Top 40 radio is notorious for spinning the same small list of tracks over and over and over and over again, rendering any tuned-in road trip of substance a literal carousel of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.
But do these artists truly reflect all that listeners want to hear? Sure, they're extremely popular and have significant fan followings, but they represent only a fraction of the music that's available today.
Analytics service Next Big Sound—now owned by Pandora, where I work as the company's first data journalist—aggregates social, streaming and event data into a single platform, with each data point representing an unfiltered interaction between an artist and a fan. Given how indicative this data is of what listeners really want to hear, there's plenty marketers can learn by taking a closer look at what we've found.
Finding social influencers among emerging artists
Beyoncé, Kanye West and Katy Perry are all household names, artists who have amassed behemoth audiences across social media channels and dominated terrestrial radio. But the list of music's most powerful social influencers goes far beyond this elite group. Just look at young electro pop artist Halsey, who is relatively new to the scene, but whose follower growth on Twitter outranks the more recognizable Top 40 darlings like Iggy Azalea, Adele, Justin Timberlake, and even Britney Spears. Not to mention that spin activity on Pandora indicates women ages 18 to 24 just can't get enough of her.
With music's top social media influencers hot on the radar of marketers everywhere, it's vitally important for campaign strategists to search beyond Top 40 radio for the more subtle social media superstars who may ultimately provide better access to highly sought-after audiences.
Streaming platforms provide a path to niche audiences
Niche marketing has long supplanted simply casting the widest net possible. When you're looking to reach a specific demographic in a diverse market, streaming music platforms and social media channels provide the more direct and uncluttered path.
Latin artists now account for one-third of the most popular artists on YouTube. Half of the top 20 artists on Pandora are most popular with 25- to 34-year-old women. These are just some of the insights marketers seeking to target a specific demo can use to tailor their strategy. Brands looking to collaborate with artists who reach highly desirable audiences can rely on the latest industry data and research to help identify marketing opportunities not available through Top 40 radio.
Which musical genres actually resonate with listeners?
From Bieber to Blake Shelton, terrestrial radio is saturated with pop and country. But that's not necessarily representative of what America is actually listening to. There is an audience for every genre, from death metal to bluegrass, and this is almost entirely overlooked in mainstream marketing campaigns.
Pandora, for instance, with over 78 million active listeners, skews heavily toward hip-hop—60 percent of the top artists in July were hip-hop artists, compared with just 15 percent on terrestrial radio during the same period. Streaming music platforms wield enormous potential for marketers seeking to have their messages resonate with a targeted audience whose tastes in music are largely ignored on Top 40 radio.
Underground EDM and hip-hop fans are the most engaged
The artists with the most engaged followings on Instagram can often differ from the most popular, and a lot of them are hip-hop and EDM acts.
Vinny Cha$e, Marshmello, Logic—these are artists who are largely strangers to mainstream radio play, but the relationship between the size of their social media followings and the rate of daily follower activity make these artists among the most engaging to fans in all of music today, a reality about which most marketers are completely unaware.
Marketers looking to reach the most engaged fans may want to think twice about which music genres they align with.
Older hits (even Nickelback) are still hitting
Perhaps the most astounding insight derived from this snapshot of data, is that America is still listening to Nickelback—at a significant clip. A whopping 140,000 station adds on Pandora in July is comparable to what contemporary artists like Kanye West, Katy Perry and Lil Yachty are pulling in. And it's not just Nickelback. Legacy rock artists ranging from Journey to the Eagles continue to perform well in the modern age of streaming music.
The unmistakable nostalgia of America's streaming audience overlooked by Top 40 radio presents new opportunities for marketers to reach and engage with listeners not willing to part ways with music decades removed from the Billboard charts. Top 40 radio may have put its hits out to pasture a long time ago, but oldies are still goodies (and completely new again to some audiences) on streaming radio.