Founder of Topsify, Playlists.net, Artists To Watch Records & ex Warner Music.
Streaming since 2008.
If you’re in business of any kind then undoubtedly you will have had the “can we hop on a call” email at some point.
It can come in the form of a well meaning friend making an introduction to you on behalf of someone else or it can come straight out of the blue from a stranger. The email will go something like this….
“Hey Kieron, great to meet you! I’ve heard a lot about you/your business and thought it would be great to get in touch. Can we hop on a call sometime? How does next Wednesday at 11am sound or 2 weeks on Thursday at 2pm? Look forward to chatting!”
Or worse still are those absolute serial killers who send you an invite to access their calendar via Calendly or similar and ask you to schedule a “free slot”. Right. OK.
And that’s it, no context, no explanation as to why they want to talk, no clue as to their business. I guess the expectation is that all will be revealed when I do indeed “hop on the call”.
So in the spirit of politeness (we are British after all) after all you accept the invitation and then the time comes for “the call”. They usually follow the same format, the caller starts with the spiel about their company/business, their history, how they got started, their motivation, their successes etc etc. Then you get the dreaded “So that’s me, I’d love to hear about you and how you got started”. Sigh. So you go into your “story” tell the other person how you got to the place where you are now, etc. etc. yadayadayada. You maybe talk about mutual business acquaintances, people you know in the industry/and/or the state of the industry and perhaps, and only perhaps the person who set the meeting actually tells you what they want. 9 times out of 10 they want something from you, a collaboration, partnership, they want you to buy their product or services etc. But it takes all of this faffing around to get to the “ask”. Most times also, you find out that there isn’t a fit and you end the call with a vague “OK let’s keep in touch” and there goes half an hour of your life you will never get back.
So how about a much better way….
In your first email give a brief intro to who you are and what you do. Outline your “ask”, your service, your idea or whatever. Put it in the email. It’s so easy, that way you can decide straight away if there is opportunity. If there is then maybe you will chat at some point. Maybe you won’t. But either way you can decide right away without all of the hassle of waiting around and spending half an hour of talking nonsense on the phone.
There you go, productivity life hack and blue sky thinking from Kieron right there. If everybody adopts this practice just think of the wasted hours we could all save.
And before anyone mentions it, not all phone calls are pointless. If you want to discuss something important with a colleague then they are great and I like a good chat with friends/colleagues from time to time. But for that initial first contact from strangers, the reason email was invented was so that we don’t want to “hop on a call.”
Yesterday I noticed that the Spotify Windows desktop app had changed and instead of a “follow” button under a playlist there was now a heart icon. If you hover over the heart it says “Save to Your Library” and when you click on it the playlist appears with all of the other playlists that you have followed, or saved.
This got me thinking about why Spotify would make this change, after all following playlists has been at the core of Spotify’s experience since day 1. It’s been ingrained in us all to follow playlists so we can access them with ease and also keep up to date with the latest music as they get refreshed.
Spotify themselves have traditionally been the first to announce major playlist follower milestones, such as when Today’s Top Hits reached 20 million followers it was a big deal. Rightly so too, that’s a huge achievement for one playlist.
Over the last couple of years though, a whole ecosystem has sprung up around playlist pitching with the aim of getting your song on Spotify playlists. Some of these are straight out scams, especially the services that promise you 500 email addresses of Spotify curators for $99. However some of them are from more traditional PR and marketing agencies where as part of a campaign they will seek out and contact playlist curators on your behalf and pitch your music to them in the hope of gaining playlist placements. A lot of the major labels now have staff in house whose sole job is outreach to playlist curators, it’s seen as an essential part of a new release campaign.
But maybe Spotify recognise that the seedy part of playlist pitching is harming the industry and one step to fight it is to remove the follower count from playlists to make the most popular playlists less identifiable in Spotify and therefore cut down on the amount of “outreach” that playlist owners can expect. For example right now it’s relatively easy to type a search term into Spotify, say “tech house” for example and then you can easily see the most popular playlists in the search results by the number of followers a playlist has and there you go, there’s your target list for your outreach.
I may be wrong but I think that changing the action of following a playlist to adding it to your library is the first step towards Spotify removing follow counts. Right now, playlist follower counts are still shown next to playlists in the Spotify desktop app but they don’t really make sense if the action is to add a playlist to a library. I suspect Spotify are introducing these new features in phases, as they often do and will roll them out over time.
It’s worth noting that not everybody’s Spotify desktop app may have this new feature yet, they tend to roll them out in stages. Also in their mobile apps the action is still to follow a playlist. This is normal for Spotify who often test out new features on one platform at a time.
So if you’re in the playlist outreach business my recommendation would be to get those spreadsheets updated with follower counts before they disappear forever!
Back in November 2016 Music Ally wrote an article about how Laura Marling fans could pre-save her new album on Spotify. This was the first ever pre-save.
This functionality wasn’t (and still isn’t) an official Spotify tool, it was put together by David Emery (who now works at Apple Music) who was VP of global marketing strategy at Kobalt at the time. In a Music Ally follow up article David said “Their API lets you add releases to someone’s library if they authorise it,” “We’ve added a layer on top of that to do that when a future release comes out.”
Since that time we’ve seen Spotify pre-saves become almost standard as part of the pre-release strategy when artists release new music.
For anybody not familiar with Spotify pre-saves they make up a marketing tool whereby fans of an artist can pre-save a future release from their favourite artists. By pre-saving it the song will appear in their Spotify library (and/or a user’s playlist) the minute it’s released. But more than that the tool typically also “follows” that artist in Spotify, hence building up their fan base and it also collects the users email address. So from an artist’s point of view not only do you get new fans and immediate distribution of your music but you can also collect those all important email addresses.
Here’s what a typical pre-save campaign looks like. This one was built using Feature.fm who offer what I think is the best pre-save tool on the planet.
But here’s the thing, despite the pre-save tool being an almost universally adopted tool for new releases globally, it isn’t a native Spotify feature. Artists can’t log into the excellent Spotify for Artists control panel and create a pre-save themselves. Nor are pre-saves tracked or recognised in any official stats provided by the company. It simply doesn’t exist. Instead, the pre-save campaigns you see everywhere from labels, distributors and marketing agencies are all hacks that use the Spotify API to create the tool. All that pre-saves do is ask users to grant permission from the user to manipulate their Spotify library. That’s it. It’s a workaround, a clever one but it’s a workaround. That’s why you don’t see a “click here to pre-save” anywhere in the official Spotify app.
Up until mid 2018 pre-saves where only available for Spotify but that changed when Apple Music released pre-adds for albums in June 2018. Shortly after they made pre-adds available in the official Apple MusicKit API. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to differentiate itself from Spotify, Apple Music adopted pre-adds as an official tool for artists and labels to use.
Then in March of this year Lewis Capaldi and Apple Music released this video explaining exactly how pre-adds work. Shortly after it was announced that Lewis’ album was the most pre-added album on Apple Music in the UK ever with 113,000 pre-adds.
Then a week later we saw a similar announcement that Billie Eilish’s debut album had achieved over 800,000 pre-adds globally on Apple Music, breaking records.
What I found really interesting was in that same article on Music Business Worldwide, Apple Music’s Oliver Schusser said…
“While most services focus the majority of their efforts around playlists, Apple Music still emphasizes albums because we understand their value as a storytelling tool for artists to create context around their music.
“To that end, pre-adds are great early indicators of engagement around an artist and the intention of the fans. To actively pre-add an album, much like the pre-order we invented with iTunes, means that the fan is excited about the content and wants to be among the first to enjoy it the moment its available. That kind of engagement is very valuable to an artist and to us.”
Not only was that statement a dig at Spotify for perhaps focusing too much on playlists and not on albums. It was also the start of Apple Music’s ambition to own pre-adds by referencing and relating them to pre-orders which they did indeed invent in the iTunes days.
Then just yesterday there was yet another Apple Music pre-add announcement, this time talking about how Taylor Swift’s new album has broken day one records for a female artist. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see more of these announcements from Apple Music as they position themselves as the inventors of the pre-add and make it an industry standard.
Which begs the question, why haven’t Spotify released an official pre-save function themselves?
I have no idea if I’m honest. I’ve heard whispers that Spotify have experimented with an official pre-add functionality but for some reason they have never released one. Might they now that Apple Music have released a similar official function on their platform? I hope so. The fact that pre-saves/pre-adds are becoming more and more common, unavoidable in fact must surely be noticed by Spotify. Spotify have a really slick Spotify for Artists tool and an official analytics package for labels, it would fit nicely in both.
I’ve been researching the distributor space lately and watching with interest as more pop up and margins get squeezed. It’s got to a place now where you can actually distribute music for free. But what else should you be looking for other than a pipeline? I’ve spoken to a lot of artists and record labels and put together the following list of what I think is important to look out for when deciding on what distributor to choose. If I’ve forgotten anything please let me know in the comments below.
P.S. These are what I consider the absolute essential services, there are lots more add ons that some distributors offer and I’ll maybe cover in a future post.
The streaming wars are what the mainstream press like to focus on (Spotify v Apple etc.) but I think the distribution landscape is much more exciting and interesting.
It’s reported that DIY artists will earn more than $1 Billion this year and Goldman Sachs has just issued a report estimating that by 2030 1.15 Billion people will pay for music streaming. That means there’s a landgrab going on and some pretty crazy stuff happening.
Just a few years ago, artists had to give away up to 85% of their revenue in exchange for a record deal. Often even successful artists barely made any money, due to how record label contracts were structured, where EVERYTHING was billed back to the artist.
Streaming and technology now allows artists to upload their music to platform like Spotify and Apple Music quite literally for nothing. Or at worst, up to just 20% of their revenues in exchange for marketing support and label services as well as distribution (true story, I don’t even know what label services mean in 2019 but that’s a topic for another day).
This week at the Midem conference in Cannes, Amuse CEO Diego Farias told a story about how he offered Lil Nas X over $1 million dollars to sign with them. It’s worth noting that Amuse distribute artists for free, no cost at all. If an artist starts to pop on their platform then they offer more traditional record label deals but it’s free for artists to use Amuse, at least initially.
This caused a bit of a reaction online, not least of all from Ditto Music CEO Lee Parsons.
Then this week another distributor, Stem culled a lot of their artists and increased their rates from 5% to 10% (8% for the existing artists they retained). This caused anger from the artists they let go and discussion on the sustainability of VC funded distributors operating on low margins to gain market share.
Then I saw this tweet from Distrokid which is actually genius…
Think about it, nobody actually plays cassettes any more but they are a great novelty merch item that will go down well with the Instagram generation and who doesn’t love nostalgia? Looking at the comments on their tweet I’m not the only one who thinks this.
Which got me to thinking, with a lot of distributors offering pretty much the same service, ie a pipe to the streaming platforms, what should they be doing to differentiate themselves from each other?
Keep an eye out for my next blog post where I’ll have some suggestions.
It’s well documented that a popular tactic to generate more streams and therefore more revenue in the streaming age is for artists to release albums with as many tracks on as possible. The rights holder gets paid from streaming platforms as soon as someone listens to 30 seconds of a song and therefore we get artists like Chris Brown releasing 45 song albums like his 2017 album “Heartbreak On A Full Moon” which was certified Gold in less than 10 days even though none of the songs from it made it to the top 40. Clearly this “strategy” works, if you can call stuffing an album with scores of low quality songs a strategy but hey that’s where we are now.
So when I saw this advert in my Instagram post for a “Sleep & Mindfulness Thunderstorms” playlist from Sony Music UK I was intrigued.
When I clicked through I was taken to a Filtr playlist (Sony’s playlist brand) in Apple Music that promises to help me relax and fall asleep to the sounds of pouring rain and thunder. OK then.
P.S. Notice how the playlist artwork says “Sleep & Mindfulness Thunderstorms” which although is nonsense, it reads logically, kind of. But the actual title of the playlist is called “Thunderstorms Sleep & Relax Tracks” which makes even less sense but is playlist SEO at work given that these are all keywords that Sony thinks people will be searching for in Apple Music.
But here’s the best bit, the playlist is made up of 330 tracks, all just over a minute long. Yes 330 tracks. Each track is as you would expect is just ambient noise of rain and a few thunder storms thrown in for good measure. This is the strategy I mentioned in my opening paragraph taken to the extreme.
By using a playlist as the “format” and not an album the guys at Sony can really go to town and add in 330 tracks without anyone blinking an eye, after all there are no rules or constraints for playlists so any number of songs goes. Then making sure each track is just over a minute long, thereby qualifying for the 30 second is also calculated to extract the most revenue possible from the playlist.
Finally, marketing the playlist as something to fall asleep to is also genius. The hope is that you play this playlist to help you fall asleep and when you do the playlist of course continues to play in the background while you’re asleep racking up streams and therefore revenue. Kerching.
One final note, the artist credited to all 330 tracks on this playlist is called “Sleepy John” and the songs all link to an artist profile in Apple Music for a rock quartet formed in 1969 from Lewiston Idaho. Either the meta data is messed up or this 1960’s rock band have done a serious pivot.
A few years ago, compilation brand Now That’s What I Call Music were really active on Spotify. They used to have a playlist for every Now album released as well as some that weren’t and they had a very popular “Now UK Top 40 Chart” playlist that was updated weekly and had a huge following. In fact, back in the early days of Playlists.net (around 2011 I think) we were invited to meet the Now Music team to discuss playlist strategy and for years we were marketing partners for their playlists. Check out their profile here.
However if you look at the Now profile in Spotify now there’s a load of old legacy playlists, playlist of the most recent Now albums, 101 and 102 and that’s about it. You can find Now 85 onwards too but none of the old ones. It looks like they’re maintaining the latest versions of their albums as playlists for search optimisation purposes but that’s all.
I had a quick look at Apple Music and low and behold there’s a homepage tile for an “exclusive playlist” for Now 102. If I look at the Now profile on Apple Music I can see a good selection of playlists (although not the entire Now back catalogue) including the Now UK Top 40 Chart and the Now UK Top 40 Dance playlist, both of which look like they are updated weekly.
So what this means is that as well as doing a deal with Ministry of Sound for playlist exclusivity, Apple Music have also seemingly done the same for Now Music. This is interesting as both brands are huge in the compilation space and bring brand recognition and loyal fans to Apple Music. What’s also interesting is that Apple Music are both investing heavily in their own playlists as well as working with trusted third party playlist brands. Whereas Spotify’s playlist strategy is centred almost solely on their own playlists.
There was a Homepage Takeover on Spotify in the UK today for Now 102 but instead of going to a playlist it directed users to the actual Now album on Spotify. Further evidence that the Now playlist brand isn’t a priority on Spotify.
Independent or third party Spotify playlists as they are also known can play an important part of growing your fan base and gaining more streams on Spotify.
When I talk about independent or third party Spotify playlists I mean playlists that aren’t curated or owned by Spotify editors. Instead they are curated by individuals with no affiliation with Spotify, people like you and I. A good example is my 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time playlist that I set up a few years ago.
So how can independent playlists help my song?
Put simply, if an independent playlist has an engaged audience of followers who enjoy listening to a certain genre or mood and your song fits with that vibe then by having your song in that playlist you’re going to get streams and hopefully new fans.
Great, how do I do this?
Use Playlist Push and use discount code YNK64JC to save 7.5%
Playlist Push is a service I’ve been using for over a year now, this is how they work.
Playlist Push have a network of over 500 playlist curators with a combined reach of more than 14 million listeners on Spotify.
When you sign up to the service, you upload your song and get presented with some pricing options. You can choose how many genres you want to target with your campaign and prices are set accordingly.
Once the campaign is up and running, your song is sent for review to curators who have playlists that will fit your song. Each curator has to listen to your song, leave a review and choose whether to include the song into their playlist or not. You get detailed reports back and emails when your song has been included in a playlist.
How much does it cost?
I’m told the average campaign comes in around $800 but can start from around $500.
How does this help me?
By reaching an audience of music fans who like specific genres/moods that match your music you will not only gain more streams but also potentially make new fans who will follow you and your music. More streams on Spotify also means that your music has a better chance of being noticed by Spotify’s algorithms and also possibly Spotify’s editors.
Kieron man, this looks like a paid advertisement for Playlist Push
It’s not. I have been using Playlist Push for over a year now and I’m very happy with their service, I wouldn’t risk my reputation by recommending something that I don’t use or can’t vouch for. The Playlist Push link I use is an affiliate link though and by using my discount code YNK64JC you save 7.5% and I get 7.5% commission from Playlist Push. Again though, I only promote services I use myself and think will be useful to others.
Spotify’s new ‘Canvas’ format is currently still in beta-invitation phase but is being rolled out to a wider selection of artists right now.
Below is a screenshot of what you will see when you select the “add canvas” button that appears in your Spotify for Artists dashboard.
Once uploaded to Spotify the eight-second looping videos are shown on the ‘Now Playing’ screen while listening to a song. To see one in action, listen to I Got You from HONNE on mobile.
Nice to see this format rolling out to more artists and it shows Spotify’s commitment to making listening to music visually interesting too.
Founder of Topsify, Playlists.net, Artists To Watch Records & ex Warner Music.
Streaming since 2008.