Playlist battles: Chris Price releases new study of playlist power

chris price listomania splash 300wWhile albums fade as commercial products, and radio is challenged by streaming audio, is there a new power product that drives listens and accelerates hit-making? U.K.-based consultant and founder of New Slang Media, Chris Price, has emerged as a specialist in identifying the power of playlists, and quantifying their influence. Price has released the first segment of a two-part study called Listomania: Winners & Losers in the Battle for Spotify Playlist Supremacy. (Download the PDF here.)

The idea of playlists as new albums, and even new forms of radio, is taking hold. A recent Music 4.5 conference in New York concentrated solely on that topic. Chris Price digs into Spotify lists as benchmarks of the phenomenon existing in the world’s most popular on-demand music service. The report identifies, examines, and quantifies a struggle for “playlist pre-eminance” for curators, record labels, and artists.

Listomania springs from a widely-quoted article by Chris Price called Who Owns the Editorial Voice on Spotify? In it, the Spotify playlist empires owned by the three major labels — Topsify (Warner Music), Digster (Universal Music Group), and Filtr (Sony) are analyzed and their impact compared to Spotify’s many house playlists.

The Listomania report goes further by leveraging data available trough the Spotify API, enabling Chris Price to count artists and followers across playlists, to arrive at a picture of who’s winning biggest. One spoiler is that Justin Bieber is the biggest artist winner, at the time of the study. Another is that Spotify house lists have greater presence and impact than the record-label branded lists. But the real fun of reading through this well-produced study is seeing how artists and playlists jockey for position in Spotify’s sphere.

The total picture includes a gigantic long tail — Spotify hosts two-billion playlists, many of them created by users who have differing levels of influence. Details of that data trove are unplumbed in this report. As in the music business generally, most of the power and influence are concentrated at the top, and that means the service and label lists, which are new hitmaking brands.

The report asserts that radio lags behind playlists in recognizing and accelerating new music trends. “Streaming playlists are big business, and are even threatening to topple radio from its hit-making throne,” Listomania concludes. That’s why the major labels are bearing down on their brand playlists strategies. Interestingly, the programming tactic must include artists on other labels, or the list won’t attract followers. Chris Price analyzes which of the label lists are more and less generous in that regard.

What about indies? “Very soon we’ll see — somewhat belatedly in some people’s view — the creation of a global playlist brand representing the collective efforts and repertoire of the independent label community. It’s early days for everyone.”


Brad Hill