The Heardle Effect: How the Wordle for Music App Impacts Music

If you haven't played Heardle yet, the premise of the app is to listen to a snippet of a track before trying to guess what track it is. With millions of people playing every day, this must have some effect on the music, right?

The Heardle Effect: How the Wordle for Music App Impacts Music

Heardle may have started as a fun Wordle offshoot by a UK computer engineer in between jobs, but it's now captured the public’s attention, from ?uestlove to Spotify and millions of other players, according to the app’s webpage. The game’s fans have even created artist-specific versions that focus on the repertoires of Taylor Swift, BTS, and video games!

Just like Wordle, Heardle refreshes once a day, giving its fans a fun, quick game to get their brains going. Heardle begins when you play 1 second of a song, and you’re challenged to guess the artist and song. If you can’t get it and need more time, you get five more increments of time to guess; otherwise, you lose and get the answer handed to you (in shame). To boast about your glorious victory (or loss) on social media, you can share your day’s result with some fun emoticons generated by the app.

Everyday, the #Heardle hashtag tells the stories of victory and defeat.

Our question: What impact does Heardle have on the tracks it chooses to highlight each day?

In the attention economy we live in these days, anything that draws people’s attention to your music is a gift from the gods (or in this case, Heardle creator Omakase Studio). Heardle rolled out on Feb. 26, 2022, so let’s start there.

Saturday, Feb. 26: The xx's 'Intro'

For the technically-inclined, Heardle plays its daily song choice via a hidden SoundCloud player, so a natural spike in SoundCloud plays on the day Heardle highlights the track forms the initial signal of attention. It’s from here we can presumably measure how strong of a player base shows up that day, like when London outfit The xx had their epic 2009 “Intro” instrumental track chosen for Feb. 26.

The Heardle effect on The xx's "Intro" (Feb. 26, 2022).

“Intro” was only seeing 200-300 SoundCloud spins per day in February but effectively saw a 10x daily increase once it debuted on Heardle. Interestingly, the track did not resonate on other streaming platforms at the track-level as a result, but at the artist-level, The xx registered saw a six-fold increase in Spotify Monthly Listeners that day, which took them to 52K. Immediately after, they were basically back to normal levels. While we don't know what tracks people listened to that day, one thing is clear: They weren’t “Intro” (as we didn’t see a track-level increase on Spotify).

The Heardle effect on The xx's "Intro" (Feb. 26, 2022).

So that means a five-figure amount of Spotify users decided to play some of The xx's catalog from their own library (maybe reliving some of their favorite tracks), or they discovered the band for the first time on Spotify, all because of Heardle. That’s pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 15: Blur's 'Song 2'

My, what a difference two weeks make in the viral world. Word of Heardle indeed spread like wildfire, as the game debuted Blur’s quintessential rock-out track “Song 2” on March 15.

The Heardle effect on Blur's "Song 2" (March 15, 2022).

Hovering at around 300-400 daily SoundCloud spins that March, “Song 2” saw a 3.4M daily spin count (4M+ if you include the day before/after), and sure enough, it dropped back down to 300-400 spins by that Thursday. That alone is proof of Heardle’s massive success.

However, neither the track nor the band saw a strong signal on any streaming or social media platforms we were tracking (e.g., Spotify, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram).

Thursday, March 17: Madonna's 'Like A Virgin'

Madonna found some quick attention from Heardle a couple of days later on March 17, when the signature synthesizer riff from “Like A Virgin” warbled into people’s ears that day. While the SoundCloud spin count saw a 3M+ increase, the Material Girl didn’t see any benefit at the artist level.

The Heardle effect on Madonna's "Like A Virgin" (March 17 2022)
The Heardle effect on Madonna's "Like A Virgin" (March 17 2022)

“Like A Virgin,” however, did see a ~10x increase in Genius lyrics page views (though only to 400+), as well as a distinct ~63x daily bump in global Shazams to 38K+ (including surrounding days). While not huge signals, they did embody a behavior not yet seen in the previous two tracks.

It's a Game and Pop Culture Moment, Not a Marketing Strategy

Further research into Linkin Park’s “Numb” (March 24), ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” (April 8), Annie Lennox’ “Walking on Broken Glass” (April 8), and Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” (April 24) shows similar behavior: an increase in SoundCloud plays ranging from 3-4M (likely the Heardle active users) and incremental bumps in Shazams and Genius page views.

However, we could not detect a discernible increase in Spotify spins, Pandora spins, YouTube views/subscribers, Twitter/Facebook/Instagram followers, or TikTok signals in relation to these few Heardle examples. Every now and then, the strength of your catalog might benefit, as we saw with The xx.

So, is Heardle your next music marketing opportunity? Probably not. But is it a fun moment to share with fans (even if it’s not your music)? Absolutely.


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