Jay Srivastav

The science of music forecasting: How to predict a song’s future streams


The music industry is in the midst of a technological revolution, thanks in large part to the rise of streaming services and digital distribution. Music rights holders are benefiting from the growth of digital streaming platforms (DSPs), which is why private equity companies and music investment funds are betting billions of dollars on future song royalties.

We believe that anyone should be able to participate in the upside of their favorite music and partner with artists they believe in.

When you buy music rights through Royal’s marketplace, you own a percentage of a song’s streaming revenue and earn royalties each time it plays on DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music. These royalty payouts are directly correlated to how a song streams over a given period of time.

As you explore Royal, you’ll see that every listing has a streaming forecast and an annualized payout estimate. To develop this forecast, we analyze historical data from comparable songs and, when available, the streaming history of the song itself. If you believe music will outperform our estimates and you’re right, you could earn higher returns from your tokens.

This guide walks you through the main trends we analyze to forecast streams so you can make more informed decisions on which songs and albums to add to your portfolio. You’ll learn:

  • Why most songs peak in streams the year they’re released
  • Genre’s role in streaming performance
  • The impact of virality on a song
  • Why emerging artists may have greater upside
  • Growth projections for the global streaming industry
  • The first year of a song’s release is typically its most popular

    Most songs will peak in popularity on streaming platforms the first year following their release and then gradually decay over time. This happens naturally as new music gets released and competes for listeners’ attention.

    There are a variety of factors that play a role in a song’s streaming peak, including the artist’s popularity, the playlisting, the genre, and the release timing. Given this combination of factors, every song will have a unique streaming trajectory.


    The first two years of performance vary dramatically between songs. Afterwards, the consumption of songs tends to become more predictable.

    This means that buying the rights to older catalog songs (two+ years) is a safer bet, given that consumption patterns are more predictable and forecasts incorporate more of the song’s historical streaming and royalty data.

    Buying a newly released song (<two years old) is less predictable but has a higher likelihood of earning you outsized returns since the song’s streaming peak hasn’t happened yet.

    Different genres have different streaming trajectories

    In addition to age, another major indicator of how a song will perform over time is its genre. This is because each music genre has its own fan base and unique consumption patterns.

    The chart below shows how songs from different genres may perform over a 20-year period. It’s important to note that these curves are all indexed to the same starting point, but in reality, the top pop and rap songs tend to stream far more than the top rock and country songs upon release. This contributes to their steeper decays.


    Let’s take a closer look at rap and rock. Rap is a more competitive genre and appeals to a younger demographic. Because of this, the genre has a greater focus on virality and experiences higher streaming peaks. This can result in significant decays in streams following a song’s release.

    Rock, on the other hand, is a broader genre, where artists tend to be more niche. As a result, they usually have fewer music releases and lower streaming peaks. However, their listeners tend to be more dedicated. Rock is America’s favorite genre (just not among young people), and the consumption patterns of its older fanbase play a role in its more gradual decay.

    This doesn’t mean that betting on a rap song is in poor taste, though. As we noted above, rap and pop songs often stream much more than rock songs upon initial release, which means getting in early can lead to outsized rewards.

    Plus, Spotify’s top streamed artist three years in a row is Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny — imagine if you owned a piece of his catalog.

    Going viral: Social media’s impact on song streams

    Virality is a powerful force in the music industry that can earn rights holders a lot of money. When a song rapidly spreads on social media platforms, it gets more streams, downloads, views, and social engagement. For example, “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd became Spotify’s most-streamed song in history after its TikTok dance challenge went viral in March of 2020.

    The impact of virality can be huge, even for older songs. For instance, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which was originally released in 1985, saw a 9000% increase in streams in 2022 after being featured in an episode of Netflix’s Stranger Things and then going viral on TikTok. Bush owns the rights to this revived classic and made an estimated $2.3 million in just two months from its streaming royalties (May — July ‘22).

    In the chart below, we look at the streaming history of a popular song that went viral 40 weeks after its initial release.


    Even if a viral moment is brief (and most are), it can have sustained, long-lasting impacts on a song’s future streaming performance. This is because the streams will likely settle at a higher point than where the song was streaming before it entered the zeitgeist, like in the example above.

    Some songs go viral due to a catchy hook or a creative music video, while others may go viral thanks to an internet challenge or a meme. Predicting a future viral sensation isn’t easy, but if you trust your taste and you’re right, your music portfolio will earn you more than just bragging rights.

    Emerging music is more likely to grow over time

    We know that most songs lose streams after their first year of release, but there’s an exception to this rule: popular songs by rising artists can continue to gain streams as their fan base grows.

    Since emerging artists are not yet well-known, their music has more of an opportunity to be discovered after the initial release. For example, studio artist Angelo Mota released his top track “Madonna” in May of 2018, but it didn’t peak in streams until August of 2020. During this same time period, Angelo’s monthly Spotify listeners grew by 312%, from 42,296 monthly listeners in May of 2018 to 174,266 monthly listeners in August of 2020.


    Madison Ryann Ward, an up-and-coming singer/songwriter who debuted on Royal in November 2022, has increased her Spotify listenership by 400,000+ in just one quarter (Nov 1-Feb 1), and with 1.2M monthly listeners, she has plenty of room for growth as she prepares to release a new album.

    Investing in the growth of emerging artists is how record labels have accumulated so much wealth, power, and capital over the last few decades. Now, you have the opportunity to bet on artists you believe in, too.

    Revenue from streaming royalties continues to rise

    Today, 6 in 10 American households pay for a music streaming service, and streaming makes up 83% of U.S. music recording revenue.

    But it wasn’t always this way. Back in 2013, the music industry was in a slump, with the lowest earnings in recorded music since the 1980s. The growth of platforms like Napster, which launched in 1999 and enabled its users to pirate music for free, caused a major decline in CD sales. Even digital download sales from platforms like iTunes couldn’t make up for the losses from music piracy.

    However, streaming has helped revive the industry and make it easier to make money on recorded music. According to Goldman Sachs, revenue from subscription streaming has been growing at an annual rate of 24% from 2016 to 2021. Even though the growth rate is slowing down, it is still expected to grow at a ~9.7% CAGR each year until 2030, more than doubling the total annual revenue generated by the industry today.

    The popularity of streaming is growing all over the world, which is why private equity firms, hedge funds, and sovereign wealth funds are paying attention. They’ve analyzed the growth of streaming in the U.S. and are using it to predict growth in other emerging markets.

    You can see streaming’s impact on U.S. recorded music revenue below:


    A rising tide lifts all boats, and as more money is generated by streaming services, the music industry should become a more profitable and sustainable business for everyone involved. For example, Apple Music raised subscription prices by $1 last quarter, stating that the price increase means that artists and songwriters will earn more money from the platform.

    More good news: The Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, Lucian Grainge, recently shared that the company is focused on improving the streaming economic model to better benefit artists in 2023.

    By owning music rights, you are participating in this massive shift in the industry and could also benefit from its growth. In the article above, we’ve given you the key factors that drive a song’s performance, such as age, genre, virality, artist size, and industry growth, so you can make more informed decisions when deciding which songs and albums to add to your portfolio.

    So what are you waiting for? Join music’s new movement and start building your portfolio today.

    More resources:

  • Music as an asset class
  • A complete guide to streaming royalties
  • How we price tokens