How Music Collaborations Evolved in the Digital Era: A Decade in Review

Collaboration is an artist's best friend in today's music economy. From widening an artist's audience to prolonging success, a rising tide really does lift all boats. Here, we highlight how music collaborations have evolved over the last 10 years of the digital era.

How Music Collaborations Evolved in the Digital Era: A Decade in Review
Nuttiiya Seekhao
Nuttiiya Seekhao
January 10, 20209 min read
Permalink Copied
"Times is rough and tough like leather / Figured out I went the wrong route / So I got with a sick-ass clique and went all out." — Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan on "C.R.E.A.M." (1993)

The way we interact with music has evolved significantly in the past two decades — from the rise of the MP3 to file sharing and digital content streaming services. Social media has also had a major role in how we discover "overnight" successes, creating our demand for a 24/7 curated social media presence. As a result, artists feel the need to relentlessly connect with new audiences to stay relevant, and more and more artists are finding a path to that connection through collaborative means.

Through music collaborations, or having featured artists on their tracks, artists are able to mix their audiences. Working with other artists also conveys activity and engagement. Audiences get to see that their artist isn't just hidden away inside some tower, creating music alone in a studio. One need not look further than Lil Nas X's introduction of Billy Ray Cyrus to "Old Town Road" to see the potential power a collaboration can unleash.

If it seems like your favorite songs of the past few years have had an increasing amount of featured artists, then you might be witnessing a “collaboration phenomenon."

We all heard the "Old Town Road" remix with Billy Ray Cyrus, but how about the one with BTS' RM?

To gauge the evolution of artist collaboration behaviors over time, we analyzed all tracks released on major Western platforms in the past 10 years and aggregated their counts by month. We then calculated the Collaboration Activity Index (or CAI, as a percentage of collaborations) by tagging each track as either "solo" or "collaboration."

By analyzing the whole dataset, we observed that the CAI has doubled in the past decade, with most of the increase happening in the last three years, as evidenced in the chart below. The purple line means the CAI, and the blue area shows the number of tracks with two or more artists, and the orange area shows the total number of tracks released each month.