PnB Rock: Anatomy Of A Rising Artist

0001In this piece, Glenn Peoples digs deep into the nitty gritty behind the steady, organic, bottom-up growth of rapper PnB Rock within the streaming platform Pandora.


Guest post by Glenn Peoples, Music Insights and Analytics at Pandora, of Medium

The thumb: a cornerstone of Pandora and probably the image most associated with the company. The thumb is personal; giving a song a thumb is a signal that a listener likes a song and wants to hear it again. The thumb is communal, too. Pandora looks at that thumb and wants to know if users with similar tastes and listening history might like the song, too. It’s the music streaming equivalent of tracking nationwide, word-of-mouth buzz through one-on-one interviews.

Rapper PnB Rock gets thumbs. The Philadelphia-based artist had 6.3 million of them through the week ending June 18th, according to metrics available at Next Big Sound. That week alone his listeners thumbed his songs 255,000 times. In terms of thumbing, PnB Rock ranked in the 100th percentile of artists tracked by Next Big Sound.

One song in particular has generated nearly half of PnB Rock’s spins. After 11 months on Pandora, the single “Selfish” reached #34 on the Pandora Top Spins chart, putting him in the company of “Good Life” by Kelhani with G-Easy and Post Malone and “Scared to be Lonely” by Dua Lips & Martin Garrix. As of June 18th, “Selfish,” written about his jealousy in a short-lived relationship, had 53.3 million spins, according to Next Big Sound.

“The song connected,” says Nima Etminan of EMPIRE Distribution, which jointly released both the track and PnB Rock’s debut album, GTTM: Goin Through The Motions, with Atlantic Records. “If you ever go to a show, he has really intense fans. They’re singing every single word.”

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records

What stands out about PnB Rock’s popularity on Pandora is its consistent trajectory. When plotted on a graph, daily spins of his entire catalog — they now total more than 123 million — create nearly a straight line, suggesting the kind of organic growth that results from the positive feedback of Pandora listeners. There hasn’t been huge jumps or steep declines. Just steady growth, as if word of his music was passing from one friend to another.

Before hitting the Pandora Top Spins chart, PnB Rock reached #2 on Next Big Sound’s October 7th Trendsetters chart, a ranking of individual, up-and-coming artists — not a particular song — that takes into account Pandora spins, social followings and streams at YouTube and Vevo. (Pandora’s Top Spins chart tracks the performance of individual songs on the service.) He has certainly done well on social media: 739,000 Instagram followers; 401,000 YouTube subscribers; 117,000 followers on Facebook; and 189,000 Twitter followers. But those numbers are easily topped by his 1.1 million artist stations at Pandora (those Pandora stations which use PnB Rock songs to build a station’s playlist and recommend songs by him and similar artists).

PnB Rock is a story of success at Pandora especially and online generally. His spins on Pandora spins blow away his broadcast radio audience. From the date PnB Rock peaked on the Trendsetters Chart to his high mark on the Pandora Top Spins chart, his total Pandora’s audience was 83.9 million (that’s his number of spins), 51.7 million more than his entire broadcast radio audience, as measured by Nielsen BDS. In fact, his daily broadcast radio audience exceeded his daily Pandora spins just 14 times since August 22nd—remarkable since Pandora’s share of music listening is about 16 percent of AM/FM radio’s share (8.4 percent to 53.9 percent), according to Edison Research. He’s done well in the digital world and especially well at Pandora.

This is also a story about steady, organic, bottom-up growth, not the top-down growth that comes when industry gatekeepers decide to get behind an artist. PnB Rock has had consistent growth in spins of his entire catalog. In contrast, his broadcast radio audience had the usual spikes that come from program directors’ decisions to put a song into rotation. Sharp gains in broadcast radio audience — clearly seen on the chart — came from CBS Stations in February, Cumulus Radio in April and spins in some large markets including Boston, Miami, San Jose and Tampa.

Whether or not an artist succeeds is ultimately up to listeners. No amount of radio adds, press or Instagram posts can make a listener a fan. Fans decide on their own which artists they relate to who they want to hear. That goes for both superstars and young, hungry, but practically unknown artists. Good music tends to be heard eventually. PnB Rock has done increasingly well at Pandora simply because listeners liked his music. That’s worth a thumb or two.

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