Why Spotify’s Monthly Listeners stat is irrelevant

Spotify Most Popular Artists

The query “monthly listeners” spotify, with the double quotes, gives you over 2 million results on Google, the perfect illustration of a statistic that is more and more popular. Yet, it’s irrelevant.

Get to know why so and why the unrecognized Popularity Index, that we now share with this page updated daily, makes a whole lot more sense instead.

All about Monthly Listeners

Mass misinterpretation of its meaning

It’s not difficult to understand why the Monthly Listeners figure has taken such a huge spot in mass media.

In fact, it’s the only number shared by Spotify which reflects streams for an artist, rather than for a song. Thus, it’s seen as the perfect shortcut to know who are the most popular artists.

A quick test instantly reveals this situation. If we go back to our Google search “monthly listeners” spotify, right after the first result which is Spotify’s site itself, comes a Statista link.

This link is named “Spotify: most streamed artists worldwide 2019” on Google. When we open it though, the title of the page is “Artists with the most monthly listeners of all time on Spotify worldwide as of July 2019“.

The problem is that most streamed artists and artists with the most monthly listeners are two completely different concepts.

Most websites and articles take the same wrongful route.

The definition of Monthly Listeners

Spotify is very transparent about the method used to build this statistic. It’s defined as below:

Monthly listeners are unique listeners who play the music of an artist during a 28-day period

Spotify FAQ

They go further and explain why they use these rules:

2 important things to clarify about your monthly listeners:
They’ve listened within a rolling window of 28 days. We use a rolling window of 28 days because the number of days in a calendar month can vary, and because people listen to music differently depending on the day of the week. This means an equal number of days of the week are included—so, the same number of Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, etc.
They are unique listeners. If someone plays your music multiple times in a 28-day period, they only get counted once.

Spotify FAQ

In concrete words, as soon as someone listens to an artist, it adds to his Monthly Listeners tally, but then no matter how many songs the user streams, it won’t impact anymore the statistic until 28 days later.

I’m sure you can see the huge error it is to consider artists with the most listeners the most streamed artists overall.

To make it even clearer, let’s point out a few striking examples.

Hit-driven figures

If you look at Spotify’s latest weekly global chart, you’ll notice the Travis Scott & Kid Cudi project THE SCOTTS is leading the way.

Their artist page reveals 14,902,226 monthly listeners. With only 8 days of availability, it’s already more than K-Pop superstars BTS (13,000,719) in a month.

The former duet is getting 6 million streams a day, while the latter group registers 13 million new plays every day.

The case is even worst for one-hit wonders who have got a full 28-days window.

SAINt JHN, currently enjoying the Roses wave, and Powfu, smashing with death bed, score 34.7 million and 29.0 million monthly listeners, respectively.

They thus feel much bigger than Lil Uzi Vert who stands at 22.8 million.

They do so with 4 to 5 million streams per day, though, while the US rapper is gaining 15 million during the same time frame.

A statistic heavily impacted by Playlists

Old school music fans love to deflate the success of current artists by reducing it to strong playlists presence.

The fact is that the huge majority of Spotify playlists are curated on the back of solid data. A song isn’t successful because it’s part of large playlists, it gets into large playlists when it is successful.

Both singles Roses and death bed perfectly reflect this. They came out of nowhere, shook viral rankings until ultimately making the most famous playlists.

This being said, when a statistic is entirely based on how many unique users stream a song, it’s obvious that being part of Today’s Top Hits, to name the biggest one, helps tremendously.

A lot of people would have heard Roses on it – indeed, the playlist has 3 million monthly listeners itself and this track is currently the 5th song there.

Many of them haven’t heard it more than one time, and most are unlikely to have even noticed the name of the singer.

Legacy artists numbers are just as wrong

If fresh new hits corrupt Monthly Listeners of artists, one would expect the data to still be relevant for legacy acts.

They are impacted just as much though.

Journey have 1.7 billion streams to date, out of which 821 million come from their classic Don’t Stop Believin’. They have over 10 million monthly listeners.

Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden have less than half, yet their cumulative streams are at 1.8 billion. Their top song is at 160 million though, with way less presence on classic rock heavy playlists.

Their total of streams is on par with the Spice Girls and TLC combined, while both female groups easily lead in listeners thanks to super hits Wannabe and No Scrubs.

Monthly listeners also suggest that Nirvana, Oasis and Aerosmith are equally popular at 13 million something each.

Cumulatively, they register fairly different results instead at 3.8 billion, 2.8 billion and 2.4 billion, respectively.

With 12 million users streaming him, Bob Marley seems weaker than them all but in truth he is up to a massive 4.4 billion streams. You got it.

Features further downgrade the statistic value

Once you know the rule, you can consider that monthly listeners numbers aren’t 100% useless, even if their interpretation is often inaccurate.

Features make these results feel not only not too relevant yet, but also wrong.

In fact, all artists credited in a song gets all its monthly listeners.

Ever heard about Imanbek? He is a music producer from Kazakhstan. He has less than 15,000 followers, but posts 31.2 million monthly listeners.

How? Simply by being the remixer of SAINt JHN‘s Roses.

The same happens with beabadoobee, featured on death bed. The irony is that she gets more listeners than Powfu at 29.4 million since her back catalog is larger.

Paul McCartney records more listeners than the Beach Boys thanks to his guitar play on Rihanna‘s FourFiveSeconds.

Examples go on and on and on.

The Popularity Rating

Numbers in line with cumulative streams

Nowhere near as known is the Popularity Rating. It’s no surprise why it isn’t well known as Spotify doesn’t display this statistic in their web application nor in their client.

It’s also natural that this data is hidden. In fact, it’s an index, with the top artist fixed at 100 and others noted relatively to this top scorer.

This is much less telling as a statistic than monthly listeners. But so much more meaningful.

For a few weeks the artist rated at 100 has been Latin superstar Bad Bunny. The artist from Puerto Rico is the owner of the most streamed album of the year globally, YHLQMDLG, at nearly 1.9 billion.

Over 2 months after the release of this album, the artist still gains in excess of 24 million daily streams, which explains why he leads the way.

Streaming godfather Drake is runner up with a score of 99. After recording over 20 million streams daily since the release of Toosie Slide, he has shot up to 70 million yesterday thanks to the mixtake Dark Lane Demo Tapes.

The Canadian star seems poised to claim the lead in the next few days.

At 3 is Travis Scott. During the last 10 days, he went from 94 to 95 to 96 to 97 to 98.

Since his virtual concert on Fortnite video game, seen by 27.7 million unique players, he rocketed from over 10 million streams per day to over 30 million.

The Weeknd is at 98 too thanks to the super hit Blinding Lights plus a healthy catalog. He records 20 million streams daily.

With similar streams is J Balvin, the 5th highest Popularity index at 97.

Dua Lipa

At 94-96 ratings are various highly popular artists like Juice WRLD, Post Malone, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Lil Uzi Vert, Eminem, Justin Bieber, DaBaby, Khalid, Ed Sheeran, BTS, and Roddy Ricch.

They all claim from 13 to 19 million streams every day across their catalog.

The methodology

The exact method behind the popularity index is unknown. It’s a calculation based on tracks’ popularity as mentioned by the Spotify API:

The popularity of the artist. The value will be between 0 and 100, with 100 being the most popular. The artist’s popularity is calculated from the popularity of all the artist’s tracks.

Spotify API documentation for artists

Digging into this documentation, the tracks page tells us a bit more:

The popularity of a track is a value between 0 and 100, with 100 being the most popular. The popularity is calculated by algorithm and is based, in the most part, on the total number of plays the track has had and how recent those plays are.
Generally speaking, songs that are being played a lot now will have a higher popularity than songs that were played a lot in the past. Duplicate tracks (e.g. the same track from a single and an album) are rated independently. Artist and album popularity is derived mathematically from track popularity. Note that the popularity value may lag actual popularity by a few days: the value is not updated in real time.

Spotify API documentation for tracks

While no formula is mentioned, this draws a good picture of the indicator, it reflects the strength of an artist catalog, weighting higher the most recent streams.

The fact that the data lags a few days behind the current situation is also visible in our numbers which suggest that both Drake and Travis Scott are now hotter than Bad Bunny, something the popularity index may illustrate soon enough.

Another important element appears when analyzing the data. The index is not linear. For a few days, Bad Bunny led by about 20% in streams artists with a 98 score, and he was about 30% over artists at 97.

In these days where flattening the curve is so important, you understood what it means: the popularity index is a logarithmic scale. A gap of 5 points for example is quite massive.

The results

This little indicator appears to be so relevant that at ChartMasters we decided both to add it at the top of all results in our streaming numbers tool, as well as adding a unique page portraying the highest popularity indexes of the moment.

To make these results more concrete, we went on saving all streaming numbers of the top performers day after day so that we can display their daily plays.

This is how the top 15 looks like today:

Spotify Popularity Index Top 15

The correlation between the index and total streams of each artists is striking. By the way, these daily streams include songs on which artists are featured.

While this table already provides a unique view of the true heavy weights of today’s music industry, there are much more to learn from this index.

If we want to scale female singers for example, here is the top 10, the ones who crack 90:

96 Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish
92 Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift
91 Rihanna, Halsey, Doja Cat
90 Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello

What about the most popular bands?

94 BTS
90 Queen, Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons, Beatles
89 One Direction, Coldplay
88 Chainsmokers, 5 Seconds of Summer
87 Linkin Park, Twenty One Pilots

Biggest legacy artists?

90 Queen, Beatles
85 Elton John
84 Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Metallica, AC/DC, Rolling Stones
83 Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana

Where do 60s-90s divas stand?

81 Whitney Houston
80 Madonna, Mariah Carey
79 Celine Dion
75 Aretha Franklin
74 Shania Twain
73 Tracy Chapman
72 Alanis Morissette, Tina Turner
71 Kylie Minogue, Diana Ross
70 Janet Jackson, Barbra Streisand
66 Björk

As if it was written, the big 4 remains the big 4.

We can even get more creative and wonder who are the top performing classical legends!

82 Johann Sebastian Bach
81 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
80 Ludwig van Beethoven
76 Frédéric Chopin

Everyone else is below 72.

While at first glance the popularity index seems to be a very abstract concept, we quickly notice that this simple scale basically resumes the biggest names in the history of music.

Even for today’s music, the most interesting part is that you can’t get near the top with one hit only.

It takes an incredible catalog to routinely reach 15 million daily streams. This means that artists who get to 95 or more for more than a few weeks are a lock as stars that will be remembered for decades to come.

I suggest you to both keep following our daily ranking, while also looking at your favorites artists’ rating through the search tool now that we provided you with enough examples to scale the values.

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Rasha

How about Enrique Iglesias, he is the Top Latin artist of all time, I am a fan of him. I hope to see his Charts that have not updated since 2016 !!!

Al

He’s definitely not the top Latin artist ever, Shakira is ahead among recent acts. If we go further back is his father Julio way ahead too.

Last edited 10 months ago by Al
Rodriguez18

Luis Miguel is doing even better than him with 84/100 averaging 3.5 million streams daily. No new music, no english music and without following trends. That’s a legend!

Al

He’s a big one too for sure, although Julio still has a big lead in album sales. The funny part though is that the gap is most likely due to huge sales in non-hispanic countries like France and Brazil

Rodriguez18

Julio is definitely in the lead big time in album sales mostly since Luis Miguel’s albums haven’t been updated nor certified in decades. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we total streaming, digital sales and album sales that Luis Miguel can compete. I really wish ChartMasters can study him. He’s such a legendary artist in Latin America and I fill like he deserves to be recognized.

Last edited 10 months ago by Rodriguez18
Martin Tait

The streaming numbers for Latin American acts, are astounding.

Being from the UK and of a certain age, it’s quite easy to neglect or under appreciate the importance and popularity of musical acts that do not sing in English or hit the charts in the supposedly important markets.

Last edited 11 months ago by Martin
jephlixx

yes true taylor swift had 15M+ daily streams but remains on 35th position. She released her album last july with 400M+ streams during it’s debut week but remains on 20th places.

Wave6

imma let u finish but…

Gen

i am quite surprised whitney is ahead of the 60s to 90s divas.. even in youtube she has I will always love you will soon be reaching 1 billion I have nothing 400 plus M and When you believe more than 250 M and I wanna dance with somebody more than 200 M

Matt

I find it quite interesting how fast Taylor Swift follower count is rising. It certainly seems her new album has gained her a lot of new fans and she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Especially considering she only returned to Spotify 3 years ago and is already ranked #7 overall

Matt

Oh I agree. I don’t necessarily think she would have many more followers had she stayed. Spotify has grown tremendously since her return. I just find it surprising she was able to accumulate that amount of followers so fast. Especially post-peak and without a huge smash hit since.

CruelSummer13

Those 3 years were the peak of her career though. She was on top of the world. In that same time period Ed Sheeran had X which was massive on Spotify. I’m sure 1989 would’ve performed quite similarly if it was available in that same time period. I would’ve have agreed with you if it wasn’t her peak and just another normal era. I personally don’t see it as pointless to point out a valid fact.

Fusuy

Thinking Out Loud, which was being outperformed heavily by Shake it Off on Spotify before it was removed, has over 1.67 BILLION streams. It’s safe to say Shake it Off and many other hits she removed from the platform those 3 years would be over 1 billion streams by now. In addition, her first true streaming album was released hardly 1.5 years ago, as reputation was added to platforms several weeks after its release which greatly decreased its audience and total streams. Within just 1.5 years of fully catering to streaming platforms, Taylor has become a streaming juggernaut and already… Read more »

Thomas Christiansen

“Biggest legacy artists?

90 Queen, Beatles
85 Elton John”

Movie effect?
Bohemian Rhapsody, Yesterday and Rocket Man 🙂

I know, all three would rank very high even without the movies.

Jane

Bohemian Rhapsody had huge effect! Don’t know about rest.

Divinedhammer

You did an amazing job. This website is new direction.

Cameron Tracy

with all due respect MJD Could you add Britney at the top of the 80s/90s divas please? as of 2020 in my opinion she is Definitely in that category of legendary female artists and I just checked she’s at a popularity of 82 one point ahead of Whitney Houston

Kris

Even tho she debuted in the late 1990s, the majority of her career was in the 2000s so that’s probably why he skipped it.

Cameron Tracy

yeah your probably right but still in my opinion shes more comparable to them instead of say rihanna or taylor swift also who even disliked my comment its true I’m not lying its not just “The Big 4” its really “The Big 5” but alright to whoever did that I guess

BOBJ

Britney’s debut is closer to Taylors and Rihannas compared to Madonna, Whitney, Celine and Mariah tho.
It’s weird putting Britney in the same generation as them. Britney is more with Christina, Beyonce, Shakira, and P!NK.
Then you have the Rihanna, Taylor, Gaga, Adele and Katy gen. And now you have Ariana and Billie gen.

Michael

The big 5 you mentioned will be very2 soon replaced by Rihanna and in a not so long future Taylor Swift too.

#1 milky shooky stan

Really loved this article but I have a question: how is it possible that some artist have (way more) followers than monthly listeners?
Doesn’t it mean that people just follow the artist but they do not play the music since the monthly listeners data is lower and it doesn’t even match the amount of daily streams the artist get on the platform?

Anyway it would be useful and interesting if you uploaded some articles maybe monthly? about the most followed/streamed artist on the platform like you did at the end of 2019 🙂

John

eh… maybe bots?

Wave6

Good question, certainly seems theoretically possible. In practice, what I’ve seen (from playing around on chartmasters) is typically an artist’s follower count is slightly lower (~10-20%) than monthly listener count, which I’m not sure is a real pattern or meaningful. I think Spotify users aren’t aware of/don’t prioritize clicking “follow” on an artist, even if they love them. This is backed by my own experience listening to music on the app way before I got my Artist Spotify. And that’s why pre-saves are important because I feel like your typical fan won’t really need to follow u if your songs… Read more »

noct1

Amount of followers just keeps stacking up forever unlike monthly listeners. I follow a bunch of artists that I listen to like once a year. I guess it goes case by case, we have to also consider many top artists have heavy playlisting which boosts MLs a lot.

At the end of the day I would still consider daily streams and new followers a better metric

Agustin Alvarez

Loved this article. Great job. Very insightful.

Agustin Alvarez

BTW I would totally pay for subscription for this site if it meant we can get more articles more frequently and tools like the Spotify tool and adding the ability to make lists with filters and compare artists etc.

Wave6

It would definitely help if you could easily export tables to csv or pdf as well

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