Welcome to the fifth edition of 6MO, our semi-annual report on music industry trends (if you're looking for music trends from H2 2020 and earlier, click here). In this interactive web-based edition, we take a look back at the first half of 2021 (H1 2021, Jan. 1-June 30) 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 and social media.
In this edition’s main theme, we examine gender equity in the music industry through the lens of artist pronoun usage. Using our newly developed database (a work in progress) of approximately 450K artists whose pronouns are listed in their streaming platform biographies — the first of its kind in the world, as far as we’re aware — we examine the distribution of pronouns overall, by genre, by playlists, and by charts, with the aim of bringing attention to the lack of gender equity and representation in music. In our view, fixing the problem starts with knowing how severe it is and where the music industry needs to focus its energy and resources most.
It is important to note that while there is significant overlap between pronoun usage and gender identification for most people, pronoun usage does not necessarily equate to gender identification for everyone. As such, examining the self-declared pronouns of artists is only the first — and very much imperfect — step toward answering the gender equity question. To learn more about our approach, read our purpose and methodology here. If you have any feedback or constructive criticism about this ongoing project, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want this effort to be as inclusive and sensitive as possible.
As always, while you make your way through our report, don’t forget to click through the animated infographics, and enjoy the latest important music industry trends and statistics!
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 four different music platforms — Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, and Shazam — and the Top 10 rising artists and tracks within them.
Spotify Monthly Listeners Growth
For Masked Wolf (No. 1), Måneskin (No. 2), and Olivia Rodrigo (No. 7), 2021 has clearly been a breakout year. Ending 2020 with just about 1M Spotify MLs, Australian rapper Masked Wolf had climbed to a whopping 28M by the end of May, thanks in large part to his track “Astronaut in the Ocean,” which went viral on TikTok at the end of 2020 and well into 2021. Italian Rock band Måneskin’s climb came later in H1 2021, with their Eurovision Song Contest 2021 win in May propelling them from 2.4M MLs to 30M in just a month. Though Disney Pop star Olivia Rodrigo had almost 5M MLs at the end of 2020, her rise was no less stratospheric, with viral track “drivers license” steering her to 60M MLs by the end of June 2021.
Beyond these obvious breakthrough artists, UK artists and EDM producers also shined during the first six months of 2021, and much of that success was due to a combination of collaboration, remixing, and/or TikTok virality. The track “Friday,” a collaboration between Scottish House producer Nightcrawlers, English producer Riton, and social media personalities Mufasa and Hypeman, helped Nightcrawlers reach No. 3, while the collaborative remix of the track “Body” (and a clever TikTok dance challenge promotion) helped British rappers Russ Millions (No. 4), Darkoo (No. 8), and Bugzy Malone (No. 10) reach the Top 10. Whether that growth came through organic or paid means, UK artists and labels seem to have developed the right formula for securing Spotify playlists and expanding their Spotify listenership in H1 2021.
YouTube Channel Views Growth
On YouTube, Olivia Rodrigo (No. 1) and Masked Wolf (No. 2) once again demonstrate just how much they broke through in 2021. Rodrigo climbed from around 11M channel views to almost 1B by the end of June, with Masked Wolf only ending up with about a third of that amount. Still, both artists grew significantly more on YouTube than they did on Spotify, speaking to the more global and accessible nature of the video streaming platform.
Further reflecting the differences between the two DSPs (digital streaming platforms): Spotify exhibited a clear pattern of UK artists and EDM producers growing most in H1 2021 while YouTube tended to display a bit more diversity in terms of genre and geography. From UK rapper Central Cee (No. 3) to Japanese Pop rockers Awesome City Club (No. 7) and SoCal Alt-Pop singer carolesdaughter (No. 6) to Ghanian Afrobeats star Gyakie (No. 8), there was much less of a distinctive market bias, once again proving itself as the most globally accessible platform. That said, with five out of the Top 10 artists operating in the Hip-Hop space, it’s clear that Hip-Hop is still a global winner.
Pandora Stream Count Growth, Track-Level
According to US-based Integr8 Research, 40 percent of the Top 20 songs on Pandora (in a sampled week during June 2021) were Country music songs, demonstrating that the Southern US music genre still holds strong influence on the streaming platform. Russell Dickerson showed the biggest increase with his wistful track “Sweet Home” (No. 1) multiplying more than 100x to 148K+ streams in a single day. More than half of this Top 10 feature Country songs, two of which involve interesting collaborations. Jon Pardi’s “Tequila Little Time” (No. 2) incorporates traditional Mexican music influence, a rising force in the streaming world, and millenial hit king Nelly joins forces with country stars Florida Georgia Line for “Lil Bit” in the No. 3 spot. Nelly happens to be extra lucky in the past six months, as he also appears via sample in Erica Banks’ TikTok viral hit “Buss It” (No. 6).
On the TikTok front, Pandora is as subject to its influence as we are to gravity: several of these tracks surge in Pandora streams after their viral moments on ByteDance’s app. US-based singer Giveon grew exponentially after his ballad “Heartbreak Anniversary” (No. 5) broke in March 2021, and went from less than 4K daily Pandora streams on Jan. 1 to 209K+ on June 30 alone. There was also the Australian rapper Masked Wolf with “Astronaut in the Ocean” at No. 10, which … well, you know that one already.
Shazam Growth, Track-Level
As is usually the case with Shazam, movie and TV syncs tend to be one of the primary drivers of global Shazam count growth. That was true of Antonio of Italy’s rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” (No. 1), which had a prominent placement in Disney and Pixar’s Luca. It was also true of Teddi Gold’s “BOOM BOOM” (No. 5), which soundtracked an Old Navy commercial, and The Protomen’s cover of Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” (No. 7), which had a placement in Netflix’s Cobra Kai series.
What’s potentially a surprise, however, is the correlation between TikTok and Shazam count growth. Given the fact that track titles and artists are already displayed within the TikTok app, it seems a bit counter-intuitive that users would be Shazaming tracks from TikTok videos. While it’s difficult to say whether or not the correlation rises to the level of causation, it’s certainly possible that users are making use of Shazam’s Pop Up feature on TikTok. In fact, Laurel’s “Appetite” (No. 10) was explicitly used by Apple to promote the Shazam feature, which automatically displays the track another app is playing on a user’s phone so that the user can easily navigate to a DSP (likely Apple Music, given Shazam’s ownership) to listen to the full version. If it accounts for the 192 percent growth in Shazam counts for her track, then it’s very possible Shazam Pop Up could account for the six other tracks that grew most on Shazam in H1 2021.
In order to take the first step toward using data analytics to help answer the gender equity question for the music industry, we had to develop a scalable approach that was simultaneously accurate, inclusive, and ethical. What we wanted to avoid was a top-down system in which we were assigning gender to artists, which is problematic regardless of accuracy. Consequently, we turned to the pronouns used by artists and/or their teams in their artist bios, which we collected from DSPs.
The result is a database of approximately 450K artists whose pronouns are listed in their DSP bios — the first of its kind in the world, as far as we’re aware. Below, we use this database to examine the distribution of pronouns overall, by genre, by playlists, and by charts, with the aim of bringing attention to the lack of gender equity and representation in music. In our view, fixing the problem starts with knowing how severe it is and where the music industry needs to focus its energy and resources most.
Importantly, while there is significant overlap between pronoun usage and gender identification for most people, pronoun usage does not necessarily equate to gender identification for everyone. As such, our examination of gender equity in the music industry through the lens of artist pronoun usage should be taken with that major caveat in mind. Examining the self-declared pronouns of artists is only the first — and very much imperfect — step toward answering the gender equity question.
To learn more about our approach, read about our methodology here, and if you have any feedback or constructive criticism about this ongoing project, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com. We want this effort to be as inclusive and sensitive as possible.
Overall Pronoun Distribution (as of July 2021)
- 454,467 artists are tagged with the pronouns he/him, she/her, or they/them.
- 301,398 artists are solo artists.
- 237,683 solo artists use he/him pronouns.
- 57,922 solo artists use she/her pronouns.
- 69 solo artists use they/them pronouns.
- 34 solo artists use a combination of pronouns.
- 153,055 artists are a group of some sort.
- 558 groups have all members with he/him pronouns.
- 30 groups have all members with she/her pronouns.
- 152,467 groups have members with either a mix of pronouns or pronoun usage that we couldn’t confirm.
While 454,467 artists tagged with pronouns through this process is only a sample of about 10 percent of all of the artists (4.6M+) that we have in our database, there is enough data here to generate some important analysis about pronoun distribution in the music industry. For one, some ⅔ of artists in this dataset are solo artists, leaving ⅓ that are multi-member (bands, collectives, etc.). Roughly 79 percent of solo artists use he/him pronouns, while just 19 percent use she/her pronouns. That leaves less than 1 percent of solo artists who use either they/them pronouns or a combination of pronouns.
The inequity is much more difficult to examine when it comes to bands or other multi-member groups, because we don’t yet have sufficient data about pronoun distribution within groups. As such, there are 99.6 percent of groups in this dataset that aren’t assigned pronouns. That said, for the group pronouns that we could confirm, there are about 19x more all he/him groups than she/her groups.
Why does this matter? Historically, the global human sex ratio has been roughly 1:1 or 50/50 male to female. If we were to briefly assume that gender identification predicts pronoun usage to a reasonable degree of confidence, then our dataset would have, approximately, a 4:1 or 80/20 male to female ratio. In other words, the music industry, at least when it comes to artists, is considerably less equitable than the general population. Unfortunately, population-level data is much more difficult to come by when it comes to non-binary pronoun usage, so we can’t confidently say that non-binary identifying artists are underrepresented in this dataset when compared to the general population.
Pronoun Distribution on Platforms by Streams
Editor’s Note: Spotify stream counts have only been publicly available since May 2021, and only for the top five tracks for each artist. It is not a comprehensive dataset.
Since streams and views are tied to an artist’s royalties, knowing who is behind the all-time most streamed/viewed tracks on a platform can help shed some light on the artists that have been earning the largest slice of the pie.Out of the top 100 most streamed tracks on Spotify that the platform publicly shares stream counts for (since May 2021), there are 4x more appearances by he/him identifying solo artists than she/her identifying individuals. On Pandora (all-time), the factor is 4.8x towards he/him identifying solo artists. The pronoun distribution across artists is slightly more equitable on YouTube at 2.3x, though this ratio still leans towards he/him identifying persons. Across all platforms, however, only 2.9 percent of solo artists use they/them, other or multiple pronouns that tend to be associated with non-binary identifying people.
From the perspective of individual artists vs. groups, the top 100 tracks on Spotify and YouTube have far more solo appearances at 5.4x and 5.2x, respectively. Pandora, on the other hand, is more balanced with only 1.4x more individual than group features. Yet on all three platforms, groups with solely he/him identifying members far exceed those with members of mixed or even just she/her pronouns at a ratio of 7.8x. There is clearly quite some way to go for gender equity to be achieved in the streaming world, but hopefully these numbers can help fans and the industry alike begin to understand and address this issue.
Pronoun Distribution on Streaming Charts
When it comes to pronoun distribution on the streaming charts, he/him identifying solo artists appear 2.7x more than she/her identifying persons on the Spotify Top 200, 3.8x more on the Apple Music Global Top 200, and 2x more on the YouTube Artists Global Top 100. Solo artists far outweigh groups at 5x, 5.2x, and 8x on each chart, respectively. Of those groups, the overwhelming majority only have he/him identifying members.
Though charts tend to represent a very small and elite slice of the greater artist pool, they are instructive precisely because of that fact, because charting artists tend to be the artists who move the needle most in the music industry, indicating mainstream listener preferences. With these particular results, it appears that YouTube users are likely the most equitable in terms of gender, but the least when it comes to solo artists vs. groups. Spotify users are likely the most equitable when it comes to gender; however, it’s worth noting that the Spotify chart is twice as big as Apple’s and YouTube’s. Even if we were to just take the Top 100 of Spotify’s Top 200, the result becomes even more equitable (though still not 1:1) at 2x more he/him pronouns than she/her pronouns. Sadly, non-binary identifying persons are even more underrpresented on all three charts, with 0 charting artists identifying with pronouns other than he/him or she/her.
Pronoun Distribution by Genre
Looking at pronoun distribution by genre, there are approximately 6x more he/him identifying solo artists than she/her identifying solo artists in Hip-Hop, 2.5x more in Country, 1.7x more in Pop, 5.6x more in Dance & Electronic, 3.7x more in Latin & Caribbean, 1.7x more in Indie, and 3.8x more in Rock, Punk & Metal. To frame it another way, Pop and Indie appear to demonstrate the most equity, Hip-Hop and Dance & Electronic the least, and Country, Latin & Caribbean, and Rock, Punk & Metal somewhere in the middle.
Interestingly, Pop and Indie also have the most equitable distribution (approaching 1:1) of solo artists to groups, while Hip-Hop and Dance & Electronic have the least. It’s worth noting, however, that these genres aren’t mutually exclusive, so there could very well be some artists in multiple genres. Regardless of the overlap, most genres — Hip-Hop and Dance & Electronic, especially — likely have a long way to go when it comes to gender equity.
Pronoun Distribution on Top Playlists
Playlists have become one of the most common and popular ways to listen to music today and getting their track listed can make a big difference for artists trying to get heard and gain fans. Spotify is well-known for its playlists and some of its most-followed lists include Today’s Top Hits (28.9M followers), Top 50 - Global (16.2M), RapCaviar (13.9M), Viva Latino (11.1M), Songs to Sing in the Car (9.8M), All Out 00s (9.5M), and Rock Classics (9.2M). When looking at the pronoun distribution across these playlists, Rock Classics, RapCaviar and Viva Latino have 8.3x, 7.7x, and 4.9x more he/him than she/her identifying solo artists, respectively. If these ratios are compared to the previous pronoun distribution figures of their respective genres, Hip-Hop and Latin & Caribbean showed similar numbers of 6x and 3.7x more he/him than she/her identifying individual artists. Rock, Punk & Metal, however, had a less imbalanced figure of 3.8x in contrast to Rock Classics’ 8.3x. While this genre ratio may change as our pronoun database is still evolving, this does beg the notion of whether there may now be more she/her identifying Rock, Punk & Metal solo artists than there were before.
On the other top playlists, Top 50 - Global and Today’s Top Hits are somewhat more equitable with 2.1x and 1.7x more he/him than she/her identifying solo artists. Conversely, Songs to Sing in the Car and All Out 00s actually have 1.04x and 1.1x more she/her than he/him identifying solo artists. The distribution on these two playlists may be thanks to genre again, as Pop appeared to be one of the most equitable of the seven genres in the Pronoun Distribution by Genre section above. Yet while the top four Spotify playlists (200 songs total) still skew towards he/him identifying individual artists, it’s also particularly interesting to note that the 150 biggest songs of the 2000s had more she/her identifying solo appearances.
Empowering gender equity with music data is something we all must strive to do together. Please read more about our process here, and reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any suggestions or want to collaborate!
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