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The New Music Battle: YouTube Versus Spotify

Our analysis of the meteoric rise of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) revealed that the song first peaked on YouTube, before any other music-related platform. Considering the dominance Spotify seems to have over the industry, this fact surprised us a little.

We decided to do a little research to find out if this applied to other popular songs of 2022. Utilizing Google Trends, we selected five different songs from the Billboard 100 charts and compared the search interest between them on Spotify vs YouTube. The results proved that all of them tend to peak faster and higher on the video sharing platform, and for 3 out of the five songs, remains where the largest search volume is still coming from today.

*This data does not look at the search volume within the apps itself, nor at discoverability.

While Spotify has undoubtedly had a major impact on the way we consume music, YouTube is still the first and most popular place for music to trend. It remains the go-to platform for people searching for new songs, a title that Spotify might find difficult to steal. Using qualitative research, we hypothesized some of the possible reasons for this:

YouTube’s free — Some people are simply still against the idea of paying for music. While Spotify’s subscription fee of $9.99 for an individual plan is fairly reasonable, some people are simply against the idea of having to pay for music when it’s completely free on YouTube.

YouTube’s own video streaming service, YouTube Music, also still hasn’t quite reached the level of success as its competitor. ‘Download Spotify’ garners more searches than ‘download youtube music’, while ‘youtube to mp3’ far surpasses searches for ‘download Spotify’, thus proving that the issue comes down to having to pay rather than the platform itself.

An interesting observation we made while analyzing the search interest for ‘youtube to mp3’ is that no North or South American countries appear in the top 15 countries searching for this keyword. Instead, it’s predominantly made up of Asian, European, and Middle Eastern countries.

The visual aspect — MTV was hugely popular in the late 90s and early naughts. Music videos were the artists’ creative visions come to life, from the dance moves to their outfits, and being able to watch that remains an exciting aspect of new music. YouTube gave the opportunity for people to view these videos at the click of a button, rather than having to wait for it to appear on a television channel, and remains the best resource to watch related videos like live performances, fan compilations and covers, something Spotify doesn’t fully provide at the moment.

Kinship and Community — Another feature that Spotify doesn’t have is the ability for people to leave comments and have discussions. Part of the fun of watching a YouTube video is getting to see what other people have to say about it too, and getting involved in heavy debates or cracking inside jokes. This is especially true for passionate fandoms like K-pop fans, where there are dozens of channels dedicated to the latest in K-pop music and livestream performances.

YouTube channels also tend not to be linked directly to their personal profiles, so people feel much safer revealing their true feelings and commenting on YouTube, versus other social media platforms.

CHIQUITA by Rocket Punch and Good Boy Gone Bad by Today x Tomorrow

Inconsistent content — Spotify claims to have a catalog of over 70 million songs, but the platform is dependent on licensing deals with artists and labels so every once in a while, we see songs being removed or “greyed out” when things fall through. There was the Taylor Swift saga in 2014 where she abruptly decided to pull her albums from Spotify, and more recently the episode earlier this year where artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell chose to boycott over comments made by the platform’s star podcaster Joe Rogan. Country restrictions and license expirations are also reasons for songs disappearing off the platform, which for some users is an inconvenience they prefer not to deal with.

Write to anurag.banerjee@quilt.ai to learn about AI-powered market research and the latest consumer trends.

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