The Puerto Rican singer’s blockbuster hit has overtaken Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ as the #1 most streamed song globally
Being number one isn’t quite what it used to be.
Puerto Rican star Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” has overtaken Canadian popstar Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” to become the most streamed song globally. According to Universal Music, Fonsi’s label, “Despacito,” which also features Bieber and Daddy Yankee, has been played 4.6 billion times across platforms like YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.
Data on the most streamed songs ever isn’t readily available, but “Despacito” has a big lead over “Sorry,” which has been played 4.38 billion times and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” which clocks in at third place with 4.08 billion listens. Still, while it’s a massive accomplishment to have a song mostly sung in Fonsi’s native Spanish become the world’s most popular song, the 39-year-old singer is isn’t likely to have made as much as a mega star would have in the age of CD sales.
Assuming that Fonsi made $0.008 per stream—the high end of industry estimates when it comes to Spotify royalties—he’d have taken home royalties to the tune of $36.8 million. But the actual figure is likely to be way less, given that almost 2.7 billion of “Despacito’s” streams come from YouTube—where it’s the fourth most played video of all time. On average, YouTube pays out significant less than Apple Music and Spotify, because the video website shares ad revenue instead of paying per stream. “That’s a fundamental issue that facing streaming,” says Mark Mulligan, managing director of London-based MiDiA Research, adding that the music industry is hoping YouTube will “develop its role so that revenue matches scale of consumption.”
The financial impact of Fonsi’s success is complicated by how much of his popularity stems from Latin American countries like Brazil and Mexico, the world’s second and third largest streaming markets respectively. “They’re hugely important but most of the music streamed there will be on free [platforms] because of low levels of disposable income,” says Mulligan. “They overindex in terms of hits, but underindex in terms of payment.”
That’s translated to a contentious relationship with record labels, though they have little recourse. About 1.2 billion people actively use YouTube to play music, making it the largest music streaming provider in the world. Indeed, while audience growth at the Alphabet-owned platform has slowed, it still has three times more listeners than Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud combined.
Of course, Fonsi isn’t likely too bothered that he made less directly from music than an artist of his caliber could have a decade ago. “Artistes are increasing earn income from things like live performances and merchandise,” says Mulligan. “They’re looking at streaming as a way to build a brand.”
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