Money Makers: How Streaming Took R&B and Hip-Hop to the Top of This Year’s List

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Beyoncé, Drake, Kanye West: It may not seem surprising to see three of R&B and hip-hop’s biggest names in the Money Makers top 10. But it’s the first time since the 2006 inaugural list that so many artists from those genres have placed that high. With Rihanna, Future and The Weeknd also making the top 50 (nearly double the number of R&B and hip-hop stars on last year’s ranking), several metrics point to 2016 as the year the genres turned a corner.

So what’s driving R&B and hip-hop to ever-more lucrative heights? In a year when hip-hop and R&B albums ruled the Billboard 200 for 28 weeks, on-demand streaming exploded. Of the 15 artists who earned 1 billion on-demand audio streams in the United States in 2016, 11 were R&B/hip-hop acts; the three who surpassed 2 billion are the same trio in the Money Makers top 10.

“For kids today, streaming is the end-all, be-all,” says Dee Sonaram, Executive VP Rhythmic Promotion at 300 Entertainment, which has seen viral streaming success with Fetty Wap and Migos. “Labels were looking at pop and dance music, and it almost seemed like hip-hop was the bastard child. Streaming and playlists have really brought it to the forefront.”

According to Nielsen Music’s 2016 year-end report, on-demand audio streams were up 76.4 percent to 251.9 billion; of those, 28 percent were R&B and hip-hop tracks, much higher than rock (20 percent) and pop (14 percent). That’s not likely to change: In the first half of 2017, that number increased to 30 percent. Streaming services are also pumping marketing dollars into the live business: Apple Music produced Drake and Future’s Summer Sixteen Tour, the highest-grossing hip-hop trek of all time. And while all that streaming generates revenue, it’s also pulling in crucial data. 

“Because of streaming analytics, we can strategically route tours on a market-by-market basis,” says Cara Lewis, the Cara Lewis Group founder whose clients include Eminem, Chance the Rapper and Bryson Tiller. Artists and their teams can then zero in on where their fans are and promote accordingly. “When you can see your top 10 markets right off the bat, it takes the guesswork out,” says Sonaram. “It’s taken over the game in every way.” 


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