99% of All Music Streaming Comes from Just 10% of Available Songs

Researchers at BuzzAngle Music can probably guess what you’ll stream on Spotify and Apple Music.

So, how popular were streaming music platforms last year?

In the US, audio streaming consumption exploded 50.6% over 2016.  Subscription streams also made up 80% of all audio streams, up from 76% in 2016.

In total, researchers at BuzzAngle Music found that people consumed 377 billion streams.  Meanwhile, digital album and song sales, as well as physical albums continued their slow decline into obscurity.  Vinyl sales, however, grew 20.1% and comprised 10.4% of all physical album sales.

But, did you know that 99% of those 377 billion streams were from the top 10% of 2017’s most-streamed tracks?

Less than 1% of streams accounted for all other music.  According to BuzzAngle Music, people readily prefer to stream the most popular releases each year over most other songs.  Rather than solve this discrepancy, music streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have only helped to fuel it.

All of which raises the question: with more people only streaming songs from popular musicians, how exactly will indie music survive?

Can music platforms geared towards indie artists solve this glaring disparity?

In stark contrast to BuzzAngle’s report, Bandcamp reported that digital album sales grew 16% over 2016.  Track sales increased 33% and merch 36%.  Led by vinyl at 54%, physical sales also exploded.  CD sales grew 18% and cassettes 41%.

Revenue from 3,500 indie labels on Bandcamp also skyrocketed 73% over 2016.  Last year, all-time payments to artists through the online music distribution platform reached $270 million.

Bandcamp also noted the problems of streaming platforms exerting control over what music fans listen to.

“Allowing the distribution of an entire art form to be controlled by so few has troubling implications…  The streaming giants exert tremendous influence over what music gets heard, and must primarily serve their most important supplier, the major labels.  The result is that independent labels, and especially independent artists, are far less likely to be discovered on those platforms.”

As a music fan, what can you do?

On an article posted on Pitchfork, musician and writer Damon Krukowski has an idea.  Individual tracks on popular playlists on these services lack information, especially for some indie musicians.  So, why not fill in the gaps and tell others who performed, wrote, and published the track?

Krukowski recommends using Discogs and Bandcamp, as well as visiting music publications and blogs.  Citing Bill Gates’ famous 1996 phrase that “Content is King,” Kurkowski added another oft-forgotten Gates phrase.

“For the internet to thrive, content providers must be paid for their work.”


Featured image by Paul Hudson (CC by 2.0)

10 Responses

  1. chill

    the solution is pretty straight forward and that is implement a spot in those services where an independent / indie label / artist can promote his music. If the music is good, it will probably work.

  2. G.K.

    Well , I think something similar was true for Vinyl album sales / Radio Airplays / CD’s in former decades . Numbers were always driven by the stars , not the small artists . The real issue with streaming is that the streaming providers don’t make their money thru selling something , but thru their (pretended or actual) market share ( -> stockmarket , blablabla ) . This automatically devalues the price for music itself.

    • Faza (TCM)

      The big difference between then and now is that if you’re selling physical items, you don’t need millions upon millions of transactions to make a living.

      In the old days, selling something like 160,000 units of a CD wouldn’t get you anywhere near the charts, but if you were earning a dollar per unit in royalties, a four-man band would earn $40K each (assuming no advances to recoup, but the thing about advances is that they tended to put a sizeable chunk of cash in your pocket to begin with).

      With streaming, the biggest problem is that the 10% also picks up 99% of all money spent on streaming. There’s a fixed amount of that to go around (because people aren’t paying per stream), so everyone who isn’t in that 10% is SOL.

  3. The Walrus

    Where does this 99/10 number come from in the Buzzangle report? I see a lot of number that look like they would support that 99/10 number, but don’t see the number itself. Did you extrapolate it?


  4. Reality

    Allowing the distribution of an entire art form to be controlled by so few has troubling implications… Ummm… What’s changed? There were major record stores serving major labels and now there are major streaming services serving major labels. Indie acts will survive proportionally as always, life goes on.

  5. Kevin Brown

    This shows why the music industry needs to stop using Spotify as a measurement of the direction of music.
    Is quality music driving Spotify or is Spotify driving the direction of music? I think the latter.

    Most artists are wasting their album by putting their music on Spotify or any streaming service. I’m not saying boycott streaming networks like Spotify, I’m saying either;

    1. Use them for your singles but you don’t need to put all of your music on them.
    2. Release your music to streaming networks after you have maximised your revenue from them via selling downloads or physical product to your core fan base.

    It doesn’t take many fans on your own app to generate the same as a million listens on Spotify. This is the reason for GigRev.com – We can help the other 90% of artists.

    Disclosure: I’m CEO of

    • TheDude

      I agree with this 100%

      Keep in mind reports like this are a snapshot of the larger music industry as a whole. Once you get to the indie level (local, regional, “mom & pop” artists) you see a much different picture. Too often artists are trying to do what the majors are doing and fail, get frustrated etc.

      By creating a business model and marketing plan that uses streaming the right way, I have seen the artists I work with generate full time incomes from SELLING – yes selling – their music.

      Take movies for example

      Movie’s are released first to major theaters, then the discount theaters, then Redbox/DVD sales, then Netflix. The movie industry has been able to maximize each channel effectively, squeezing the profit from each one. Musicians need to do the same thing.

      For an establish indie act using the same methods:
      3-4 months prior to release tour/do shows to promote the upcoming release and build up email lists; use the single plus exclusive content in exchange for emails, use youtube with a teaser/trailer video to drive traffic to get the download and video. At release, only have album available for sale from your own store, 1-3 months later release to iTunes etc, 1-3 months later release to Spotify – but not the whole album – just a couple of singles.

  6. BN

    Yes, but that 1% (400,000 of 40 million available songs) is more than 16 times ALL of the songs available in a traditional bricks and mortar store. Back in those days roughly the top 10% of songs made up 90% of the revenue – that’s 2,000 songs; so today’s top 1% is 200 times the former top 10%. In other words, the recording industry is much less dominated by a few artists than it used to be.