Founder of Topsify, Playlists.net, Artists To Watch Records & ex Warner Music.
Streaming since 2008.
I was talking to a new artist today. He’s released one song in his short career so far and he’s released it through one of the popular distributors. When he originally went to the distributor and asked them (quite rightly) what they could do for his release they asked him to fill in a lengthy form with all sorts of silly questions, the main one being how big his social reach is.
Now bearing in mind that he is brand new, this was before he released his first ever song, he has pretty much a zero fanbase. To be expected right? On receiving this form they then went on to tell him that they couldn’t offer any support because he has no fanbase and there’s pretty much nothing they could do for him, except to make his song available on all DSP’s and take a nice cut for the privilege.
Sadly this is now pretty much the case for all record labels as well as distributors. I’ve heard from so many artists today who are asked from labels, how big their fanbase is, before they even listen to the music. In other words if you don’t do your job for them and build up a fanbase first they won’t even consider signing you.
I can’t begin to say how messed up and wrong this is.
Surely the job of a label is to develop an artist and help them grow a fanbase together? If the artist is talented and has great music then who cares about how many Instagram followers they have? I don’t. The fact that they have great music is all that matters and if you truly believe in them then the fans will come with your help. Isn’t that a record label’s job? Isn’t it remarkably lazy to expect the artist to do all the work, build the fanbase and then give their music to a label to put out? You don’t need a label to do that, they are supposed to be a partner and help you get your music to fans old and new.
And don’t even get me started about all those Instagram and Youtube stars with a massive audience who have been signed up by a label hoping to cash in on what they’ve achieved already and then release terrible music. Just because you have a huge following of fans who like your funny YouTube videos or makeup tutorials doesn’t mean they want to hear you sing.
This is partly why I set up Humble Angel Records, I have an open submission form where anyone can send in music. I don’t care what your fanbase is, all I care about is if you have good music. We can work on the rest together.
Whilst browsing Instagram stories today I saw this ad promoting Calvin Harris’ Spotify playlist “Calvin Harris Radio“. Interesting as you don’t see many Spotify playlists being promoted other than the major labels playlist brands, but even then not that often.
Naturally I thought it would just be a smart move by Sony to capitalise on Calvin’s fanbase to promote a playlist that’s basically full of Sony content. I say smart as a fan will be much more inclined to listen to a playlist from an artist compared to a label playlist. Anyway I fully expected the playlist to be full of Sony’s priorities. Not the case! Sure there’s 3 or 4 of Calvin’s tracks but a very good mix of songs from all labels, independents and majors and even some catalogue tracks thrown in too. In other words it looks authentic and something the artist would probably put together himself.
So why pay to promote it? I doubt very much Calvin Harris is promoting it personally, he has plenty of other stuff going on. And if Sony are investing in growing the playlist then why haven’t they put more of their own songs in it? I can only think that it’s a smart move to invest in the playlist long term and in a very thoughtful way. By keeping the playlist authentic and not filling it with Sony priorities they will build engagement and trust with his fans and grow the playlist faster. Maybe they plan to grow it and then when Sony songs come along that fit the playlist in a natural and organic way, i.e. something that Calvin will play himself in a set, then they can seed it in and help it grow.
For me this is so much smarter than record label playlist brands that don’t have any loyalty or following among fans and have anything from 80% to 100% of their own content.
Growing a playlist like this one also lessens the label’s and artists dependence on playlists controlled by Spotify or Apple Music. Of course these editorial playlists will always move the needle most but it’s smart to have your own playlist route to market too.
This is probably a blog post on it’s own but now that streaming is unstoppable and here to stay, there really should be more investment and creative thinking into playlist brands. The 3 major labels could all do more with their playlist brands and be more creative and where are the other playlist brands disrupting the ecosystem? There are a few YouTube channels moving into streaming like the mighty Trap Nation and Cloudkid but who else? It will take money and some creative thinking but it can be done. The indie labels have been talking about creating a playlist brand for 3 years or so but nothings happened. Someone really needs to fill this space.
Today, Spinnin’ records announced that they were going to rebrand 4 of their playlists so that they can be easily found in voice activated speaker systems like Amazon’s Alexa.
In a statement the company said… “This means that playlists can now be found under a new succinct name, all have a unique theme and iconic-branding, making it more compatible for the streaming age and ready for voice-activated technology.”
The four playlists are named; Hundred, Brand New, Pixel and Fit.
Whilst the point of whether you should brand or rebrand a product/service to fit in with consumer behaviour is a debate for another day there I think problem with the names Spinnin’ have chosen. Namely that Spinnin’ have made the playlist names too generic. So much so that the exact reverse has happened to their goal.
To test to see if these names were easily discoverable via my Amazon Echo which is connected to my Spotify account I first went in and followed all 4 Spinnin’ playlists in my Spotify account (this usually makes them more discoverable when I play them using voice commands) and then I tried to play them using voice activation.
First of all I tried to play the “Hundred” playlist, here’s what I said and what happened…
“Alexa, play the Hundred playlist on Spotify” – Alexa played the Billboard Hot 100 playlist
“Alexa, play the One Hundred playlist on Spotify” – Alexa played the Billboard Hot 100 playlist
“Alexa, play Hundred on Spotify” – Alexa played the song “OneHundred” by Sims
“Alexa play One Hundred on Spotify” – Alexa played “One Hundred by NF
This went on for a while, I tried every combination of Hundred, One Hundred, One Hundred Playlist and so on. None of the results brought up the Spinnin’ Records playlist. Eventually I gave up and asked Alexa to play “the Hundred playlist by Spinnin’ Records on Spotify” only for Alexa to say that “she” couldn’t find it.
At this point I gave up, and decided to move on to the “Fit” playlist.
“Alexa, play the Fit playlist on Spotify” – Alexa played the “This Is Escape The Fate” playlist ?!
“Alexa, play the Fit playlist on Spotify” – Alexa played a playlist called Spin Fit
“Alexa, play the Fit playlist on Spotify by Spinnin’ Records” – Alexa played the “This Is Fitz and The Tantrums” playlist ?!?!
Once again, no matter what I said I couldn’t get Alexa to play the Fit playlist. OK then moving on….
“Alexa play the Brand New playlist” – Success! Worked first time.
“Alexa, play the Pixel playlist” – Success! Also worked first time. Side note, because all of the playlists have emoticons in the title, Alexa says “Playing Pixel Joystick by Spinnin’ Records on Spotify”. It sounds kinda jarring so I would consider removing the emoticons from the playlist title. If the playlists are meant for voice activation they’re redundant anyway.
So, a 50% success rate. But with only 4 playlists I would want a 100% success rate.
If I was rebranding playlists for voice activation I would make the playlist names as unique as possible. Like Spotify’s Rap Caviar or Bassline Bangers, that way there’s no room for confusion. What I expect is really happening here is that Spinnin’ are deliberately going for a generic name in an effort to mop up some generic searches, i.e. people who ask Alexa to play something “brand new” or “top 100 songs” etc. However I can’t help feel that this strategy is just trying to look for low hanging fruit in the search world and they are much better off growing playlists with a strong unique identity that stand up on their own.
After all, Spinnin’ have built a fantastic dance brand over the last 20 years or so and that’s where their strength lies, not in voice search “SEO”.
Side note, ironically the brand looks great visually.
For a long time now I’ve thought there is something missing from Spotify. Namely the ability for content creators, rights holders, record labels, publishers and more to reach their fans via advertising to Spotify’s audience of 159 million monthly active users.
Now of course Spotify does offer advertising, namely display, audio and video ads. But they are aimed squarely at the larger corporate customer with deep pockets and they’re not cheap. There’s also the issue of ever decreasing click through rates due to “banner blindness” and the fact that the ads are obviously ads (more on that later) so we’re now trained to ignore these.
So what if Spotify offered self-serve ads to artists?
Speaking as someone who manages Facebook pages for brands and artists, one of the things that never fails to impress me is the sheer volume of opportunities I have to spend my money with Facebook to grow my audience. I’m inundated daily with highly personalised offers of how to reach another 500 fans for just £10 or why I should boost a high performing post. It’s relentless but it works as Facebook generated $39 billion in advertising revenue in 2017. $39 billion.
Take a look at this screengrab, as a Facebook page owner you are met with no less than 3 ways to spend money on ads when you open your page.
Photo credit – Buffer
So I’ve been thinking, why doesn’t Spotify offer something similar? Basically a way for artists etc. to easily reach new fans via self serve ads. Spotify did trial sponsored songs last year but being honest, they were too expensive and I don’t think the way they were designed was particularly effective. They no longer offer them so that’s telling in itself. Spotify also announced a new self serve audio ad service last September where they promised audio ads starting with just a $250 investment. This will certainly help when it launches but I think there’s more that can be done.
There’s another big problem here and that’s Spotify’s Premium service is sold on the fact that if a user pays $10/£10 a month they won’t get any ads. So how do you reach Premium users who pay for the privilege not to hear audio ads or seen banner/video ads. Well that’s a problem I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and here are my ideas.
Here are 5 ways in which Spotify can offer self serve ads that are cost effective and won’t spoil the user experience
1. Paid placements in Spotify algorithmic playlists – to be clear I don’t mean sticking songs in Spotify’s editorial playlists like Rap Caviar and Today’s Top Hits, they are and always should be controlled by the Spotify editorial team. What I mean is Spotify’s algorithmic playlists like Discover Weekly, Release Radar and the 6 Daily Mix playlists that we all get in our Spotify account whether we want them or not. There are also seasonal algorithmic playlists that crop up now and again like “The Ones That Got Away” that offered a playlist towards the end of 2017 of songs that we should like but never listened to. In fact if you look at Release radar the description even says “Catch all the latest music from artists you care about, plus new singles picked just for you”. Discover Weekly says something similar.
With Spotify’s smart genre targeting these paid placements wouldn’t be harmful to the users listening experience either. Spotify already maps artists who are similar to each other and it knows what kind of music we listen to so it would be a simple process to find fans to target for a specific song or artist. That way a metalhead wouldn’t get Justin Bieber’s latest single in their Release Radar playlist for example.
I see this kind of ad being self service where an artist or label could log into their Spotify Ad Manager™ control panel, choose the song from their artist (already live on Spotify) and be offered a range of targeting options and prices. Something like “Reach 10,000 new listeners for $100” via Discover Weekly or similar, depending on the artist, genre and pool of fans who would match the song. I’ve seen songs from emerging artists generate over 100,000 streams just from being placed in Discover Weekly, these algorithmic playlists can deliver significant volume. This could be capped too so that no more than 20% of the songs are paid for placements.
2. Radio – As above, Spotify’s Radio algorithm can also drive high volumes of streams. So again using what Spotify knows about our listening habits they could offer placements in radio channels and any instances of Spotify’s Radio function being triggered.
3. Recommended Song – At the bottom of playlists now you will see recommended songs based on the content of the playlist that the user selects. Again this could be a pool of sponsored possibilities.
4. New Releases – Another opportunity to get your song/album in front of fans. There’s also a selection of “Top Recommendations For You” under the Discover tab in Spotify.
5. Sponsored songs/playlists/albums in Spotify Free – while the 4 ideas above are for Spotify Premium or Free I think it would be great to offer artists self service ad formats in the Free service that can also boost awareness and streams. So just like banner ads and video ads these ad formats are clearly labelled as such bit instead of having to stump up a few thousand pounds/dollars for a custom campaign from the Spotify ad sales team these are self service and can be purchased from say £50 or something. Spotify could offer a range of templates to ensure quality control and/or all ads would need to be approved first but I don’t see why these wouldn’t work. Obviously they wouldn’t be as effective as the other methods above but there’s still a percentage of people who do click on ads, especially if they are creative and targeted.
The one issue I could forsee with all of the above is the fact that streams of course count towards chart positions and what’s to stop a major label with extremely deep pockets to buying their way into the charts? What if they bought up all of the inventory available for an almighty push towards one song? Would that matter?
Well of course you could argue that there is a built in fail safe already given that a song must be played for 30 seconds or more to count as a stream. But if Spotify’s targeting is good (which it is, I always find great new music on my Discover Weekly) then users will like the song and play it all the way through anyway. So ethically is that wrong?
Another way to handle this is to put limits on the total reach for each song. Let’s say for example that every song you want to pay to promote will only ever have a total reach of 1 million fans a month. Or however you want to cap it.
The details of course need to be thought about and ironed out but one thing I know for sure is that artists and rights holders are desperate to give Spotify money in order to reach new fans in an effective way. I work with so many artists and labels who are forced to put their money into Facebook ads because there aren’t any other options on Spotify and sadly because of the very nature of these “off-platform” ads they’re not that effective.
If there was a way to directly buy ads in Spotify there would be a huge appetite from the creative community and I’m sure a share of Facebook’s $39 billion in annual ad sales would find their way into Spotify’s ecosytem and then because of the way Spotify distributes it’s revenue, back to the artists. Win-win right?
I get emails pretty much daily asking me if I offer playlist pitching services for independent (and major label for that matter) artists. I decline them all as it’s not something I do but I thought I’d give some advice here as to what artists can do themselves to make sure they build up fans and therefore streams and therefore playlists adds on Spotify.
There really is only one step, it’s easy….
GET YOUR FANS TO FOLLOW YOUR PROFILE ON SPOTIFY
That’s it. This is the key to success on Spotify. No need to pay that “streaming consultant” £500 a day from now on. You’re welcome, buy me a coffee sometime.
Good question. if you get fans to follow you on Spotify, a few things will happen which in turn will lead to playlist adds by the Spotify editorial team…and their algorithms.
OK but how? What works?
The short answer is to be engaged with your fans, whether it’s via social media, email lists, YouTube videos, whatever works for you. The key is to keep talking to them, build their support and then drive them to your Spotify profile. Here’s some examples….
The above Twitter feed is from another of my artists, Lucy Neville. We’re currently sending out her new single to bloggers and radio and Lucy is being proactive by engaging with the people who have responded and downloaded her forthcoming single. Establishing one to one relationships like this is super useful.
This is Samantha Harvey, a YouTuber who is also releasing a single tomorrow on Virgin. She’s has a large loyal fan base from YouTube so she’s directing them via Instagram stories, Snapchat and more to pre-order the single from iTunes, Amazon and Google Play and will pick someone to visit in person who pre-orders from all 3 services. If you’re a well established artist with long term fans then asking them to part with money for downloads can work but you can use the same method to drive fans to follow you on Spotify.
The above is just a taster of the kind of thing you can do to build your profile and fan base on Spotify, there are countless other ways. Key is to just keep engaging with your fans.
If anyone doubts the impact that the Release Radar playlist can have then take a look at the graph below. That huge spike in streams is what happens when an artists song is added to Release Radar. Notice how they continue on an upward trend after the initial drop after Friday’s peak when the playlist updates too.
I’m so excited to announce that my new business venture, Humble Angel Records is now live!
Over the last few months I’ve been putting together a plan to create a record label where the entire focus is on streaming. By that I mean that all of the marketing and PR will be geared towards fans on streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music & Deezer etc. I’m also looking for artists with songs that resonate particularly well with a streaming audience.
Just as streaming music has lowered the barriers to entry for musicians and artists I also want to make it easy for artists to submit songs for consideration to the label. I’m not a fan of the old boys network where it’s “who you know” in the A&R world that gets you a deal. And I’m especially not a fan of the scams currently kicking around where unscrupulous individuals are charging artists to listen to their songs with the promise of sending them to record labels if they like them. Yeah whatever.
So for that reason I’ve created a submission form on the Humble Angel Records website where anybody can send music for consideration. I can’t promise that I will reply to everyone who submits music but I can promise that we will listen to everything submitted.
I’ll write more about the ethos of the label and the artists too at a later date but for now I just wanted to introduce the world to Humble Angel Records!
Browsing LinkedIn lately I’ve noticed that there are a lot of so called “A&R Consultants” offering to listen to your songs and give you feedback. They even promise to pass your music on to the major record labels if they like it – all for a fee. Yes that’s right you have to pay them $5 or more for the privilege of listening to your music and giving you feedback.
These “consultants” are easy to spot, they all have pretty much the same kind of LinkedIn profile
What’s worse is that some people are actually falling for this nonsense. I see people commenting on these posts actually thanking the “consultant” for this opportunity.
Don’t do it. Despite the fact that you should never ever pay to get your music heard by a genuine A&R manager, it’s debatable whether these guys actually have any real connection with the labels they namecheck. They tend to have the label name in their “title” on LinkedIn so that their name will come up in searches, so something like “Joe Bloggs A&R Consultant, Universal ,Sony, Warner, Capitol, Atlantic, RCA, Def Jam, Island” and any other label they can think of.
It may be that they exchanged emails with a real A&R from one of these labels at some point so they now class themselves as a consultant, or it may just be an outright lie. Either way, never pay money to get your music heard. Never.
We’ve all read the reports, after years of decline the music industry is going through unprecedented growth thanks to streaming and the major labels are all showing double digit growth and profits. All of which lead Goldman Sachs to predict that the sector will be worth $28 billion by 2030. Canny. Although I think it will be more like $50 billion.
Anyway this also means that VC’s who don’t really understand the sector are starting to throw big money into music startups.
First of all you have United Masters who have had $70m investment from Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz and others to “replace record labels” – yeah right. If you watch their introductory video on their site, they make a big deal about “translating data into actionable guides in plain English”. So in other words exactly what Spotify, Kobalt, Stem, Bandcamp and even Topspin before it was acquired by Beats in 2014. yes 4 years ago, nothing new to see here folks. If you read this blog post from investor and now board member, Ben Horowitz you will see it starts with some Kanye West lyrics then rolls into a Steve Soutre story about him seeing Run DMC 30 years ago. All very rock n’roll. I can’t help but feel that this whole investment is just an opportunity for the Silicon Valley VC’s to hang with the cool kids in the music biz and I dunno, maybe get a photo with Kanye or someone.
Then last week it was rumoured that L.A. Reid has raised $75m from private equity sources to start a new record label. You don’t need $75m to start a label, even if you are L.A. Reid who has an undeniable track record of success. The rumours are that he’s opening offices in one of the most expensive parts of LA, Beverly Hills and he’s looking for hires. My betting is that half of the $75m at least is going to go on salaries, bonus structures, office space and other luxuries. But then again if someone is going to give you a big pile of cash then it’s better than spending your own right?
It struck me that I’ve seen loads of “top 10 albums of 2017” blog posts this year (even though who listens to albums any more right?) and they’re all pretty much the same. So I thought it would be a bit of fun to list my top 10 Spotify playlists of 2017. Couple of quick points….
When I say top 10 Spotify playlists, I mean the top 10 playlists curated by the Spotify editorial team around the world. Not third party Spotify playlists.
These are my top 10 playlists and therefore subjective to my personal tastes which are mainly pop and dance. So as brilliant as I know Rap Caviar is, it doesn’t feature in my list.
So with that said, here we go in reverse order….
10) lowkey riddim Laid back beats.
9) I Love My ’90s R&B the first track is Pony by Ginuwine. That’s all you need to know.
8) Left Of Center Alternative and experimental pop from mainly emerging artists.
7) Friday Cratediggers While MINT is the king of dance playlists I prefer Cratediggers for the lesser known electronic gems.
6) Chilled Pop Hits An eclectic but always fresh sound curated by the brilliant Spotify UK team.
5) Brand Nu Disco My favourite sub genre, in one handy playlist.
4) Anti Pop Formerly known as Keep It 100 this playlist has recently been rebranded and is full of edgy songs across all genres but with a mainly urban and dance edge.
3) Chilled R&B Relaxing urban vibes all the way in this beautiful playlist.
2) Creamy Tracks Warm and melodic electronic tracks.
1) Pop Rising This playlist is a fantastic mix of established and emerging artists. Often it’s curators do the record labels’ job by picking the track that’s most likely to succeed from an album & seeding it in here. If there was one playlist that defines the “Spotify sound” then this is it.
Founder of Topsify, Playlists.net, Artists To Watch Records & ex Warner Music.
Streaming since 2008.