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Stationhead Is Helping Turn Superfans Into Fan Armies — And Boosting Sales & Streams, Too

Stationhead Is Helping Turn Superfans Into Fan Armies — And Boosting Sales & Streams, Too

When Megan Thee Stallion released her single “Hiss” on Jan. 26, she let the music do the talking, with two exceptions: On Jan. 30, she appeared on Good Morning America, the top-rated network morning show. Then, on Feb. 1, she logged on to social-audio platform Stationhead to speak directly to her most dedicated supporters.

“Let me tell y’all something — if ‘Hiss’ hits No. 1, I’m having an OG ratchet-ass Hottie party,” she said on the HottieRanch fan channel, laughing along as two of her longtime fans hosted an off-the-cuff conversation with her. “[My first single] ‘Cobra’ and ‘Hiss’ are the first two music videos that I’ve done since I’ve been off of my labels, and I did this shit because I finally had full creative range. I could do whatever I wanted to do,” she declared. “I’m just happy that [people are] appreciating the art, because I really thought about it and put my all into it. And I’m just happy to be here, today — the Hotties are gagging!”

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During the 14 minutes that Megan spent on HottieRanch, 7,000 fans logged on to the channel, racking up 3,000 song downloads through the site and flooding the comments with her signature snake emojis and messages of support. Fireworks effects and alerts about sales milestones and other benchmarks flew across the app’s interface, and “Hiss” later debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — Megan’s first-ever solo chart‑topper. According to Stationhead, its users contributed 13,200 download sales and millions of global streams to the track’s debut, and the benefits did not end there. The song’s withering lyrics — which target Nicki Minaj, Tory Lanez and other artists — led Minaj to hop on her own Barbz channel on Stationhead to clap back during an extended dialogue with her fans. Her own dis track, “Big Foot,” followed, leading to a back-and-forth that boosted streams for Minaj’s and Megan’s songs — and to Stationhead trending on X as the two MCs and their fans traded darts.

It’s one of the latest examples of Stationhead’s growing popularity with artists who want to foster strong connections to their fans and boost streams and chart positions in the process. In recent months, Olivia Rodrigo, Cardi B, BTS, Blackpink, Ed Sheeran, Jennifer Lopez, Coldplay, GAYLE and other acts have engaged with fans on the platform — which focuses exclusively on music — playing songs, telling stories and answering questions while thousands listen along.

“Stationhead is incorporated in every single and album release that we do,” says Kirsten Stubbs, co-head of pop/rock digital at Interscope Geffen A&M (IGA), who has run campaigns with Rodrigo and Selena Gomez on the platform and says she first discovered it after hearing about it from fans themselves. “It’s an app that the industry was looking for for a long time, and they were the first ones to really nail that strategy.”

“Your fans on Stationhead are like your season ticket holders at a sporting event: You can build a plan around them, count on them to show up to things,” says TMWRK founder and CEO Andrew McInness, whose company manages Diplo and Dillon Francis, among others, and who serves on Stationhead’s board. “Those types of fans are the reason why Taylor Swift is Taylor Swift, why Nicki Minaj has her power base or the various HYBE or K-pop artists have this big support system.”

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The platform, which debuted in 2017, functions much like a digital pirate radio station, where anyone with a streaming music account can host their own station and play music, with other users able to log on and listen, chat and even call in and speak to the DJ. And since the app functions as a skin over Spotify or Apple Music, each listener in a room counts as an individual stream.

Over the years, Stationhead has evolved into a destination for fan groups to discuss (whether through the chat or a podcast-like audio function) their favorite artists with the channel’s host. These virtual connections sometimes lead to in-real-life relationships with, for instance, channel members meeting at music venues to see concerts together. The addition of channels — rooms created specifically for fans of certain artists, such as Minaj, Jimin or Stray Kids — in January 2023 solidified the app’s new direction and led to Cardi and Rodrigo discovering the app through their fans and occasionally joining them. According to the company, there are now more than 1,000 channels.

“Music’s future is leaning into fandom, period, and fandoms live here,” says Stationhead co-founder Ryan Star. “They played the instrument we built better than anybody.”

The platform’s role in fostering the artist-fan connection — and helping to deliver hits — comes at a time when “superfan” is arguably the industry’s biggest buzzword. In his New Year’s memo to staff, Universal Music Group (UMG) chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge wrote that in 2024, the label group will focus on “grow[ing] the pie for all artists by strengthening the artist-fan relationship through superfan experiences and products.”

Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl also cited superfans in his holiday letter to staff, calling them “relatively untapped and undermonetized.” Two months later, during a panel discussion at the Web Summit conference in Doha, Qatar, Kyncl mentioned that WMG had hired a team of engineers to help the company build its own superfan operation, with an emphasis on “a cross-platform solution,” which he said at a later appearance that he felt labels were better positioned than anyone to do.

Stationhead and WMG aren’t alone in the superfan space; HYBE’s WeVerse and companies like Medallion and Fave are attempting to address different aspects of superfan monetization, with various levels of success. UMG invested in NTWRK’s $109 million acquisition of Complex in February, and Live Nation, Spotify and others have also expressed an interest in or begun to explore ways to enter the superfan space. Last year, a Goldman Sachs report estimated that there will be a $4.2 billion addressable market for superfan monetization by 2030, and Luminate reported that superfans spend 80% more on their favorite artists than the regular music listener.

But Stationhead has gone further than many others in terms of bringing more revenue into the business by focusing on the one thing at its center: the music. “Stationhead is a good example of a company that is creating the bridge between the main lane of how someone makes money — whether that be a rights holder, artist or roster — and people who are avid listeners or supporters who are exhibiting fan affinity,” says Mike Pelczynski, a strategist who helped build SoundCloud’s direct-to-fan capabilities and pioneered its fan-powered business. “They know you still need to make money based on scale and volume of plays, and they’re creating hyper communities that help, literally, stream music in groups, but then also give [artists] the capability to tap into those people, and then to give them something else, like merch or other purchase [options].”

Before he began developing Stationhead in 2014, Star released albums and performed in the band Stage and as a solo artist. He says that whenever he opened for such acts as the Goo Goo Dolls or O.A.R., he made a point of meeting fans at the merchandise booth afterward — even when the headliners would roll their eyes.

“I think right now [fandom] is still a buzzword, and I hear a lot of people throw it around, and they don’t really know it,” he says. “I know it from the days of actually being an artist that relied on those kinds of fans for my life. For me, I was like, ‘These are the people who are gonna be there for me no matter what.’”

SB19 fans who met on Stationhead at the Filipino boy band’s concert at Araneta Coliseum in Manila in 2022.

On a Wednesday afternoon in early March, 3,700 people were logged on to Stationhead’s BTS ARMY Jungkook channel; 3,500 were tuned in to the BTS ARMY channel dedicated to V; 1,200 people were on the ONCE channel for fans of TWICE; 1,300 were on the STAYS channel for fans of Stray Kids; and 800 people were on the BardiGang channel dedicated to Cardi B fans. The Beyhive channel, which Beyoncé has never visited, had 150 listeners, with the host dutifully streaming “Texas Hold ’Em” every three songs. Stationhead says it drove 15% of first-week downloads for the song when it debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100.

During the pandemic, social audio apps like Clubhouse, Spotify’s Greenroom/Live and Amazon’s AMP live radio app began to pop up, sometimes attracting star names to host conversations or live podcast shows on their platforms. But those big names — occasionally brought in with big checks — were often what attracted audiences, and investors, to the platforms. (Last year, both Amazon and Spotify shut down their platforms, and Clubhouse laid off half its workforce.) Stationhead grew on the opposite side of the spectrum: the company says it has never paid for marketing, or for an artist to appear on the platform. Instead, artists and labels who have embraced it heard about it through the fans themselves, and Stationhead says that 95% of the billions of streams it facilitated in 2023 came when there were no artists on the platform, just fans hanging out amongst themselves.

It’s something that speaks even to the biggest artists in the world. “It’s a good way to get thousands, tens of thousands of people to all come together and have an amazing experience together. And with great examples, artists jump in, and then that turns into content because people record that kind of stuff and it travels beyond the platform onto Instagram or TikTok,” says Atlantic general manager Paul Sinclar, who has worked Stationhead into rollouts with Ed Sheeran, Melanie Martinez, Charlie Puth and the Barbie soundtrack, among others. And the experience goes well beyond just boosting a song’s streams or downloads — true, die hard fans are created through more than just commercial interactions. “If you get an audience together that wants something special and cool to them in that moment, there’s an opportunity. But we try to measure it by, did fans think that was an amazing experience?”

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When Sheeran released his Autumn Variations album last September, his fans were having a listening party on Stationhead — and Sheeran randomly crashed the party, with no heads up. When GAYLE was launching her tour, she held a contest on Stationhead for her fans to guess her set lists, which became a nightly listening party and debate, culminating with GAYLE herself jumping in to confirm the set list and update a playlist for her fans. For the release of the Barbie soundtrack, Atlantic facilitated a 12-hour listening party, with a different fan each hour hosting their own playlist based on a different song and artist that appeared on the album. For the two year anniversary of Rodrigo’s SOUR album, she popped in to a listening party her fans were holding, proving the power the platform has to boost catalog, too. “The spontaneity of logging in and not knowing who is gonna be in there, if the artist is gonna be in there, is a really cool experience,” Stubbs says.

Stationhead says that over the past year, its user base has quadrupled to more than 15 million fans, and the average user spends over two hours per day on the platform. The company claims it drove billions of streams and hundreds of thousands of downloads in the past year, creating tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for labels and artists — an admittedly vague figure that it nonetheless expects to grow fivefold in the next year. (The company declined to reveal specifics.)

Stationhead’s revenue comes largely from a cut of the downloads sold through the platform — a format that IGA’s Stubbs says is “more important to the success of a song and album because downloads are weighted more” for chart algorithms.

Though its current business model is better suited to making money for streaming services and rights holders, Stationhead says that will change soon. “In the same way that Discord and Twitch created entirely new channels of revenue for the video game industry, Stationhead is doing the same with music,” co-founder and COO Murray Levison says. “We plan to continue to innovate in the space and roll out a number of monetization features over the course of the next year.”

Until then, Stationhead continues to do what it does best: serve as the destination for over 1,000 fandoms. “Stationhead is always on, and the community is always there even if nobody is talking,” Star says. “We’ve been building it quietly for years now, really focused on understanding the fans, learning them, validating them, giving them a home — all of this has happened. We found our audience, and this market is just beginning. And it’s going to be massive.”

A version of this story appeared in the March 30, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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