*Guest post written by Lucie Watson of Platoon.
If you’re working in the music industry as an artist, manager, label, distributor or any other field you’ve probably had or heard a conversation about the power of Spotify playlists. Some questions I frequently get asked are “how can I get on Spotify’s playlists?” or “how can I get on New Music Friday?” or “when can I start to see playlist additions?”.
What I’d love to tell artists and managers is that it’s easy, I’ll pass the tracks over to the editorial team who will listen right away who’ll then add it to the most relevant playlist. Yes, that happens in a few instances if it’s an artist who may have generated a bit of a buzz or be known to the team already, but more often than not the response I give is this: there’s no way I can guarantee placement on a playlist ahead of a release.
For some context, Spotify is currently leading the streaming market with 50 million subscribers and 100 million active users in over 60 territories. There are over 2 billion playlists on Spotify owned and operated by everyday users, brands, independent curators, official curators and the millions of algorithm-based playlists that reset weekly (e.g. Discover Weekly, Daily Mix).
Of these 2 billion playlists there are a significant number of featured playlists managed by Spotify curators that have followings of the thousands to millions, and securing a spot on one of these playlists has been known to dramatically boost an unknown artist’s profile and stream count. Recently Recode reported on the power of Spotify’s playlists for independent artists, with AWAL saying that some of their artists have seen a streaming increase of 50–100% after being included in one of these playlists.
In a recent video interview with A Nation of Billions for their video Are Algorithms In Tune With Music, senior Spotify editor Austin Deboh mentions an artist Dave, whose single “Wanna Know” went straight to a top performing record after being added to editorial curated playlists straight away. But, what he also mentions is that they saw the track had the lowest skip rate, highest engagement rate and high save rate meaning that the audience was listening to the track and their behavior was showing Spotify how successful the track would be. And this was even before Drake got involved with the remix.
Back when record labels could dictate what was played on the radio it was achievable to turn a moderately good band into a chart-topping success from careful radio plugging and traditional marketing. In today’s streaming world, the audience is driving the consumption and we the fans are driving sales and success for artists, based on the size of the audience for their music. And how are we as fans doing that? Our behavior is being monitored. Every time we stream a track, save it to our library, share it on social media and add it to our own playlist, that behaviour is being tracked and results in in-depth insights that allow Spotify to see which artists people are liking and provides useful information to artists on how to find their opening acts, tour locations and how to structure their set lists.
So if the audience is the consumers driving algorithms…… how can you get in Spotify’s playlists?
Despite the success stories of artists like Dave, unfortunately for many brand new artists, the chances of getting put straight into a major Spotify playlist are very slim. Sure, a winning scenario is when a curator might listen to the track and add it in, but you can’t hedge all your bets on this. Even if you get great feedback and think you’ve produced a winner, it still has to cut through thousands of new releases per week for a playlist like New Music Friday with a tracklist of about 50 songs, competing with the new releases of major record labels. Having analyzed a few New Music Friday playlists, it seems that<5 tracks will be from brand new artists.
While there are companies who offer playlist pitching alongside distribution or label services and others who offer pitching as their core product, one thing I know to be true is this: we’re all competing for the same space on the platform the same way. If Spotify’s curators really understand their audience, which it appears they do, they’re only going to work with tracks they think we’ll like and in many cases they’ll have the data themselves already to see how the tracks are working on the platform. If they see a high bounce or skip rate then they’re probably not going to include a track in one of their top performing playlists. Spotify’s algorithm-based playlists are purely driven from Spotify data, meaning your track has to be performing moderately well to be included in one of these.
Despite the competitiveness and saturation of the music market now, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. For the majority of artists, it is possible to gradually lead up to the point where your music can get onto these playlists. But it will help if you have an audience first. Here are a few things you can do.
1) Find your tribe
Surround yourself with people who share your vision and want to get involved in your success. That may be PR, distribution, visual artists etc. but even those closest to you may possess the right skills. Stormzy regularly speaks about how much his close friends have contributed to his career and who are now part of his core team.
2) Get verified on Spotify
Get Spotify for Artists so you can find out where your fans are and how they’re listening and this will also verify your profile. Once you’re verified Spotify curators will take you more seriously and you can add a playlist of your favourite tracks (and make sure to include a few of your own!), you can add tour dates, pin your latest release with a note (like spoken word artist Suli Breaks has done) and you can even do a mail out to fans. Make sure your profile looks great and is aesthetically pleasing with the artwork.
3) Remind yourself that there’s a world of consumers to be captured outside of Spotify
Have you got a video? Can’t afford it? Ok, what about a cheap lyric video? Or a well-timed cover? Anna Straker’s cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” had over 3 million Facebook views in a week. Are there YouTube channels who might want to feature your video? Reach out to them to submit your music (and make sure you have a link to the streaming services in the description!). Even just uploading the official audio to YouTube gives you a chance to find a new audience. Not only this, but main Spotify competitor Apple Music has way over 20 million subscribers, Deezer has an audience of over 16 million. Soundcloud is a great place for discovery. Don’t just rely on streams from one platform.
4) Have you got PR?
Remember, not everyone goes to Spotify for discovery. I personally still go to music blogs like Indie Shuffle where I’ve saved a bunch of curators who seem to have a similar taste to mine. Do you know what I do then? I’ll add the new songs I like to my Spotify playlist. If you can’t afford PR then there are ways to send tracks to blogs yourselves, including submithub.com which has a free or premium tier to select from. Audiences are still looking at music blogs for inspiration, including those in the music industry and even Spotify themselves.
5) Do a “digital health check”
In today’s world if you want to engage with your fans you need to be active on social media. Nigerian Afro Beat artist Mr Eazi used Twitter and Instagram to run a competition to get fans to design the new cover of his “Accra to Lagos” mixtape. Gabrielle Aplin talks to her fans through Twitter. Share clips, photos, stories and retweet posts that will drive further engagement. If someone adds you to a Spotify playlist, make sure you tag the curator, share the link on social media and say thanks! Reinforcing this may help with future playlist additions and helps build your network.
6) Tell your story
Find ways to tell it, to sell it and capture an audience who want to share in your musical journey. Even if it’s a 5 minute mini-documentary walking around your neighborhood talking about your inspirations.
7) Get creative
If you’re an independent artist then the sky’s the limit in how you reach your fans. Think of some out-of-the-box ideas, and if you can’t think of any, I guarantee there are classrooms of creative students who’d love to be involved.
So by now you’ve got a great Spotify profile, you’ve got a whole folder of content assets you can flesh out on your social channels, you’re present on blogs, you’re telling your story and you’re getting creative in ways you can find new audiences. You’ve maybe also landed a great sync, collaborated with a big artist or been endorsed by a major brand. This should now be converting to fans and streams. As well as this, remember to make a plan to build over time. Consistently release new music, always think outside the box in how you could engage fans (a couple of weeks ago John Legend was at Kings Cross station playing an impromptu piano piece to promote his tour, a few hours later both he and Kings Cross were trending on Twitter).
Finally, if you really are doing all this and the music isn’t getting picked up, it may be time to revisit the quality of the music. To reiterate, in today’s music climate it ultimately comes down to releasing good music. An unknown artist can be propelled into international fame with one really great track (case study: Lorde “Royals” or more recently Amy Shark with “Adore”) and if a lot of people are positively engaging with the track on any major streaming service, in any given territory, where the magic starts.
“Every piece of data that is used on Spotify is driven by audience consumption. We’re not leading the algorithm, the algorithm is being led by the consumer.” — Austin Deboh, senior editor at Spotify
Twitter: @luciejoywatson // @weareplatoon