So playlisting, this is a big one, a hard one, and one that I think is going to define the future of the music industry. Playlisting is, simply put, the act of getting your music placed on playlists, usually on Spotify since that is the largest fully interactive streaming platform. With platforms like Apple Music the key difference is that it’s brands who create the playlists or Apple themselves making for a very different experience, a valid one to be sure and one we need to talk about, but still a pretty different one. The point being, more and more artists are getting big after getting their music featured on playlists rather than through traditional means like getting coverage on blogs or radio, hell just look at Lorde for an example of this, she got placed on a playlist with 500,000 followers and this lead to her blowing up and becoming a worldwide star. Now most of the strategies I’ going to talk about here apply to Spotify, because of the interactivity, but there’s a whole lot more to unpack as we go down the road.
First off I think it’s important to realize that most independent bands should not be focusing on trying to get on the mainstream playlists. Those are REALLY hard to access, require serious distribution and simply aren’t going to be an option for a lot of people. that’s a huge part of why this article is focused on Spotify, because as with everything else in this industry you need to focus on the community first if you have any ambitions of building towards anything greater. A lot of these playlist people are just folks who really love music and with a little digging you can find them online at their blogs or even directly on Facebook. This is really important because it means that there is a lot of accessibility you don’t normally get with blogs and whatnot. That’s largely because this is such a new medium most people haven’t figured out yet, hell there are still very few legitimate companies who are pitching to playlists, it’s a huge untapped market.
The other thing to realize is that by focusing on the community the sooner you are going to wind up getting the coverage you want form major playlists. If you get placed on 10-20 playlists then the Spotify algorithm is going to pick you up and put you on relevant peoples Discover Weekly playlist and that’s where the listens start to really get cranked up. The issue of course is that these playlists need to be targeted towards one genre and you need to make sure that these playlists you are targeting make sense with your music. Otherwise word will get around you’re just trying to carpet bomb playlists and that’s the same as with blogs – it simply doesn’t pay off and in fact it will end up biting you in the ass time and time again. However, if you are able to target some relevant playlists and get on Discover Weekly natural buzz will start and the odds are you might get picked up by an official playlist. It’s really cool to see the often unpredictable world of music promotion getting boiled down to an algorithm like this.
In many ways this is just the next logical step for music curation and discovery. As the concept of branding starts to deeply permeate literally everything it would make sense that a much more easily brandable thing, like a playlist would get the attention of someone trying to discover music rather than a blog or something. When it comes down to it music reviews are becoming less and less important since everything is always instantly accessible. Sure they can point you in the direction of something you might dig but they don’t have a ton of functionality in most cases when you can just share the music directly and allow the consumer to develop their own opinion. I write this as someone who writes a lot of reviews and doesn’t curate playlists – I get that this is the way forward, though there will always be people like me who are really just bigger fans of writing and reading about the music that they love.
When it comes down to it – this is really about embracing new media, and you have to be really on the ball because its a new media that the labels understand and can work with. This isn’t like the weird days of the Wild west of the internet, this is corporate dominated branding with a few folks on the lower end of the community you might be able to associate with. However because of the limited options for branding and the relative stiffness of the platform it really comes down to what you are worth and what defines your taste. People need to realize that this media is one that young artists can dominate but only if they push because labels already have the corporate connections. You need to sit back and realize that there are some serious ways to move forward here but you need to move fast and be realistic. This is the issue most bands ran into with blogs and they’ll see this with playlists time and time again too.
When it comes down to it though the big thing to be aware of of course is that you CAN break through because once you start to get picked up by algorithms and your play counts start to get boosted not only do more tastemakers become inclined to check you out but also you get PAID. I know that it’s not a lot and I know that there are a lot of questionable aspects to how streaming services are run but you need to step back and appreciate all that they can mean for someone like you and what can be done in order to help you grow beyond and find a path that is not only incredibly sustainable but also thrilling and powerful. This is the next step for the industry and it’s going to keep us exploring and finding bold new paths.