Spotify Playlists and Trigger Cities for Indie Folk and Americana Artists: Part 1

Part 1 of Terry Tompkins, Ulf Oesterle, and Charles Alexander's Trigger Cities study highlights the importance of different types of Spotify playlists for Indie Folk and Americana artists.

Spotify Playlists and Trigger Cities for Indie Folk and Americana Artists: Part 1
Terry Tompkins
November 18, 20217 min read
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Editor's Note: Terry Tompkins, Ulf Oesterle, and Charles Alexander are longtime music industry veterans, educators, and researchers. They're publishing the full findings of this two-part series in the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) Journal on Friday, Nov. 19.

Indie Folk and Americana Triggers

In 2018, Chartmetric published a study outlining Trigger Cities in Southeast Asia and Latin America that play a role in engaging consumers on music streaming platforms YouTube and Spotify. Chartmetric’s study included 40 artists in the Pop, R&B, Electronic, and Hip-Hop genres and identified 10 Trigger Cities (Mexico City, Lima, Bogota, Santiago, Jakarta, Bangkok, Guayaquil, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, and Ankara) responsible for driving streaming music activity. The study concluded that Trigger Cities in Latin America and South/Southeast Asia engaged with new or emerging artists in these genres more rapidly, irrespective of an artist’s home market.  Substantial engagement in a Trigger City was often followed by rapid engagement in other cities, eventually including the artist’s home market.  

Following up on Chartmetric's research, this study (published in two parts) presents excerpts from a research paper which explores alternate Trigger Cities on streaming platforms for 11 Indie Folk and Americana artists (referred to herein as the “Artists”). The Artists were selected from a pool of 2.5K artists in Chartmetric’s database tagged as “Indie Folk” and “Americana.” The study delves into the Artists' previous streaming activity and engagement, the geographic location of audiences, and conversions to streaming platforms through an ad campaign directed to Spotify from Facebook and Instagram.

"Indie Folk & Americana Triggers: An Analysis of Streaming Music, Audience Behavior, and Global Opportunity," will be available here on Friday, Nov. 19.

The Artists are composed of four “developing” acts, four “mid-level” acts, and three “established” acts, as defined by Tompkins in his paper, “An Artist Management Practicum: Teaching Artist Management in the Twenty-First Century” in the 2019 MEIEA Journal, Volume 19, Number 1 (Tompkins 2019). Tompkins’ quantitative factors for assessing the six stages of an artist’s career include data from live performances, social media, and streaming.

Spotify and Hit Songs Dominate

The Artists generated a total of 569M streams on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited, with 87 percent derived from Spotify and only 13 percent from Apple and Amazon (8 percent and 5 percent, respectively).

Despite Apple and Amazon’s 34 percent share of the global streaming audience, Spotify remains the primary platform for the Artists to engage with listeners. Inclusion on Spotify playlists is the distinguishing factor between Spotify, Apple and Amazon. For example, 99 percent of the established Artists’ songs were included on Spotify playlists, while the remaining 1 percent of playlist activity came from Apple and Amazon. Spotify was the single most impactful performance driver for the Artists, largely attributed to playlist inclusion, regardless of the stage of the Artist’s career.

Distribution of the 569M streams for the 11 artists in the study across Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited.

Additionally, the Artists have a vast catalog of songs in their repertoire, collectively — 813 songs total for an average of 74 songs per artist. However, despite the deep catalog of releases, the Top 5 songs, which encompass just 6 percent of all releases, represented a 63 percent share of total streams. Similar to mainstream popular artists, hit songs drive streams for the Artists on Spotify, regardless of the stage of an artist’s career.

The Power of Spotify Playlists

The Artists had a total of 569M total streams on Spotify. Of the 569M streams, more than half (56 percent) came from inclusion on Spotify’s editorial and algorithmic playlists, while inclusion in user-generated playlists was virtually inconsequential with an exception for developing Artists’ streams.

Editorial Playlists: The Golden Ticket

37 percent (210M) of the established Artists’ total streams on Spotify were from editorial playlists.  Spotify has 149 editorial playlists tagged as Folk & Acoustic on Chartmetric and the total playlist population is 61.2M followers. The top Indie Folk, Folk Pop, and Americana followed playlists on Spotify are Your Favorite Coffeehouse (3.8M followers), Acoustic Covers (3.7M followers), and Relax & Unwind (3.6M followers).

The top Folk & Acoustic playlists curated by Spotify on June 24, 2021. These are the playlists that most closely align with the style of music for the artists in this study.

The Top 5 followed Spotify editorial playlists generated 52 percent of streams for the Artists. Your Favorite Coffeehouse (YFC) and Relax & Unwind (R&U), the most followed Indie Folk playlists on Spotify, averaged between 3.5K and 8.5K daily streams for the Artists. Eight of the Artists’ songs placed on YFC and R&U encompassed 36 percent of all editorial streams. Accordingly, playlist inclusion on YFC or R&U is “The Golden Ticket” for the Artists, as the eight songs on these playlists averaged 624 days (YFC) and 735 days (R&U) while amassing a total of 76M streams.

The Artists averaged an overall save rate of 12 percent, compared to just a 6 percent average save rate for the Top 18 streamed songs. Many of the top performing artists receiving editorial playlist inclusion had save rates in the 2-4 percent range. The lower save rate for top streamed songs is largely due in part to editorial playlists’ “lean back” listening experience. Save rate is one of the indicators for Spotify’s algorithmic playlists.

Save rates for established, mid-level, and developing artists. Save rate diminishes for top songs that receive editorial playlist inclusion.

Algorithmic Playlists: Engaged Listeners

19 percent (108M) of the Artists’ total streams on Spotify were from algorithmic playlists. Algorithmic playlists Radio and Daily Mix had the highest share of streams (85 percent) and level of engagement averaged 5.33 and 4.47 streams per listener. 90 percent of all algorithmic streams came from Radio, Daily Mix, Discover Weekly, and Release Radar.

Share of streams and streams per listener across the 11 artists in this study.

Non-Editorial Playlists: No Impact (Except for Developing Artists)

Non-editorial or user-generated playlists consisted of less than 1 percent of the Artists’ overall streams (4.2M streams). Source of streams from non-editorial playlists comprised 1 percent of the established Artists’ total streams, 2 percent of the mid-level Artists’ total streams, and 21 percent of the developing Artists’ total streams. The Artists have been included on 672 non-editorial playlists; however, only one non-editorial playlist (Sony’s Filtr) gained more than 75K streams for a song on the playlist. Non-editorial playlists can be a path for developing acts to gain streaming traction. However, with just 6 percent of the songs achieving more than 5K streams, editorial placement is essential to drive a large volume of streams.

Only 1 percent of songs included on user-generated playlists for the 11 artists in the study gained 25K or more streams.

The Artists averaged 3.65 streams per listener and 1,272 streams per follower on Spotify overall. Algorithmic playlists (Radio, Discover Weekly, Daily Mix, Release Radar) have the highest stream per listener at 3.16 streams per listener while editorial playlists generate the lowest at 2.10 streams per listener. Editorial playlists have the capacity to drive large streaming activity but are challenged with lower listener engagement.

Playlist type, source of streams, and streams per listener (all streams from release date through the date of this study).

Artist Discography Playlists: Huge Gains

The average stream per listener for Spotify’s artist discography playlist This Is was 26 streams per listener versus the overall average of 3.65 streams per listener for the Artists. Therefore, a listener who visits an artist discography playlist streams the artist 22x more than the average listener.


Ultimately, Part 1 of this study highlights the importance of playlist inclusion for building an audience and maintaining a presence on streaming platforms, but there are two primary considerations that Indie Folk and Americana artists should take into account when it comes to understanding how Spotify playlists are affecting their growth.

  1. The type (editorial, algorithmic, or non-editorial/user-generated) and status (number of playlist followers) of a playlist can play a large role in gaining and engaging listeners on Spotify, but the extent of that role depends on the career stage of the artist.
  2. Hit songs fuel consumption for Indie Folk and Americana Artists on Spotify, as only a small percentage of an artist's songs will drive the majority of streams in their catalog.

Part 2 of this series includes a geographical analysis of the Artists’ listeners and the results of the Trigger Cities advertising campaign.

"Indie Folk & Americana Triggers: An Analysis of Streaming Music, Audience Behavior, and Global Opportunity," will be available here on Friday, Nov. 19.

About the Authors

Terry Tompkins is Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of the Music Business Program at Hofstra University.  Tompkins has been a professional and professor in the music industry for the past 25 years working as an artist manager, talent buyer, journalist, record label president, festival organizer, and A&R Rep. Tompkins is a board member of the Music and Entertainment Educators Association (MEIEA) and his area of expertise as a researcher includes analytics, experiential learning, the concert industry, and social media.  He has been published in the Music and Entertainment Educators Association Journal, The International Journal of Music Business Research, and the Journal of Instructional Pedagogies.

Dr. Ulf Oesterle is Assistant Professor at the Bandier Program at Syracuse University teaching recorded music, live music, social media strategy, and data within the music business.  He has operated a small record label, an artist management company and been the host of a commercial specialty radio show. Outside of campus, Dr. Oesterle currently sits on the board of the Music and Entertainment Educators Association (MEIEA), contributes to educational endeavors for Show Makers, speaks at conferences regularly, and consults about TikTok strategy while managing his own creator presence on the platform.

Charles Alexander is a digital music & media strategist and music technology educator. He is the founder and owner of Systemic, a label services company specializing in streaming marketing and strategy, and Outside The Box Music, a management and digital services company.  He has been a speaker and panelist at SXSW, Music Biz, CD Baby DIY Conference, Leadership Music's Digital Summit, Americana Music Conference, and The International Folk Alliance and has contributed to the national discussion on SOPA, the online piracy bill.