Is Blues Rock Mainstream? An Analysis Through Spotify

Recently we’ve seen tough critics concerning the way, and especially, the amount that Spotify pays out artists who stream their songs through the online platform. The real number isn’t easy to find, as well as the method or parameters related to the payout calculation. According to the website Digital Music News¹, Spotify pays most artists between $.003 and $.005 for each stream. However, the precise per-stream rate can vary based upon a user’s region and account type. Further, that website suggests that Spotify’s royalties could be trending downward.

As an example of this situation, The Steepwater Band published on their Facebook page a post regarding how often artists should release records (according to Spotify’s CEO), and, mainly, about the amounts received from Spotify and the incompatibility with the size of their fan base.

Thought we would sound off on this. First of all, it costs us money to make records. While we know that it’s convenient…

Posted by THE STEEPWATER BAND on Thursday, August 6, 2020

Laurence Jones, British blues rocker, recently publish something similar, including quotes from other artists’ complaints:

The CEO of Spotify is worth 2.5 billion. Meanwhile, all the artists are paid next to nothing, and everybody from Tool to…

Posted by Laurence Jones on Saturday, September 19, 2020

But, letting the issue of the Spotify’s payouts momentarily aside, we want to focus on the position of blues rock as a music genre among the total of the streams on the platform. The first obstacle for this kind of analysis is that there is not a plain way to classify music, whatever type it may be. To classify and precisely to define what is strictly the blues, rock, or even blues rock, is a hard task that could take to several ways without achieving any destination.

On the other hand, Spotify, and probably no other streaming platform can precisely classify blues rock as an exclusive music genre either. Certainly on Spotify, no one will find a finite list with a band’s or artist’s names.

Having this in the mind, in this article, we will consider artists belonging to blues rock genre as artists reviewed or at someway mentioned throughout the Blues Rock Review website timeline over the past decade. Even so, impreciseness or personal opinions can become this an impossible task. In this article, we will consider BB King, as an exclusive blues musician. Bands like Gun’s n’ Roses, Metallica, Queen, or U2, for instance, will be considered exclusively belonging to the rock genre. Thus, either blues or rock artists will not necessarily be considered in this analysis. In regards to the blues rock genre, we can mention Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gov’t Mule, among many others.

In that context, we’ve selected around 200 artists or bands to represent the blues rock genre and to analyze the total amount of monthly listeners on Spotify platform. In order to take a comparative basis, as we said, we included other artists or bands not necessarily (or even without any relation) related to blues rock. One more time, this is not a definitive list, even because we aren’t considering other streaming platforms like Apple Music, Youtube, Deezer, etc. It was just made to compare and position that blues rock has among Spotify’s listeners and other music genres. The results are shown in the table below:

As we see in the table, the first ten places are not occupied by rock or blues artists. The top steaming artists are from hip-hop or pop music genres, with Drake’s 62 million listeners on Spotify leading the way. Ironically, the first “rock” representative at the table is a band that doesn’t exist anymore: The Beatles at 15th place; followed by Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Rolling Stones at 19th and 20th places, respectively. The first “blues rock” representative in the table, one could say that is John Mayer, at 27th place and more than 14 million monthly listeners. Others could say that the first blues rocker would be Eric Clapton (29th place / 10.7M listeners) or even Jimi Hendrix (33rd place, 8M listeners). Differences aside, this table moves us towards thinking about what is the music mainstream, what kind of music makes up the mind of the Spotify’s listeners, or what are the strategies (if effectively there is one) applied by the top artists in order to be preferred by the listeners?

So, the first question, without a precise answer is what’s music mainstream? In our case, what’s the “magic number” of monthly Spotify blues rock listeners that we’re talking about? 1 million? If so, we have just a few blues rockers listed in our mainstream, which are, beyond those already mentioned, Black Keys, Deep Purple, Gary Clark Jr., and Jack White. For us, avid blues rock listeners, seeing artists like the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Marcus King Band or Gov’t Mule occupying spots in the 60s isn’t an expected thing. Even the modern face of blues rock Joe Bonamassa, wouldn’t reach the 1 million monthly listeners milestone. But JB has his own opinion on Spotify, that he shared with Blues Rock Review in 2019, highlighting what he calls music’s “Kardashianification”.

Other interesting notes are revealed by the table. Initially, it’s quite fun that classical artists, like Mozart or J. S. Bach, died more than 200 years ago, still have more listeners than Jeff Beck or David Gilmour, for instance. At least, it reveals the most important feature of the music: its immortality. And, no matter how much you love Beck’s or Gilmour’s music, it leads to the main question: Will people still listen to them in the 2200s?

Secondly, you can see artists that arise from the ashes, like Dion, that with one recent album released in 2020, reached 1.8M Spotify listeners, above Mark Knopfler or Rival Sons, for instance. Dion’s career started in the 1950s, although the majority of his albums were released in the 1970s. In spite of it, releasing an album in 2020 by Joe Bonamassa’s record label (Keep The Blues Alive Records), ranks him at 52nd place in our table, above JB himself. We know that there are uncountable reasons for something like that to happen, e. g., historical and consolidated fan base, featured artists, among others.

Thirdly, almost 100 blues rockers (individual artists or bands) have less than 80K monthly listeners, and between those, 50% have less than 10K monthly listeners. But, this can be considered a minimum fraction when we see Spotify’s numbers, as shown below. Considering that there were 299M active Spotify users in June 2020, the last 100 artists/bands in the table were heard by only 0.5% of the total Spotify users (considering that the listener of one specific artist doesn’t listen to another artist).

This topic is very important when we consider this COVID pandemic, where many artists had their revenues drastically plummeted because of the lockdown. As we saw, the numbers show that majority of the blues rockers cannot count on music streams as a reliable revenue source. More than never, for them, other revenue sources like CD/DVD/Vinyl sales, mp3 albums (officials), or pay-per-view formats necessarily should be increased in order to maintain those artists in the scene.

Concluding, we’re blues rock lovers, there’s no doubt. Like everyone, we like practicality and affordability too. In spite of the immeasurable pleasure of attending a live concert, at least for now, this isn’t a viable option at this time. So, we should consider those other ways to consume music, for blues rock’s sake.


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2 thoughts on “Is Blues Rock Mainstream? An Analysis Through Spotify

  • October 6, 2020 at 8:56 am

    What a rich analysis!

  • October 8, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    I have not now nor in the foreseeable future ever considered a music streaming service as a viable option for me personally to buy or listen to music. A big part of the reason for this comes down to the information which has been used in this article – I prefer to buy either digitally or in hard copy from a reputable provider that gives the artists their fair share of the money I spend. In this modern era far too many people are simply ‘clipping the ticket’ while not actually doing anything to warrant the price they charge and at every opportunity I make a big effort to bypass those people. Keeps my conscience clear and gives some self satisfaction that those that created the product are get ting their fair share for the investment they put into it.


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