Spotify’s Biggest Song Has 500 Million Plays. YouTube’s 10th Biggest Song Has One Billion Plays.

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Ed Sheeran’s song ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is the first song to hit half a billion streams on Spotify

Spotify recently announced that Ed Sheeran’s global hit, ‘Thinking Out Loud,’ is the first song on its platform to hit 500 million streams.  This is a major milestone and undoubtedly a huge success for Spotify, as well as the British singer/songwriter.

Spotify started the celebration immediately.  To mark this milestone, Spotify created ‘The Sheerio Index,’ an interactive graphic to show where Sheeran is the most popular in the world.  Denmark has the most ‘Sheerios’ according to the map, with Norway, Sweden and UK not far behind (see below).


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Sheeran couldn’t contain the excitement.  “Chuffed to hear that ‘Thinking Out Loud’ has had half a billion plays on Spotify,” Sheeran said.  “Being the first artist to hit that milestone is amazing.’’

If half-a-billion plays wasn’t enough to indicate Sheeran’s Spotify success, he was also Spotify’s most streamed artist for 2014.  One in four Spotify users have the singer on their playlists, and Spotify also revealed that 19 million people stream Sheeran’s music on Spotify each month.  In total, his songs have been streamed approximately 2.9 billion times and are included on 38 million playlists.

The popularity runs even deeper, however. Earlier this year a study showed that Sheeran dominated Spotify users’ sleeping soundtracks. ‘Thinking Out Loud’ topped the list of most-streamed songs on the service’s sleep-themed playlists. Six of Ed Sheeran’s other songs also landed in the top 20 as well.   These figures make Ed Sheeran one of Spotify’s most popular artist – coming third from the top, behind The Weeknd and Calvin Harris.


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Spotify vs. YouTube

Here’s where the buzzkill starts to set in.  Sheeran’s song ‘Thinking Out Loud’ may have hit 500 million streams on Spotify, but the song hit over 750 million views on YouTube, which is of course a huge amount more.  But, not quite enough to enter YouTube’s elite Billion Views Club, which consists of the top 10 videos on YouTube, all of are music videos and all of which have at least one billion views.

So why is it that Spotify is celebrating one song hitting 500 million plays, while YouTube has 10 music videos that all have over a billion views?

One obvious reason is that the visual experience that you get from watching a video on YouTube is more satisfying than simply streaming a song on Spotify.  It’s that simple.  There is more flexibility and variety with YouTube; it’s the experience that sets it apart.

But, despite all of this, we still prefer to visually watch a music video while listening to the song, as opposed to simply just listening.  Hence, why a quarter of a million more people watched Ed Sheeran’s song on YouTube than streamed it on Spotify.   So, in terms of which service is more victorious, YouTube is currently miles ahead.


Top image by Mark Kent, elephant image by Rod Waddington; both licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0).

32 Responses

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Pound for pound, most likely Spotify. Actually, I’d guess that Spotify paid Sheeran more overall, even though YT had 50% more plays on the track.

    • Rick Shaw

      Another question is, how many more downloads, CDs, concert tickets and merch did he sell because of this?

      • GGG

        Complete speculation, but DLs, probably a nice chunk (for 2015), CDs probably not too many, concert tix…the dude sells out like 3 nights in arenas, so probably a ton, which indirectly leads to merch sales, though Spotify also links right to merch too, so I bet that puts up some good numbers.

  1. F Streaming

    I mean whatever.

    The quality of youtube audio is awful and always has been. Everything uploaded until 2013 had a maximum of 192, and usually much less, and since then it’s actually less at 126 max.

    Spotify mobile is 96K, free 160K, and paid 320. These also suck, but at least one knows that the music was actually uploaded by someone who probably didn’t screw it up more on the upload.

  2. Anonymous

    Great job on the article title. Pretty illustrative of DMNs general understanding on the complicated world of numbers.

  3. Versus

    “we still prefer to visually watch a music video whilst listening to the song, as opposed to simply just listening.”

    Who is this “we”? I don’t have this preference.

    And…lots of people listen to music on YouTube while doing something else, not watching the video at all.

    • Anonymous

      “Who is this “we”?”

      The majority of fans, obviously.

      And we prefer YouTube because the video is 50% of any hit today, and we don’t want 50% when we can get 100% for free.

  4. Anonymous

    It probably has more to do with availability and ease of use. Mobile listening long ago topped desktop PC listening. But Spotify free isn’t on-demand for mobile phones. Youtube is. Spotify tracks are also not near as commonly shared as youtube tracks are.

  5. GGG

    …for fuck’s sake.

    Maybe the numbers are different because YouTube gets, even if we take Spotify’s most generous numbers of themselves, somewhere between 900M and 1 BILLION more unique users a month than Spotify has total. I dunno, call me crazy but that might have something to do with it…

    • Agreed

      And as soon as I get as far as “ed sheeran th” in a google search the first thing that pops is the youtube video. Google’s dominance in search for desktops and on android will always mean that youtube wins outside of listening through a dedicated music app.

  6. That guy

    Just fyi, you can make playlists onYouTube too, and also share and follow them.

  7. Anonymous

    “One obvious reason is that the visual experience that you get from watching a video on YouTube is more satisfying than simply streaming a song on Spotify. It’s that simple.”

    True — but that’s hard to accept if you work in audio-only. And that’s why quite a few DMN readers don’t get it.

    A music video is the full package, audio-only is just 50%. That’s what makes it a dino.

    • There is something...

      Two problems with your theory:

      – There are tons of “videos” with nothing more than a background pics that still manage to reach millions of views. Don’t tell my people love to stare at a background for hours.

      – It’s just impossible to make a “good” video for every song you write. A good video cost money. It can cost even way more than producing the song or the full album. Shitty vids cost next to nothing, but if it’s just to see same guy singing in his shower, I’d rather take the fixed background pic.

      Bottomline: many, many users just LISTEN to Youtube. It runs in the background while you browse the web, expose your life on Facebook or write comments on DMN.

      • Anonymous

        “Don’t tell my people love to stare at a background for hours”
        Yes, they do. Well, not for hours, but for a while; there’s a deep correlation between songs and images. Both evoke emotions. You could argue that certain record covers are as important as the audio.

        “It’s just impossible to make a “good” video for every song you write.”
        No, it depends on your resources. You’ll find a way if you believe in your song.

        • There is something...

          No they don’t. Deadmau5 for exemple have songs in the 30 millions views and only a picture of his mouse logo as a backgroud. Nobody look at that for hours, not even for minutes. People go to hear his music on Youtube and they don’t give a flying F… about the visuals. And I say this: if you need to rely on videos to make an audience, then you’ve failed as a musicien. Go make movies instead.

        • There is something...

          And let me be very clear: video is an extra. It’s the icing on the cake. You need of course a couple good videos to promote your work. But if you need a video for every song in order to keep your fans attention, then there is clearly an issue with your music. And I, by far, prefer 1 good video to promote an album than 10 shitty vids for every song on the album.

          • Anonymous

            “video is an extra”

            No, the visual dimension has always been essential.

            Mach Schau, ya know…

    • GGG

      You’re not wrong to a degree, but it’s not that black and white.

      Adding to what the guy above said, for one, you realize how few songs actually have videos people are remotely interested in watching, right? I think as time goes on labels might start investing more and more into a video for almost every track on the record, but how many actual music videos does Ed Sheeran have compared to his songs? His own channel has a couple on the first page called Official Audio. The three I saw incidentally had far less plays than Spotify.

      YouTube trumps Spotify because it’s got a fuckload more users, and a fuckload more users that have been using it for years now. YouTube is basically a second search engine. Hell, Google directs right to it if you type in certain things. So yes, there is a huge degree to where audio is only 50% of what people want, but another huge aspect of it is still pure analytics and familiarity.

      • Anonymous

        “YouTube is basically a second search engine”

        Sure. And not just ‘basically’; YouTube is indeed the world’s second largest search engine.

        So you’re right — people use it for lots of reasons. Virality is one of them…

  8. DavidB

    Are all the top scoring tracks on YouTube official music videos, like the Sheeran one? If so, it isn’t surprising that they get more plays than Spotify, even if the user numbers of the two platforms were the same. A lot of people will want to watch a video once or twice, even if they aren’t huge fans of the artist in question. E.g., I have watched videos by Rihanna and Rita Ora for largely non-musical reasons!

    A better test of the relative popularity of YT and Spotify purely as music streaming platforms would be the play counts on tracks for which there is no official video. I tried this at random for the David Bowie song ‘Dirty Boys’, a good track from his album The Next Day. There is no official video for this, but there a a number of ‘fan-uploaded’ videos on YT. None of these have very high view counts, and the total for all of them is less than 100,000. In contrast, the play count on Spotify is about 1.8 million. Of course, it would be rash to generalise from a single random example, but it does show that YT doesn’t *always* get more plays than Spotify. I would encourage other people to try their own tests.

  9. DavidB

    ….and to add to my previous comment, I suggest that a song which is (in old terminology) primarily an album track, as opposed to a ‘hit single’, will probably get more plays on Spotify than YT, maybe even when there *is* an official video. It is more convenient to listen to an album on a proper streaming service. As an example, I just checked the figures for the latest album by the British indie band Foals. On Spotify nearly all the tracks have over a million plays. The two most popular tracks each have over 7 million plays. These two tracks do have official videos, but the view count for each of these on YT is less than 3 million. So in these cases, even where there is an official video, they are played more on Spotify than YT. Again, this is just a single randomly chosen example, so I encourage others to do their own checks.

  10. @tonefive

    I would find it a little bit unfair to compare YT´s numbers with Spotify´s given the enormous difference in active users. A more interesting approach perhaps would be to analyze long-term stream behavior.

    If 1 out of 4 people have Sheeran on their playlists, give it some time until the song´s long-term value is maintained on Spotify, while the visual experience of the video diminishes on YouTube.

  11. John

    Here is the perfect opportunity for DMN and Charlotte to follow up this article to see where Ed generated the most revenues, as that is what really matters in the long run for all of us. Youtube or Spotify. Full transparency.
    PLEASE do so!!! Now please.

  12. DJ Keith D

    Wekend ranks at one. Cool. But don’t forget, many artist sill have not made there “Music/Album” Catalog on line. Like Taylor Swift. If every album, artist, song etc.. made its way to Spotify,, it could should a different picture, stats or ranking. Already artist like George Harrison ( who just had its music) showing a great gain on Spotify. Beatles have yet to put theirs on. Although The Rolling Stones already have their’s.

  13. howlermunkey

    AS of Feb 14, 2016, “Lean On” from DJ Snake has 664 million hits and climbing. The Top hits for DJ Snake also include “Turn Down for What” and “You Know you Like It”…..

  14. Butch

    I actually avoid watching most music videos because half of them suck and ruin the song for me… Spotify is the way to go. Maybe the reason more people are on youtube than Spotify is because Spotify is much newer and not everyone is up to date enough to have downloaded it yet