One thing is becoming more and more clear in our evolving digital content paradigm: back catalogue matters. Like, a lot.
So if you're constantly struggling with trying to decide whether or not to release that latest project — do it. And then keep doing it.
In lieu of a massive breakthrough piece of content, catalogue can help creators with modest numbers build above average businesses over the long haul.
What We Mean When We Say Back Catalogue
When we talk about your "back catalogue" as a creator, all we really mean is "your older content." Some contracts actually define what content is considered "catalogue" versus "frontline." You're most likely to see this distinction among music distributors or companies that either own some of the content or a percentage of the money it makes.
The definition for back catalogue could be something as simple as "content that came out more than 18 months ago," or as complex as a calculation of promotional efforts and performance around the content. It's not uncommon for some distributors who take a percentage from what you earn to carve out smaller percentages to also work with an artist's back catalogue. The idea is that there's going to be less of a marketing push for older content, so their fee should be smaller.
However, catalogue isn't only a music concept. Catalogue also includes content like older YouTube videos and "evergreen" articles. That is, stories you put on your site that may be searchable for months and years to come because the subject matter is likely still relevant (versus something that gets a lot of clicks within the first few days because it's a timely, news-based article).
A Look At Back Catalogue Consumption In Music
Spotify recently published another "fan study," this time detailing the growth in back catalogue content. As with any study, keep the source in mind. We're talking about a specific type of content among a specific type of consumer. But the data provides a promising case for the idea that it's never too late for a song to be "a hit." And more importantly, that songs don't have to be "hits" to build careers.
The big takeaway is that 33 percent of the songs charting on Spotify in 2022 are considered catalogue. Even more impressive, this is up from 23 percent in 2021 and up from 13 percent in 2022. For the purposes of the study, Spotify considers catalogue anything over 18 months old and they compared the months of January through April for each year.
Why are more people listening to a lot more "older" music? Well, for starters, great songs typically age really well. People really don't care if they hear a new song they love and find out it's 15 years old.
But we're also seeing the effect of other popular content, you know, popularizing older content. Stranger Things is an obvious highlight as a show that launched songs like "Master of Puppets" by Metallica and "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush — already popular in their time — into the stratosphere among young and new fans. And those listeners are, in general, diving in to more catalogue content.
Specifically on Spotify, listeners under 25 saw the amount of music they listen to from the 1980s by 45 percent since 2017. This growth has been steady (so it's not just a Stranger Things anomaly).
It doesn't have to be a major hit song on a major hit show, though. These little "micro syncs" across other indie shows, YouTube videos, and short-form videos all have a cyclical effect in creating increased catalogue consumption.
The Case For Consistent Content
There's a common refrain when it comes to getting started as a YouTuber: "Your first 50 videos don't matter." Now, of course they matter. But the message is simply, "create to create." And do it without fear of messing up or creating a state of "analysis paralysis" that stops you from ever releasing content.
You get better as you create content. Everybody does — even the people you consider "masters" right now. But actually releasing that content is the difference between creating an asset and just practicing. Don't be so precious that your material never actually gets out there.
And even once you're beyond the "figuring out what your style is" phase, keeping consistent with your output creates a well of content that new and returning fans will dip from regularly. There are lots of avenues to successful careers in content creation, but if you're going to go the route of IP ownership — owning what you create and making money from it ever time somebody consumes it — the only surefire way to grow is to keep creating.
In A "Percent Of A Penny" World, Every Play Matters
The bottom line is that most content creators need scale to make a living. Whether that's music streaming, YouTube views, clicks on articles, or whatever — you need a lot of people consuming what you're doing. Catalogue helps slowly raise that content floor and create predictable income.
It's why you might still want to leave up that YouTube tutorial on an outdated piece of software from 2015. Or why you don't necessarily want to get in the habit of wiping clean your social feed every year. And why there's nothing wrong with releasing four different versions of a song.
Every bit of content is an opportunity to create a superfan, sure. But it's also just a vital component to achieving this literal hundreds of thousands of interactions you need every month to pay your bills.