If you look at top playlists on the big music streaming services like Spotify, it can seem like only the most mainstream major label artists benefit. Spotify’s well-documented reluctance to raise the rates it pays artists - or even come clean about how it calculates royalties- are real turn-offs, too. So why should you spend your time, energy, and money on streaming and playlisting?
The thing is, revenue from streaming is only one of the things Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music provide (and they provide more per stream on average than YouTube for mid-tier and emerging artists). Streaming is all about discovery, helping listeners find new music they couldn’t find on their own. For artists, that means access to an enormous potential audience.
Those algorithm-generated “charts” playlists featuring the artists and tracks that are already the most popular are not the only way listeners discover music on streaming services; it may not even be the most common way. Human listeners are also curating playlists for every taste and mood.
That means playlists can get your tracks in front of fans who are already into sounds like yours, no matter how niche. The playlists that focus on Greek laiko, avant garde accordion, and Japanese enka may never show up on Spotify’s top charts, but they still have tens of thousands of listeners. If even a portion of those listeners become your dedicated fans, you’re laying a strong foundation to start booking more shows, selling more merch, earning more support on ko-fi, Patreon, or Kickstarter, or however you measure success.
Even better, playlists can help you uncover audiences you didn’t know were there. If your latest track has an uptempo cumbia beat, getting on a popular cumbia playlist is an obvious step. But placing that same track on a “High Energy” playlist that has a wide span of genres and geographies will reach listeners who might be open to your sound, but didn’t know what to look for before. Younger listeners often tell researchers they are less interested in genres and just want to find something novel and exciting. This presents a huge opportunity to some artists once classified as “world music.”
Playlists based on moods and activities (like chill, focus, dance, and working out) feature artists from around the world playing all kinds of music. They just have to be great tracks with a vibe that matches what the curator and listeners are going for. Many artists I talk to want to break out of the “world music ghetto” into more mainstream press and airplay. If that’s your aim, streaming playlists make it easier than ever to extend your audience.
Those unexpected listeners might be hiding in other places around the world, too. I recently talked with a successful Spanish-language crossover artist who watches his streaming stats on Spotify. Even though he’s well known in the US and Canada, it turns out that people in Mexico City play his songs the most. That unexpected discovery led him to book more shows there, knowing he could sell tickets. Now he’s collaborating with Mexican artists and building his newly discovered fan base even further.
Are you ready to try building your audience with playlisting? If you want to go the DIY route, look for blogs, ebooks, and podcasts that can help you dip your toes into the stream and get playlist curators to try out your tracks. You can also work with professionals, like our team at rock paper scissors. Consider adding playlisting services to your next PR campaign to reach fans who are looking for your music. They just don’t know it yet.