Database definition

Is early music really exploding on TikTok, or has our definition of “catalog” become stale?

TikTok’s impact on the music industry is hard to argue.

The app serves as an A&R tool for labels and a distribution and promotion tool for DIY artists, and the virality lottery has made global winners of acts behind music released decades ago.

But just How? ‘Or’ What old is the majority of popular “old” music on TikTok really is, and is the recorded music industry’s current definition of “catalog” music becoming increasingly obsolete as evolution consumer listening habits?

A new report from respected digital data analytics platform Chartmetric suggests it’s time to rethink how we define ‘catalog’.

A quick reminder of terminology: titles are considered “first-line” releases if they are less than 18 months old. “Catalog” means any music older than 18 months.

Technically speaking, Dua Lipa’s #3 US album nostalgia for the future, and the streaming success of a Bad Bunny LP YHLQMDLG, both released in 2020 – an important year for reference, which we’ll get to later – are “catalogue” releases, as they’re both over 18 months old.

Before we dive into Chartmetric’s findings and methodology in its H1 report, it’s important to point out that the study’s release follows news that “current” music in the United States is becoming statistically less popular.

According to a new mid-year report from US market monitor Luminate (formerly MRC Data/Nielsen Music), “total album consumption” of “current” recorded music in the US in the first half of 2022 has fallen 1.4% in volume compared to the equivalent measure of the same period of 2021.

“Catalog” music, according to Luminate, has seen a 19.0% Year-over-year increase in its streaming volume in the first half of 2022, while the volume of on-demand audio streams of “current” music, in particular, fell 2.6% YoY.

This specific story, and indeed the phenomenon of the catalog’s growing popularity in the age of streaming, has become one of the biggest talking points in the music industry, with debate raging as to why this trend began to emerge.

As noted last month when we reported on Luminate’s H1 report, the lack of hit releases over the past two years could be one of the reasons for the declining popularity of “current” music.

Another reason is that “old” music is treated as if it were “new” music by young listeners, their musical discoveries being driven by cultural “events” like Stranger Things (Exhibit A: Kate Bush) and virality on popular social platforms. like TikTok, as seen with the likes of Fleetwood Mac’s dreams or Boney M Rasputin.

According to Chartmetric’s new report, despite the “oldies gone viral” narrative making the rounds in the media, old “catalogue” hits, like tracks released decades ago, are actually rare.

The analytics firm says it has mapped every track in its database that has received more than 10,000 TikTok posts against those tracks’ release dates.

Chartmetric found that the majority of tracks that gained “significant traction on TikTok” were actually posted within the past five years (see below).

Additionally, most of TikTok’s hits so far, according to Chartmetric, have been posted in 2020.



And what about songs released before the 2010s? According to the Chartmetric report, and as you can see from the chart above, “there really wasn’t much activity at all.”

The company suggests that defining the “catalogue” as something more than three to five years old would be more appropriate than the current measure of 18 months.

The report adds: “The one-off pre-2010s sensations (Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, etc.) that we hear about in the press are really more the exception than the rule.

“Maybe the real trend is not that the catalog is exploding, but that our definition of the catalog is outdated, and we should consider expanding the window from 18 months to 3-5 years.”

“Maybe the real trend is not that the catalog is exploding, but that our definition of the catalog is outdated, and we should consider expanding the window from 18 months to 3-5 years.”

Chartmetric

Chartmetric’s suggestion to expand the timeframe for what we define as “frontline” tracks correlates to an argument made by former Spotify chief economist Will Page in a MBW op/ed written in 2017, in which he wrote that “new” releases should be considered anything released in the previous 36 months.

This, Page said at the time, “everything leaves the global recording industry with a crucial question to answer: what changes when the second year of an artist’s campaign earns you more than the first year ?”



Elsewhere in Chartmetric’s report, the company states “there was a dramatic spike in the diversity of tracks released in 2020 that drove TikTok activity,” with that diversity shrinking over the following year and a half.

Chartmetric explains that there could be a number of interrelated factors driving this trend, including that “tracks from two years ago tend to be the most popular on TikTok” and the accelerating trend. adoption of TikTok by independent artists during pandemic shutdowns in 2020.

TikTok was also still available in India (1.4 billion people) for the first half of 2020, before being banned along with a bunch of other apps for security reasons.

“Because virtually any track is available to any music consumer, regardless of release date, we’ll likely continue to see more pre-2010 releases get their second chance to capture the limelight. ramps up, but in the grand scheme of things, these cases are likely to remain outliers.

Chartmetric

Another reason for this lack of diversity in TikTok hits, according to Chartmetric, is that “big music companies have understood the power of TikTok and have now begun to consolidate the market power of their priority tracks on TikTok, which may explain the decrease in the number (so far) of unique post-2020 tracks generating TikTok activity”.

Chartmetric adds in its report, “Because virtually any track is available to any music consumer, regardless of release date, we’ll likely continue to see more pre-2010 releases get their second chance. to capture the limelight, but in the grand scheme of things, these instances will likely remain outliers.

“The most rule-defining trend is the broadening of the timeline of what captures the bulk of music consumers’ attention, i.e., over the past five years (market-driven ) instead of last year and a half (traditional front line).

“Of course, what attracts attention on TikTok doesn’t always translate into consumption on streaming platforms, but it’s certainly an important digital signal to focus your resources on to maximize engagement for your music.”


Read ChartMetric’s new H1 2022 report this way.The music industry around the world