Looking at the online music industry data for 2013 in aggregate across sources ranging from the major social networks, streaming services, sales figures, and key events for more than a million artists, we reveal an industry that is decidedly lopsided.
 
In our rankings of the most popular artists across social networks, a core group of major celebrities dominate the top of the charts, from Rihanna to Justin Bieber. Online streaming services present a slightly different picture however, with the most popular content varying dependent on the source. SoundCloud is dominated by popular electronic acts including Skrillex and Krewella, and YouTube offers a chart stocked with homegrown acts such as violinist Lindsey Stirling and young rapper Matty B.
 
It seems it is not easy for the little guy. To help map out the landscape of the online music industry, we set benchmarks for artists using key career milestones, such as signing with a label, or performing on late-night television, and the typical size of social following when these benchmarks were passed, and found that at the end of 2013 the top 1.1% of artists commanded close to 90% of the total number of page likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter, and around 80% of video views on YouTube/VEV0.
 
However, up-and-comers should not be completely discouraged; more than 90% of the artists we track are still undiscovered, and many have the potential to move quickly from undiscovered to mainstream, as was the case with both alt-pop queen Lorde, and independent sensations Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.  
 
The online music industry is still growing at a rapid clip. We tracked more than 6 billion new fans last year, and 223 billion streams. The latter is an increase of close to 140% from the year prior, which speaks to the shift in consumption methods. As US sales decline, both physical and digital, and the question is posed of whether the revenue resulting from streaming will be enough to outweigh the losses, this increase should signal a positive trend for the industry.
 
Given this shift, 2013 has also been a year where artists gamble on new directions in terms of marketing. From Jay Z’s trailblazing deal with Samsung, to Childish Gambino’s album screenplay, artists at all levels are coming up with alternative ways to successfully engage an audience, be that a mutually beneficial brand partnership, leveraging social reach, or combining music with other art forms.
 
To learn more about the state of the online music industry, take a look at our report.

Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, Forbes, Billboard, Hypebot and more.