Chelsea Jade at Wondergarden (Photo: Gareth Shute)

By the numbers: The New Zealand music with the most Spotify streams

Gareth Shute crunches the numbers on who is the most streamed here and abroad – and asks why the two don’t always match.

Until recently, it was difficult to track the progress of New Zealand bands once they left our shores. But now Spotify’s publicly available streaming data gives us a window into how well an act is doing, even if the majority of their support base is overseas.

Back in the 90s, The Bats could tour the US in support of Radiohead or be featured in Vanity Fair and Interview magazines… and it wouldn’t make a blip back home. Or a band could book a couple of impressive-sounding shows and suddenly look like they were going to take over the world. Until Spotify expanded into New Zealand in 2012, there was no easy way to see how often overseas audiences were listening to a New Zealand act, unless they got big enough to make an official chart. Even now, some acts like Baynk (who The Spinoff profiled recently) manage to rack up huge amounts of streams with little recognition at home.

Before we look at how New Zealand acts are doing worldwide on Spotify, let’s first take a look at the acts which received the most plays at home last year. Spotify supplied the following Top 20:

Top 20 NZ artists, by number of streams in New Zealand in 2017

  1. Lorde
  2. Six60
  3. Fat Freddy’s Drop
  4. Katchafire
  5. Shapeshifter
  6. Sons Of Zion
  7. Stan Walker
  8. The Black Seeds
  9. Broods
  10. Kora
  11. Crowded House
  12. House Of Shem
  13. Dave Dobbyn
  14. Kings
  15. 1814
  16. Aaradhna
  17. Nesian Mystik
  18. Home Brew
  19. Devilskin
  20. SACHI

If you focus only on the new songs released in 2017, Lorde also had the top four most streamed tracks, while Six60’s ‘Don’t Give It Up’ came fifth. Unfortunately, Spotify doesn’t have official data on which New Zealand artists have the most streams worldwide/overall, but it’s still possible to compare the most likely contenders by hand (though Spotify was kind enough to help me with some suggestions). So let’s put Lorde, by far New Zealand’s most popular artist globally, aside and see where the acts listed above are placed in a worldwide perspective.

The easiest measure is how many unique monthly listeners each act gets, although since this metric is updated daily there is a slight bias against acts who haven’t released music recently. Here’s what the top 20 would look by my calculation if we look at worldwide streams:

Top 20 NZ artists, by monthly worldwide streams (as of 19 Feb 2018)

Lorde – 12.2 million
Crowded House – 2.3 million
Savage – 1.7 million
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – 1.6 million
The Naked and Famous – 1.6 million
Broods – 1.5 million
Baynk – 988k million
Mitch James – 873k
Aldous Harding – 682k
Kimbra – 663k
Fat Freddy’s Drop – 622k
Yumi Zouma – 614k
Six60 – 569k
Leisure – 561k
OMC – 553k
Katchafire – 409k
Bic Runga – 377k
Connan Mockasin – 334k
Marlon Williams – 285k
Nadia Reid – 275k

It turns out that one of the acts which made the top five for plays within New Zealand in 2017 doesn’t even get close to making the worldwide list. Shapeshifter only have 117k monthly listeners, so are beaten out by acts like Stan Walker (269k), Dave Dobbyn (236k), Mt Eden (224k), SACHI (207k), Kiri Te Kanawa (185k), and Fazerdaze (158k). It is true that Shapeshifter are probably hampered by not having released any new material since early 2016, especially given that the monthly listener numbers can move quickly (for example, Theia got above 450k listeners at one point last year but is now at only 72k).

Nonetheless, it is striking that Shapeshifter can make the local top five yet be beaten out on the overseas list by Matthew Young (261k streams), who is comparatively unknown in New Zealand. Young is a pop singer who began his career in Auckland indie group Artisan Guns. He purposefully kicked off his solo career in near anonymity, even going so far as to remove old Artisan Guns videos that showed his face from YouTube, in order to make a fresh start.

Young’s song ‘Hey’, with “additional production” by Josh Fountain from Leisure, makes a decent showing on the list of songs released by New Zealand acts in 2017 with the most worldwide streams by the end of that year (this time leaving Lorde aside so she doesn’t dominate the list and give me less to talk about):

Top 20 songs released by New Zealand artists in 2017, by worldwide Spotify streams

‘Roam’ by Theia – 12.2 million
‘Poolside’ by Baynk – 6.1 million
‘Heartlines (Mount remix)’ by Broods – 5.7 million
‘Horizon’ by Aldous Harding – 5.1 million
‘Imagining My Man’ by Aldous Harding – 4.9 million
‘Come Home’ by Baynk – 4.4 million
‘Don’t Give It Up’ by Six60 – 4.1 million
‘Blend’ by Aldous Harding – 3.5 million
‘All The Ways To Say Goodbye’ by Mitch James – 2.8 million
‘Living The Classics’ by Aldous Harding – 2.1 million
‘Depths (Pt. 1)’ by Yumi Zouma – 2 million
‘Everybody Knows’ by Kimbra – 1.9 million
‘Saving Time’ by Mitch James – 1.7 million
‘Hey’ by Matthew Young – 1.4 million
‘In My Head’ by MAALA – 1.2 million
‘Jennifer’ by Fazerdaze – 1.1 million
‘Arrow and The Aim’ by Nadia Reid – 1.1 million
‘Money’ by Leisure – 1.1 million
‘December’ by Yumi Zouma – 1 million
‘Never Be Apart’ by Teeks – 980k

Young is not the only act who has skipped the local press entirely. Past members of New Zealand indie groups The Eversons and Sherpa make up half of the UK buzz-band Superorganism, which has 1.3 million monthly listeners and recently signed a deal with Domino Records (I left them off since the other half of the band are three Australians and a 17-year-old Japanese-American).

Brooke Fraser also had some surprise overseas success in 2017 when a song she co-wrote for US Christian outfit Hillsong, ‘What A Beautiful Name’, was nominated for a Grammy Award (though she used her married name, Brooke Ligertwood, in the credits). It has 40 million streams over the two versions on Spotify. Co-writes by New Zealand acts will no doubt become more common, whether it’s something like Chelsea Jade co-writing one of the latest tracks by The Chainsmokers (‘You Owe Me’) or Leroy Clampitt (aka Big Taste) co-producing the Justin Bieber song ‘Company’.

Of course, by focusing just on Spotify, we might miss some other international success stories. Over on YouTube, Jonathan Bree had a viral hit with his song, ‘You’re So Cool,’ (which premiered on The Spinoff) – it’s now at 2.6 million views (though that’s not quite in the same league as the Princess Chelsea song he guested on, ‘Cigarette Duet’, now at nearly 40 million views). I should mention that I’ve helped with his record label, Lil Chief Records, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I did find it interesting that when you look at the top locations where the video has been viewed, New Zealand comes 41st in the list (behind places like Portugal and Slovakia).

Looking more broadly, the lists I’ve created above show that New Zealand musicians are working more than ever on a worldwide stage. While it’s still possible for some acts to survive mainly within the local market (and perhaps in Australia), as Katchafire and The Black Seeds do, there’s more potential than ever to reach beyond this limited audience. We can even see the long shadow of The Bats’ ’90s success, with two of their tracks nearing half a million streams on Spotify. The difference is that now those who follow in their footsteps can have their overseas successes recognised back home too.

Update, 20 February 2018: A couple of people pointed out that the monthly listens list should’ve also included Thomston (521k) and Drax Project (296k). It could also be argued that Opetaia Foa’i (Te Vaka) should’ve been included the songs he wrote for Moana (in 2016) were co-writes but they’re all on his own Spotify page and he has 1.6 million monthly listeners currently. ‘Lucky Girl’ by Fazerdaze and ‘Woke Up Late’ by Drax Project possibly could’ve been on the top 2017 tracks list. 

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