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99% of Artists Struggle to Make It to Mid-Level, Let Alone Become Mainstream or Superstars, Study Reveals

Some even fell back to the Undiscovered category than rose to Mainstream or Superstar.

Photo by Kobe Subramaniam / Unsplash

Chartmetric, the platform advancing music through data insights, recently presented its Inaugural Year in Music report with the stats and sounds of music in 2023. Tracking over 9.7 million artists, Chartmetric’s report tackles questions posed by the music industry with a focus on artist development, providing an overview of the social and streaming ecosystem.

They've leveraged lots of data in the report and come up with several insights—from the top countries that bring more new artists to gender imbalance among artists and which pronouns they use, but we wanted to pay special attention to this—musicians' career stages and how complicated (or sometimes impossible) it is to make it in the music industry.

Artists struggle to make it even to the Mid-Level category, let alone Mainstream & Superstar

Credit: Chartmetric

According to Chartmetric, "Artists are ranked by their Chartmetric artist score, an aggregate of various measures of success across different platforms. Based on their Chartmetric artist rank, they are assigned a Career Stage." These Career Stages include Legendary (artists with a lasting legacy and music releases that are over 30 years old), Superstar (artists who are widely popular and influential in the industry), Mainstream (musicians who have a notable impact and consistent success across various platforms), Mid-Level (artists with growing influence), Developing (up-and-coming musicians), and Undiscovered (artists new to the music scene yet to establish a consistent audience and online presence).

The music industry has always been highly competitive, with countless musicians vying for attention and recognition. This saturation makes it difficult for new artists to break through and gain visibility. Building a fanbase and promoting music requires effective marketing strategies and substantial investment of time and resources, and many talented aspiring musicians struggle to gain exposure due to limited marketing budgets or lack of knowledge about promotional techniques. Like many industries, success in music often depends on who you know—building relationships with industry insiders, producers, agents, and record label executives, can be crucial for advancing one's career.

So, according to the report, 99.9% of the artists added to Chartmetric in 2023 ended the year in the Undiscovered and Developing categories, while the remaining 0.1% were labeled as Mid-Level, Mainstream, or Superstar. What's more, twice as many Developing artists (0.5%) not only failed to advance to the Mid-Level category but regressed back to Undiscovered status, in contrast to those who ascended to Mainstream or Superstar levels.

Nonetheless, 12.2% of these artists successfully advanced to the Mid-Level category. Furthermore, 54.5% of the Mid-Level category managed to elevate their status by one tier, entering the Mainstream category. The takeaway? Artists who succeed in building a devoted fanbase lay a strong foundation for expanding their audience even more.

TikTok is what might give emerging indie artists this foundation. And now, there's probably the best time for independent musicians to enter it. After Universal Music Group started removing its music from TikTok, a big niche for smaller artists appeared, making it easier to get attention from users and TikTok creators—Taylor's, The Weeknd's, Drake's, and millions of other songs aren't there anymore.

Though it can't solely contribute to a musician's success, interacting with an artist's music on TikTok often has a direct impact on their streaming numbers. Take, for example, the track "F.N.F. (Let’s Go)" by HitKidd and GloRilla, which saw a surge in popularity as a viral challenge on TikTok months after its release. Despite the trend eventually fading, HitKidd experienced sustained growth in their solo projects in the months following the viral success.

Another illustration is RAYE. Following the release of her single "Escapism," RAYE witnessed a significant surge in global popularity after a user-generated remix gained viral traction on TikTok. With RAYE's official endorsement, the remix garnered widespread attention and was subsequently released as an official version. This move resulted in increased traction both on and off the platform for both the original and remixed versions of the song. Consequently, RAYE achieved a successful debut album launch titled "My 21st Century Blues" in February 2023. Shortly after, "Escapism" by RAYE secured the eighth position on Billboard's Global 200 chart during its release week.

Another insight the report highlights is that only 19.16% of artists on Spotify have achieved over one thousand monthly listeners, and only two—Taylor Swift and The Weeknd— have ever surpassed 100 million, a milestone that both artists hit for the first time this year. The 1,000 streams threshold insight isn't exactly news—another report (conducted by Luminate) in 2023 concluded that "158.6 million tracks on streaming services received 1,000 or fewer plays, comprising a massive 86.2% of the 184 million tracks monitored by Luminate." 45.6 million tracks, or nearly a quarter of the total, were not played at all.

And major streaming services don't make it easier for artists, either. Apple Music has recently announced it'd pay 10% higher royalties to artists who upload their tracks in spatial audio, even if listeners don't stream the Dolby version of a song. For independent and smaller artists, this isn't good news since making a spatial version of a track is complicated and pricey; not a typical thing an indie artist can afford, but for a musician collaborating with a major label, it's not that difficult.

Some portion of the original artists' rightful revenues also take the so-called "manipulated tracks"—sped up, slowed down, and slowed + reverb versions of popular songs that are uploaded to streaming services in great amounts. A study conducted by digital rights tech firm Pex discovered that over one million "manipulated" tracks uploaded to platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL potentially divert revenue away from original creators.

Other uncovered insights include:

  • Growing global artist diversity: In 2023, the United States, Brazil, and India were the top three nations by their share of new artist profiles created, followed by Germany, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Quantity is only one metric to consider here, as there is also artist growth. The highest number of emerging artists in 2023 came from the US, followed by Brazil, Mexico, and South Korea.
  • Unwavering Top 10 Artists of 2023: After ranking artists each month by their peak Chartmetric artist score (an aggregated metric of various measures of success), a narrative emerged: the top 10 artists remained steady throughout the year.  The top artist slot was in flux early on but by summer, Taylor Swift cinched the lead and stayed on top for the rest of the year. The same six artists made the top 10 every month: Bad Bunny, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Drake, and The Weeknd.
  • Gender imbalance among artists: While female acts like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Ice Spice dominated the spotlight in 2023, Chartmetric’s data reveals a significant gender imbalance within the solo artist category. Of the solo artists for which Chartmetric has self-identified or publicly sourced pronoun information on (467.9k), a substantial 77% use he/him pronouns, while only 18% use she/her pronouns and 5% use they/them.
  • Non-english speaking music genres continue to surge: Unsurprisingly, Latin music carried its meteoric rise over the past few years into 2023 as its sound continues to expand and grow. K-pop also keeps growing in strength and has been one of the most talked about genres in the 2020s. Despite there being a relatively modest number of releases compared to other genres, the marketing prowess of the K-pop industry ensures its phenomenal success rate. Other genres to watch include Indian music, African music (like Afrobeats and amapiano), and J-pop, which are starting to gain traction globally.
  • Artists on Spotify have uploaded a combined 871.78 years of music to the platform, which is nearly twice the amount of time as there was between Leonardo Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa during the Italian Renaissance and Beyoncé releasing her 2022 album RENAISSANCE.
  • India was the biggest producer of songs featured in YouTube’s Global Weekly Top 50 charts in 2023, followed by the United States, South Korea, and Mexico.

🍿 Read the full report here.