream count difference on Pandora at the beginning of July vs. the end of December 2020 was undoubtedly aided by the track going viral on the hit-making social networking site, both as an anthem to millions of glow-up videos and also as a popular dance number with the “It’s Time To Boss Up” dance.
Holding the No. 2 position, thanks to a slightly over 5K percent gain, is Nashville Country band Old Dominion’s “Never Be Sorry.” Oddly enough, this track is actually Old Dominion’s lowest-charting single ever, just snagging the final place on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. In spite of Old Dominion’s own efforts to promote the song on TikTok, not even the viral platform was able to give it much of a boost. Pandora still held out for this cheerful breakup tune though, and eventually saw the beleaguered song go from only netting 1.9K streams on July 1, 2020, to adding more than 100K on Dec. 31.
"Throat Baby (Go Baby)” (No. 3) is the first single from Atlanta rapper Kenneth Duncan, Jr., aka BRS Kash, and already a huge success with its 4.9K percent, or 167K, Pandora stream growth — not to mention its virality on social media. Like several other beats in this report, the bouncy track’s success is again fully attributable to TikTok. The song has around 819K videos on TikTok, but it was the popularity of its dance amongst star TikTokers Addison Rae, Sienna Mae, and Jacob Sartorius; popular Hype House members Tayler Holder and Chase Hudson; and well-known Sway House addition Noah Beck that helped push the catchy bop to mainstream attention. It’s since racked up significant streaming numbers with more than 24M on Spotify, 32M+ on YouTube, and nearly 9M on Pandora.
Here we look at what tracks accrued the most Shazam growth at a regional level — namely, in Latin America and Southeast Asia (see Trigger Cities below). While artists likely still have to have success on other platforms before seeing significant Shazam counts, the nature of Shazam as a music discovery platform makes it especially important for converting new, spontaneous listeners into potential fans — and that ultimately translates to more consumption across many different platforms.
Rock music may still be the chart-topping favorite for now, but Pop music is also rising fast in Latin America — and by Pop we do mean the genre in all its various forms, from Dance Pop to Latin Pop and K-Pop too. It’s actually getting a little difficult to tell what music is rising where, but what remains true is that today’s cross-cultural spread is as exciting as it can be confusing. TikTok, unsurprisingly, continues to be a driving force for music discovery and sharing.
Whether it’s dances, challenges, or just tracks put to cute or funny clips that eventually go viral (think Vine but with music), TikTok has monopolized Southeast Asia’s Shazams. Though these tunes were largely TikTok-driven, it’s also interesting to note that most of them are Rap and Hip-Hop tracks, potentially lending credit to a growing interest in the genre in this region.
The Top 3 in Latin America
"Death by Rock and Roll” by New York City Rock band The Pretty Reckless sits at No. 1 as the most Shazamed track in Latin America. Thanks to this very song, the Taylor Momsen-fronted band just made history as having the most No. 1 singles of any woman-led act in the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart’s 40-year history. This historic single has also held its place on multiple Best of Rock and Rock Hits playlists across Spotify, Apple, Deezer and Amazon throughout the second half of 2020. Its Latin American popularity may have been further influenced by its use on a 1.7M views video by popular Chilean TikToker Via Monroe or it could just be down to the existing popularity of rock in Latin American countries like Brazil. Either way, it’s no wonder that the Shazam count for this banger has been on a sharp yet steady incline since its May 14, 2020 release.
No. 2 is Texan rapper Machine Gun Kelly’s track “Bloody Valentine,” which welcomed a relatively consistent daily increase of 2K Shazams from July to December 2020. Similar to The Pretty Reckless’ song, this Pop Punk track made it onto a few Spotify and Apple Music Rock playlists as well. The source of Shazams may also be thanks to the radio airplay the song received in various Latin American countries including Portugal, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela.
According to historical Spotify and YouTube data, New York Rock band The Strokes was already popular in Latin America in early 2020 before “The Adults are Talking” (No. 3) was released. With the band’s last studio release being in 2013, Mexico City, São Paulo and Santiago in particular welcomed The Strokes back with open arms. These three and more Latin American cities likely were the helping hand behind the pretty steady rise of this Indie Rock track’s Shazams through the end of December. It’s also notable that the top two TikTok videos for this song were by Mexican and Argentinian TikTok users.
The Top 3 in Southeast Asia
"Skank” by Leeds producer Dean Williams, aka Bordum Beats, takes the No. 1 spot for Shazams in Southeast Asia, and it looks like the track’s sharp jump in late August 2020 of over 63K Shazams in three days may be entirely thanks to Filipino-American TikTok sensation Bella Poarch. Poarch has 52.5M followers on TikTok, 8.4M of which come from Southeast Asia with more than 5M from the Philippines alone. Her Aug. 17 video where she lip syncs “M to the B” while looking side to side immediately went viral and has since racked up nearly 46M likes. The track Poarch lip synced to actually has 20-year-old Blackpool rapper Millie Bracewell, aka Millie B, spitting some bars over Bordum Beats’ “Skank” bassline and Millie herself now has 1.3M followers on TikTok. It may seem like a stretch to imagine that teens would go so far as to search for and Shazam the original instrumental, but the power of TikTok is such that even the BBC couldn’t resist uncovering the origins to the beat of TikTok’s most-liked video of all time.
Just sliding in at No. 2 is Spanish DJ and producer Antonio Castrillo, aka Castion, on his EDM hit “PYRO” with Russian DJ and producer Demchenko Dmitry aka Chester Young. Their electronic beat started to rapidly accumulate Shazams in late August to early September 2020, around the same time its TikTok counts also began shooting up and which may be linked to the track being used as part of a viral TikTok look-alike challenge. Since public attachment to smartphones is one of the many factors that makes Southeast Asia a Trigger City hub, it makes sense that these mobile-forward platforms are influencing each other.
18-year-old Italian producer Sista Prod’s “Eyes Blue Like the Atlantic” (No. 3) rounds up the top three most Shazamed tracks in this Asian Trigger City region. While Prod’s chill bop was originally released back at the end of 2018, his latest rework of the track featuring fellow Lo-Fi and Pop beatmakers Isaiah Faber, aka Powfu, Anthony Tubbs, aka Rxseboy, and Alec Benjamin led Prod’s Shazam count and Spotify MLs to increase 5x and 8x within two months of the song’s Aug. 12, 2020 release date. The power of collaborations pops up again as Alec Benjamin’s strong Southeast Asian Spotify following may have rubbed off on Prod, whose own Southeast Asian MLs took off around Aug. 12 so that the Italian can now claim nearly 30 percent of his MLs in the region. Neither should it come as a surprise that this collaborative track was also trending on TikTok in the second half of 2020.
With the coronavirus pandemic grinding the live sector of the music industry to a halt, other sectors, including TV and film synchronization, have been picking up the pace. For our 2020 6MO reports, we pivoted accordingly from Bandsintown data, which tracks an artist’s live music fans, to Tunefind data, which monitors what TV and film synchronizations a track gets.
In this shortlist, HBO dominates with six out of the Top 10 songs featured on the television giant’s video streaming platform. What’s even more interesting is that most of these tracks were specially commissioned by HBO, who got artists to cover, rework, or score soundtracks specifically for its shows.
The Top 3
At No. 1 is “Dream State (Brighter Night),” a 2018 track by New York experimental band Son Lux. In 2020, Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia, and Ian Chang reworked their song, this time with Australian singer-songwriter Bonnie Pliesse in the first verse, to be used as the main title sequence for HBO’s The Vow. This American true crime docuseries uncovers the truth behind the self-improvement-masquerading sex trafficking cult NXIVM and its leader Keith Raniere. By adding former NXIVM member Pliesse’s delicate vocals, Son Lux made their song even more achingly haunting, transforming it into a sad yet perfect fit for the darkly unnerving true story behind the show.
American Rock and R&B singer-songwriter Alice Smith claims No. 2 with her cover of the traditional African American spiritual song "Sinnerman.” Smith’s version of the Gospel Jazz anthem may not be as well known as Nina Simone’s 1965 rendition, but it is equally powerful and a great backing track to the closing credits for six of the 10 episodes of American horror drama series Lovecraft Country. The desperately questioning lyrics of “Sinnerman” also accurately capture the struggle to survive that underlines the plot of HBO’s adaptation and continuation of Matt Ruff’s eponymous 2016 novel.
Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson stands at No. 3 with her song"Come On Children, Let’s Sing,” which is featured in Showtime’s American historical drama The Good Lord Bird. Based on James McBride’s eponymous award-winning novel, the show unfolds from the point of view of an enslaved boy who is part of an abolitionist crew of soldiers in the time of Bleeding Kansas, the tragic prelude to the American Civil War. Jackson’s strikingly upbeat track plays as the opening title to four of the seven episodes of this miniseries.
Breakthrough: Social Platforms
Social media has always been inextricably linked to music, from the early days of Myspace to the viral explosion of TikTok. Increasingly, the line between social and music platforms is blurring, and that’s likely to continue. For now, however, social media remains a key digital marketing and audience engagement driver for music consumption on other platforms and not necessarily a medium for consumption in itself. Like the music platforms covered above, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter all represent different ways that music fans interact not only with the artists that they love, but with each particular track that resonates with them.
TikTok was responsible for helping to break many rising artists in 2019, but 2020 was a year of uncertainty for everyone, including the platform itself. H2 2020 kicked off with an all-out ban of TikTok in India and particular uncertainty about whether the platform would remain available to users in the US. Still, for users around the world, TikTok offered a much needed reprieve from the gravity and toll of the pandemic.
One way users coped was with TikTok challenges and dances. While challenges and/or dances were unsurprisingly associated with pretty much every single one of these top gainers, it’s worth noting just how international the spread is. At the end of 2019, nine of the Top 10 TikTok count gainers were from the US (the other was Indian), but at the end of 2020, just half were: Two tracks that broke into the Top 10 were by Spanish artists (“Fernando Alonso” and “Desembaça”), two by Russian artists (“невывоЗИМАя” and “АУФ”), and one by a Colombian artist (“Ay, DiOs Mío!”). Because our TikTok data is skewed somewhat toward the US market, that indicates, at least to some extent, that international artists are penetrating the American TikTok market more effectively than in 2019.
The Top 3
El Jhota and Camin’s “Fernando Alonso,” a track named after a top Spanish F1 racing driver, was released on Nov. 26, 2020, but it really started picking up TikTok posts in early-to-mid-December as users started adopting the dance associated with it.
Internet Money and Gunna’s “Lemonade (feat. Don Toliver & NAV)” came out on Aug. 13, 2020, but it took a bit more than a month for it to start taking off on TikTok. This growth likely helped propel it to the top of our Top 10 list for Spotify Monthly Listeners growth as well. And it’s all thanks to the “Lemonade” challenge.
Claudia Leitte’s “Desembaça” was released on Sept. 18, 2020, and the TikTok challenge associated with it helped propel it to almost 40K posts by the end of the year. This track is of particular importance on this list, because Leitte started the challenge herself in order to promote its release. Artists leveraging TikTok to market their music has been somewhat slow to grow, but Leitte seems to have found the right formula, at least for this particular track.
As we’ve noted before, Instagram tends to be strong in the Latin American region; however only two of the Top 10 hail from Latin American markets in the second half of 2020. The rest are scattered across the globe in Nigeria, England, India, Vietnam, France, and the US.
Consequently, Instagram continues to be a top platform for artists worldwide to interact intimately with some of their most dedicated followers. TikTok virality appears to also translate particularly well, perhaps because of the similarly visual and video-focused natures of the two attention competitors.
The Top 3
At No. 1 is Shy Porter, the pseudonym under which Mexican artist Elán DeFan currently releases her music. DeFan is most well-known for being one of the first Latin American female songwriters to bet on an independent career with songs in English. Her straightforwardness, self-confidence, and unabashed sense of humor have translated well to TikTok, which she joined in late March. DeFan mostly responds to questions and concerns on TikTok as part of her “Customer Service Wednesdays,” but these videos have proven to be so popular with fans that she posts her favorite questions back on Instagram too. It’s no wonder that her Instagram followers started to increase exponentially in late March, doubling by mid-June and quadrupling by mid-July. By the end of December, DeFan gained nearly 3M followers.
21-year-old rising Memphis rapper Pooh Shiesty takes No. 2 after consistently dropping several hits including “7.62 God” and “Back in Blood” featuring Lil Durk. Shiesty was signed by Gucci Mane via Instagram DM in April 2020 and has since racked up millions of listens on both Spotify and YouTube. Just like his release strategy, Shiesty’s Instagram following has been on a steady rise. He started July with 207K followers, doubled that by the end of August, and, within six months, increased his fanbase to 1.3M — more than 6x his following in July. It doesn’t hurt that Shiesty’s tracks, particularly “Back in Blood,” have also been trending recently on TikTok.
Stanley Omah Didia, aka Omah Lay (No. 3), is a 23-year-old Nigerian Afro Fusion singer-songwriter, producer, and rising star. Lay first started making waves domestically in 2019 before beginning to break out overseas in 2020. Enthusiastic responses from his Instagram followers actually first motivated him to finish a song back in January, and Lay has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity ever since. After scoring Apple Music’s Favorite New Artist of the Month in Africa in June and being selected as the debut star for Apple’s Africa Rising Campaign, he’s one of Africa’s fastest rising stars. Lay finished 2020 with 927K followers, but considering he only had 147K followers in July, he’s well on his way to breaking 1M+ in 2021. The fact that “Infinity” — a track by Olamide that features Lay — recently went viral on TikTok with the help of a slow-mo dance challenge doesn’t hurt either.
Unlike previous 6MO reports, in H2 2020, the Top 10 artists with the largest growth in Twitter followers were mainly from Nigeria, which boasted five of the Top 10 gainers. The US followed with four of the Top 10, and a South Korean artist rounded out the list.
In H2 2020, multiple Nigerian artists who showed support for protests to end the notoriously abusive Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian Police benefited substantially on Twitter. The use of Twitter as the social media platform to shine a spotlight on political issues is well-documented by now, but this revitalization of the End SARS movement was notable for its exclusively young demographic and international social media outrage. Unsurprisingly, Twitter’s secondary focus remained on TikTok and its influencers and fame.
The Top 3
She’s not just a TikTok sensation and rising YouTube star: Dixie D’Amelio landed at No. 1 for Twitter growth too. In the latter half of 2020, D’Amelio gained more than 2M followers on Twitter, bringing her from 1.7M in July to more than 3.9M in December. Her average 333K gain per month might have continued into 2021 had she not deleted her account on Jan. 8 due to online bullying. The jury’s still out on when, or if, she’ll be back.
Chattanooga TikTok star-turned-artist Jaden Isaiah Hossler, known professionally as jxdn, takes the No. 2 spot. A member of TikTok’s Sway House, jxdn kicked off his music career in February 2020 with a self-released Rock single that soon led to a signing with Blink-182’s Travis Barker. The start of July marked a sharp 213K increase in jxdn’s Twitter following as he got caught up in subtweeting about the cheating drama surrounding fellow TikTok superstar Charli D’Amelio and her ex-boyfriend Chase Hudson. The controversy was quickly resolved, however, and jxdn’s open and forthright tweets, coupled with his TikTok status and rising music career, only helped bring him closer to his nearly 1.9M followers by the end of 2020.
Adedamola Adefolahan, aka Fireboy DML (No. 3), is a 24-year-old award-winning Nigerian singer-songwriter. Fireboy DML is known for calling his sound “Afro-Life” and the fast-growing artist has built a steady fanbase for himself since his debut in 2019. Aside from having his songs added to the FIFA 21 game soundtrack, the second half of 2020 also saw Fireboy DML gain nearly 1M followers on Twitter, 258K of which were added around his tweeting in support of the End SARS anti-police brutality movement in October. Fireboy DML ended 2020 on a high note with nearly 2M followers and plenty of TikTok traction.
In 6MO H2 2019, we noted how Wikipedia’s biography-forward nature lends itself to being the primary source to turn to when referencing an artist’s personal narrative and career milestones. Given the significant focus on celebrity in the United States, it’s no wonder that eight of the Top 10 artists with the most Wikipedia views are all American by birth or naturalization.
Regardless of nationality, however, Wikipedia tends to be a clear indicator of significant instances in an artist’s career or legacy. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, death is considered one of the most notable events and tends to spark a resurgence of public interest in an artist’s catalog and backstory. Outside of death, the other most significant story linking three of these Top 10 was their participation in various Netflix Original series.
The Top 3
Californian Naya Marie Rivera (No. 1) was most famous for her acting role as cheerleader Santana Lopez on the hit teen TV series Glee. While she never released an album, Rivera was also signed to Columbia Records and released three singles, in addition to Glee songs, over her singing career. On Jul. 8, 2020, Rivera was between seasons of the dance drama TV series Step Up when she tragically drowned at Lake Piru in California. The news spread like wildfire, likely spurring the same-day 2.1M views spike on her Wikipedia page. A secondary peak of 1.3M views came shortly after on July 13, as news broke to watchful and worried fans and family alike that Rivera’s body had been recovered from the lake that morning.
Australian-American singer-songwriter, actress, author, and activist Helen Maxine Reddy (No. 2) had her heyday in the 1970s, during which she scored 15 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Her signature hit “I Am Woman” became the feminist anthem for the women’s liberation movement and she herself soon became a poster girl for feminism. Reddy died at age 78 in Los Angeles on Sept. 29, 2020, and her passing was marked by a peak of 484K Wikipedia views.
Sliding into No. 3 is Louisiana-born R&B singer-songwriter August Anthony Alsina Jr. Alsina started his music career back in 2012, and several of his songs and albums have since charted on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop charts as well as the Billboard 200 chart. However, Alsina made headlines for a different reason in early July 2020 when he claimed that Will Smith gave him permission to be in a romantic relationship with Will’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Alsina’s Wikipedia views subsequently spiked to 284K on July 10, when Jada denied Alsina’s claim and revealed what actually happened on her popular talk show Red Table Talk.
Breakthrough: Overall Popularity
Chartmetric Artist Rank reflects an artist's overall performance across eight music and social platforms relative to the performance of every artist in our database. The platforms included are: Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Soundcloud, Instagram, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter. Every day, we order artists by this score and record the scores and ranks for the top 100K artists. You can read more about Chartmetric Artist Rank on the Chartmetric blog.
These Top 10 artists found their Chartmetric Artist Ranks improving dramatically, meaning they got closer and closer to No. 1 out of the 2.6M+ artists in our database. In other words, the lower the Chartmetric Artist Rank for an artist, the better.
Chartmetric Artist Rank provides a standardized index of artists’ digital success, incorporating growth from eight different streaming and social media platforms. Because our ranking takes both fandom and listenership into account, Chartmetric Artist Rank growth can give an indication of what artists were the most successful on both accounts. In other words, these 10 artists didn’t just get playlisted a lot — they also managed to turn listeners into fans. It’s worth noting that the power of collaboration continues to play an important part in this regard as well.
The Top 3
Claiming the No. 1 spot this time is 13-year-old Georgia native Piper Rockelle, a star YouTuber and major Instagrammer who was popular on TikTok when it was still called Musical.ly. Her two singles “Sidewalk” and “bby I…” in the latter half of 2020 also boosted her Spotify MLs to 100K and 130K, respectively, within two months of each release. Combined with her 1.2B YouTube views, 3.9M Instagram followers, and 4.3M TikTok fans, Rockelle demonstrated the sheer force of her social media popularity as she skyrocketed to a new and significantly improved Chartmetric Artist Rank at the end of 2020.
Florida rapper SpotemGottem is only 18 years old but this rising talent snagged No. 2 thanks to a pretty steady climb across all his streaming and social media platforms in the second half of 2020, likely aided by his constant stream of releases. If “Beat Box,” his most popular track to date (11M+ YouTube views), is any indication of his growing fanbase, SpotemGottem might be a name to look out for in 2021.
Staysman (No. 3) is the stage name of Norwegian songwriter, TV personality, and EDM Pop artist Stian Thorbjørnsen. While Staysman also performs with his friend Lasse Jensen as the duo Staysman & Lazz, 2020 mostly saw Staysman focus on releasing his own music. Most notably, his features on Norwegian Punk Rock band iEksil’s “Det Er Bare Rock n Roll” and Norwegian singer-songwriter-producer Ole Hartz’s “Söta bror” in early August triggered a sharp incline in his Spotify MLs — from 106K to 609K within a month. Staysman’s own releases from October to December then helped him pick up the momentum from these features, carrying him through to finish 2020 on a high note.
Data and analysis have always been important tools used to look back and reflect on recent breakthroughs in music. Yet looking ahead and discovering the next big artist is also a cornerstone of the music business. As music data analytics advances, the amount of information available about artists, songs, and their audiences is only increasing. With all of this data at our fingertips, why not try and use it to make predictions about what music will break through in 2021?
The Top 3
26-year-old Argentine rapper Agustín Carlos Roberto García, aka ZARAMAY, helped bring trap to Argentina and has been releasing music for a few years now, but he recently started gaining more visibility in early July 2020. While his recent growth may be thanks to his feature on popular Argentine record producer Bizarrap’s Music Sessions, ZARAMAY has since sustained quite a steady rise across all of his streaming and social media platforms — particularly on YouTube, where most of his music can be found. Many of his fans, unsurprisingly, are from Argentina, but his Spotify, Instagram, and YouTube metrics also show his audience spreading out across South America, overseas to Spain and Mexico, and even beginning to grow in the US. If ZARAMAY continues on this track, a strategic collaboration or two could help him really expand his audience in more international regions too. As of January 2021, ZARAMAY’s Spotify following was at 83K; we predict he will break 149K by mid-July 2021.
Russian music duo Dzharo & Khanza’s (Джаро & Ханза) sound stands out for its distinctly Reggaeton vibes, despite the fact that the two come from the other side of the world. Since the start of July 2020, the pair’s streaming numbers have increased exponentially. Their YouTube comments section is also full of Latin American fans and, judging by the diversity of languages and flag emojis being used, appears to only be getting more international. Moscow is actually fifth on Dzharo & Khanza’s top Spotify MLs cities, with Trigger Cities Mexico City and Istanbul, as well as Santiago and Guadalajara, in the top four spotrom Western Europe and Latin America vdown the list. Their fans may not all speak the same language but given the growing love for music not sung or performed in English, 2021 could be an interesting year for this duo. As of January 2021, Dzharo & Khanza had 81K followers on Spotify; we predict they’ll cross 145K by mid-July 2021.
16-year-old California-born Claire Rosinkranz is a half-Icelandic singer-songwriter with long-term plans for music. Rosinkranz just started releasing her self-described “Alternative-Blues-Pop” music in 2020, but her relatable Lo-Fi tunes have already amassed 5.3M Spotify MLs, 1M Pandora streams, and almost 27M YouTube channel views. As her streaming numbers continue to climb upward, her social media metrics are also rising. Rosinkranz has an increasingly international Instagram fan base and a particularly strong TikTok following with almost 3M videos set to the tune of her star single “Backyard Boy.” With several Trigger Cities, including Jakarta, São Paulo, and Bangkok, ranking at the top of her Spotify MLs cities and a growing YouTube subscriber base from major Trigger City countries like the Philippines, Brazil, and India, this teen singer-songwriter could be next to hit the charts like her friend Olivia Rodrigo. As of January 2021, Rosinkranz’s Spotify following was 94K strong; we predict she’ll surpass 167K by mid-July 2021.
Our predictions included two artists who were also tipped as fast-growing stars in the Breakthrough Social and Music Platform sections above: Pooh Shiesty (No. 2 for Instagram growth) and Leon Leiden (No. 2 for YouTube growth). As of January 2021, Shiesty and Leiden had 71K and 99K Spotify followers, respectively, and by mid-July 2021, we predict they’ll cross 125K and 175K each.
An Artist's Guide to Trigger Cities
The Trigger Cities Concept
If you’re a music artist in 2021, you should know your audience isn’t necessarily in your own backyard.
If there’s nothing else to take away from the idea of Trigger Cities — cities around the world that “trigger” favorable algorithmic effects on music streaming platforms and help grow your audience worldwide — it’s that you’ve got to look beyond your own borders.
So you’re from Chicago? That’s cool…. You’re likely expecting fans from the US Midwest region, New York City, and Los Angeles. Who knows, maybe even Toronto. How exotic.
But what about São Paulo? When you’re looking at your Spotify for Artists, have you ever thought to yourself, “Where the heck is Quezon City”? Does Mexico City pop up in your YouTube channel analytics even though you don’t speak Spanish?
This is a major, and understandably difficult, change in traditional music industry thinking. So in one light, the Trigger Cities concept is a mental shift. Record labels were traditionally incentivized by success in domestic territories, and old habits die hard.
But in another light, it’s a financial exercise: You save time, effort, and money marketing your music where music consumers are going to be most receptive and turn into engaged fans. And if you’re an independent artist today, more money in your pocket is a good thing.
Geography has a huge role in this kind of audience-building efficiency: language isn’t necessarily a barrier nowadays, your music may fall in line with foreign regional tastes, and more than 3B smartphones worldwide makes up quite the potential audience.
A Brief History of Trigger Cities
We first wrote extensively about Trigger Cities, or global music cities that “trigger” streaming growth, in 2019. With a three-part blog series, we introduced cities in Latin America and Southeast Asia responsible for some of the highest rates of digital music consumption in the world and the arguable launchpad for a number of international superstars’ careers.
What we mean by “trigger” is the ripple beginnings of a streaming wave. In other words, what triggers hype or buzz. There are a number of different dimensions that might serve as important triggers, but the borderless streaming landscape has really allowed us to think about those triggers from the geographic perspective.
Some cities might not necessarily be global music industry hubs, but with the amount of streaming activity coming from some of these “emerging markets,” they may now hold more power than ever, influencing the hits of tomorrow by pressing play on them today.
In 2018, Chartmetric Chief Commercial Officer Chaz Jenkins independently examined around 40 artists who “emerged” in Western markets during 2017 and 2018, compiling their Top 5 Spotify cities and Top 10 YouTube cities and giving each position a score. Most of the artists were from the US and UK, with a few Korean, Latin, and European artists mixed in, but his primary finding was that just a few artists were almost exclusively returning results in the US and/or the UK. Instead, most artists were effectively offshoring their music consumption — even if the US or the UK was their home market.
Jenkins’ takeaway was that Latin American and South/Southeast Asian Trigger Cities not only engaged with new or emerging artists more rapidly, irrespective of an artist’s home market, but these Trigger Cities also had some of the most voracious digital music consumption appetites in the world. Consequently, substantial engagement in one Trigger City would often be followed by rapid engagement in other Trigger Cities before that engagement reached the artist’s home market in a big way.
A Note on Fraudulent Streaming
Streaming activity that is “fake,” or paid for by an artist, label, or manager to artificially boost a track, is real, but there is as much, if not more, evidence for fraudulent streams taking place in European and North American markets. Additionally, it's important to note that the Trigger Cities effect relies on consumers engaging with artists and tracks on multiple different services and socials.
Applying the Trigger Cities Concept
To apply this global mindset to the music industry, we should first understand what makes these locations such favorable places for audience building from a data perspective, and that comes down to two features: high music streaming consumption and lower advertising costs.
From a streaming perspective, platform algorithms prioritize any artist or track that drives higher listener engagement (this increases revenue for them), which can come from anywhere. From an advertising perspective, some of those places have low advertising costs. This two-step cycle is the global arbitrage of attention that the Trigger Cities concept tries to reveal.
Trigger City Feature No. 1: 'Deep' and 'Broad' Music Streaming Consumption
You need an audience that listens to music digitally, so even if COVID wasn’t a factor, you can’t play in-person to all of your potential fans. So first, we can try to see what cities are streaming music the most in the world and work backward from there.
At Chartmetric, we are collecting music data on 2.6M+ artists worldwide. On YouTube and Spotify, we can look at city-level data, allowing us to change the focus from artists themselves to the very cities in which all of their fans are listening. As two of the most popular streaming platforms in the world, it’s a great way to understand cities from an audience perspective.
Since YouTube is the second most visited website in the world (behind only its owner, search engine Google), the leading video streaming platform is arguably the most widely available music streaming platform in the world. The fact that it is primarily ad-based, and therefore free to use, is a huge factor in its accessibility to all populations with an Internet connection.
If we look at overall Average Views per Artist on YouTube in a 28-day period between November and December 2020, it is quite obvious that South Asia is dominating the conversation. 18 of the Top 20 cities streaming music on YouTube are in India, with the other two in Pakistan. The leading four of the top cities are in the northern half of India (Agra, Lucknow, Patna, and Indore) and averaged more than 1M views per artist that we track on Chartmetric. It isn’t until the 36th city, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, that we see a non-South Asian city appear (212K views per artist).... And it’s also where we must question how “valid” these results are, from a worldwide perspective.
By looking at average views per artist, we are including extremely popular artists that are raising these cities profiles in a way that might not be valid for artists in a global sense. For example, in No. 1 city Agra (1.08M views per artist), the city had only streamed 4.5K unique artists (that we are tracking). The leading artist was Alka Yagnik, a famous Indian playback singer that we’ve written about before, who boasts 81M+ YouTube views in that month-long period (trouncing Drake, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift, by the way). If we look at the current top artists on YouTube for Agra, the first non-South Asian artist we see is K-Pop megagroup BTS at 35th place, with the rest being Indian and Pakistani superstars. Essentially, Agra’s tastes, relatively speaking, are more local. (Note: The current Chartmetric artist database, as a function of the streaming platforms it follows, skews toward Western artists.)
If we are to define Trigger Cities as more broad in music tastes, we must set a bar for what “broad” means, in numbers. Looking at the distribution of unique artists listened to in that same month period, a really interesting division can be set around 15K unique artists. While excluding Indian or Pakistani cities is not the intent of such a filter, it does happen to remove all of them. This suggests that those cities’ listening preferences are indeed more narrow, and that in terms of music consumption, these cities are more “walled off” from a linguistic and/or cultural perspective, much like China has been written about as a “walled garden” from an internet perspective.
We’re now left with 152 cities with the Top 30 being from mostly Latin American and Southeast Asian cities (though four cities from Turkey and Saudi Arabia make the cut), and the first North American or western European city being New York City in 29th place (60.9K views per artist). The leading city, Mexico City, towers over all others at 175K views per artist, more than any other city in the world in this group. The second and third cities are Lima (142K) and Bogotá (141K), respectively, confirming the Latin American and Southeast Asian regions as being big drivers for streaming consumption for global music.
Interestingly, at 79.8K unique artists, Mexico City also has the most diverse tastes, save for six cities: New York (98K), London (92K), Los Angeles (91K), Chicago (84K), Houston (83K), and Paris (81K). Sound familiar? You bet: The traditional centers of the music industry. What this tells us is that these cities exhibit decent amounts of YouTube music consumption (ranging from 40-60K views per artist), but what they excel in is broad tastes and presumably, a willingness to experiment with different artists. However, in terms of pure consumption, they get doubled or tripled by Trigger Cities.
With Spotify, a “pure play” platform built on music streaming, we must turn to Monthly Listeners (MLs), which measures how many unique listeners listened to an artist in the past 28 days. It doesn’t measure quantity of consumption (like YouTube views), but rather how broad that listenership is. So, to a certain extent, we’re already incorporating the listening preference (i.e., willingness to experiment) in that metric alone.
Taking a single day in December 2020, and again across our entire 2.6M+ artists, we can look at each city and the average Spotify MLs, gauging how “broad” listener behavior is in a certain city. Though Spotify’s reach into the Indian market is presumably much smaller than YouTube’s, 14 of the Top 20 cities are Indian, with places such as Hyderabad (No. 1), Pune (No. 2), and Chennai (No. 3) leading this list. Again, they show a more domestic listening behavior, with only 2-5K unique artists, and upon spot-checking these cities’ top Spotify artists by MLs, most of them feature domestic artists like film composers A.R. Rahman and Anirudh Ravichander.
What this process reveals, regardless of platform, are our assumed cultural, linguistic, and business “silos.” They are indeed real, and it’s good to have data to understand it in black and white. Furthermore, these silos exist not only in South Asia, but everywhere. London’s Top 100 artists, for example, are virtually all British, American, and Canadian. This group of countries, in combination with the English-speaking Oceanic countries of Australia and New Zealand, make up the “Anglosphere” that many university professors and economists have discussed since the British colonial era. While the history is beyond this report’s scope, it would be good for us to remember that while these silos exist today, none of us can refute the world-changing reputation tech has earned, and that’s exactly the sea change we are beginning to see with Trigger Cities.
Having noted all of this, a Spotify MLs filter set at about 20K unique artists starts to reveal cities that tend toward broad listening behavior fitting a Trigger City-like profile. We are then left with 90 cities that include, in the Top 30, nine Latin American cities, nine European cities, five American cities, four Asian cities, two Oceanic cities, and one Middle Eastern city. These cities range from the low 2Ks to the high 6Ks in terms of average MLs, and they feature an average of 61K unique artists. What this suggests is a more engaged listenership that is willing to listen broadly to different artists.
“Traditional” music hubs like London (119K unique artists), Los Angeles (117K), Chicago (108K), and Sydney (103K) have the only unique artist counts greater than 100K. How much of this kind of musical experimentation is a function of the user or of Spotify algorithms is a complex matter. But what we also see is that Latin American and Southeast Asian Trigger Cities demonstrate less influence in this Top 30 list, and that is surely a function of Spotify’s user base. A whopping 59 percent of Spotify’s monthly active users (MAUs) are from North America and Europe — regions that certainly skew toward an Anglo audience. Putting this into perspective, the fact that Latin American and Asian cities even showed up at all in the Top 30 is a testament to the hyperactive nature of their audiences.
Consumption and broad listening behavior comprise only one piece of the Trigger City pie. While it’s useful to know where your fans may be, the concept starts to pay off (quite literally) when considering the relatively low digital advertising costs in many of these cities. So, if you spend money on Instagram Story ads, YouTube pre-rolls, or any kind of paid music marketing techniques, read on.
Trigger City Feature No. 2: Lower Advertising Costs
One of the most important digital tools that the internet has made available to artists is the ability to launch and manage digital advertising campaigns on a number of different platforms, from Instagram to Google and beyond. What makes digital advertising particularly important with respect to Trigger Cities is the ability to geo-target, or choose in what countries and/or cities to deliver your ads. As with any marketing campaign, however, you want to choose the most efficient and cost-effective strategy and increase your Return on Investment (ROI). In other words, you want to get the most bang for your buck.
Just like some cities have populations with bigger appetites for digital music consumption, some are also more likely to click on digital ads and are thus less expensive to target, not necessarily because of socioeconomic conditions, but because of cultural and consumer behavior — i.e., how much demand there is for new music discovery and digital music consumption through digital advertisements. One way to measure both demand and also advertising efficiency is Cost Per Click (CPC), or how much each click on your ad is costing you. So, if Ad 1 is being served in Location 1 with the same ad spend, aka budget, that Ad 1 is being served in Location 2, but you’re getting more clicks on Ad 1 in Location 2, then your CPC is lower in Location 2, suggesting you’re getting more bang for your buck in Location 2. Put another way: Generally speaking, the lower your CPC, the better.
Experience, trial and error, and A/B testing can help you determine whether Location 2 or Location 1 will give you a lower CPC rate, but running these experiments requires spending money. Fortunately, Google has a Keyword Planner tool that forecasts CPC for any keyword you choose, according to various dimensions, including location. We used the Keyword Planner to forecast CPC for generic keywords like “new music” and “stream new music” in 10 cities, including three international music industry hubs and seven Trigger Cities.
Though these are estimations and not certainties, the forecasted results suggest that Berlin, London, and New York City are all more expensive to advertise in than Trigger Cities like Bangkok, Mexico City, Manila, Istanbul, Jakarta, São Paulo, and Mumbai. In fact, looking at the sum of CPC for just three “industry” cities, it’s still 14 cents cheaper per click to advertise in all seven of these Trigger Cities. In other words, you can advertise to more than twice as many cities for less money by focusing on Trigger Cities rather than on international music industry hubs.
It’s important to note that cost is only one part of the equation. What you ultimately want to know is that clicks are likely — or at least more likely — to translate to listens, and hopefully, fans. The reasoning here is that launching Ad 1 in Location 2 might be cheaper than launching Ad 1 in Location 1, but if there aren’t any potential fans in Location 2, then what’s the point? As such, we juxtaposed the same cities’ CPC projections for January 2021 with their average music engagement by platform. In São Paulo, for example, the average number of Spotify Monthly Listeners for an artist is the highest at almost 12K while its CPC is the second lowest at just 23 cents. On YouTube, the average number of monthly YouTube views is highest in Mumbai (almost 246K), while the CPC is the lowest at 21 cents.
Theoretically, based on just this data, to maximize the ROI of your digital ad spend, you would target São Paulo for Spotify and Mumbai for YouTube. However, taking into account the localized genre preferences and cultural considerations that we covered in the previous section as well, you can target the cities where your potential fans are more likely to be.
Remember: listeners aren’t just data points and “emerging markets” aren’t — and we can’t stress this enough — artificial launchpads. Having a truly successful advertising campaign isn’t about budgets, click counts, and inorganic streams and views; ultimately, it’s about genuine connection with fans who truly appreciate your music.
TikTok: The Next Trigger City Frontier
As it stands, TikTok is still very much a track-level marketing platform, and it hasn’t quite managed to reach Instagram levels of artist-level marketing. That said, artists are catching on to the power of TikTok, and the platform is likely to continue growing in significance for artists who want to engage with their fans, which is why it’s increasingly important to pay attention to who’s following TikTok artist profiles and where in the world they are. As such, we’d be remiss not to mention the relationship between Trigger Cities and TikTok.
Aggregating follower locations for the TikTok artist profiles that we do have linked in our database, we found that just 20 Trigger City countries accounted for 1.1B+ non-unique TikTok followers for artists, while 125 non-Trigger City countries accounted for around 2B non-unique TikTok followers for artists. In other words, even though countries in which Trigger Cities are located comprise just 14 percent of all countries, they account for more than half as many non-unique TikTok followers as the remaining 86 percent of countries. What makes this over-indexing even more impressive are 1) our TikTok data is skewed toward the US market and 2) TikTok was banned in India in June 2020, meaning Indian follower stats have essentially been frozen in time since then, but Indian followers still account for the third largest share of artists’ TikTok followers overall.
Of the Top 30 countries overall, exactly half were Trigger City countries, including Brazil, India, and Mexico, which came behind the US, respectively, and ahead of the UK in the Top 5. Breaking these numbers down by non-unique TikTok followers per country (as it pertains to artist profiles on TikTok), that translates to roughly 56.8M followers per Trigger City country and just 16.4M followers per non-Trigger City country. Translation: Similar to Spotify and YouTube, potential fans seem to be most eager — and most available — to engage with artists’ TikTok profiles in Trigger Cities.
Contextualizing Trigger Cities
At the end of the day, what you choose to do with the Trigger Cities concept is up to you. You’re the artist, and there’s nothing more sacred than an artist’s creativity.
Get to know Trigger Cities’ genre preferences, for example, and see how they might apply to your work. Read up on how English lyric videos worked supremely well in Southeast Asia, where karaoke is a lifestyle, not only a random drunk night with friends. Learn how Buenos Aires-based Argentians lean heavily toward rock and alternative music — it may even be cool to them that you don’t sing in Spanish, as long as the guitars are loud and the distortion gritty.
Dust off your English-version acoustic cover of a BTS song, and promote it in Quezon City. Reach out to an emerging fitness influencer in Rio de Janeiro on Instagram, and ask them to use your latest rock track on their next post.
If you aren’t seeing your global audience base grow, maybe it’s time to get back in the lab and tweak your music, visuals, or promotion process. At the end of it all, you’re finding your fans, and because of the internet, they can be anywhere in the world. That’s an awesome challenge, and a connection we hope we were able to facilitate with these Trigger Cities insights.
Get out there. Your fans are waiting.
Started in 2016, Chartmetric has now grown into the music industry’s leading music analytics tool. Our focus on the market-level music environment means tracking 4.9M+ artists from all regions of the world, big and small, across 25+ data sources.
There are more music data tools becoming available (and that’s a good thing!), but with our progressive approach of simplifying business insights through data science techniques, we believe we’re uniquely positioned as an analytics resource for artists, labels, managers, distributors, agencies, and all businesses working with music.
Ready to get started?
Create an account instantly and start getting insights about your artists, new opportunities to grow and discovering the next big thing.Get started now