spotify is the current king of the music streaming universe, boasting 75 million users, 30 million of whom are paying subscribers. (By comparison, the next largest competitor is Apple Music with 11 million paid subscribers.)
The service is not without controversy: With so much music being played, and so much money at stake—more than $3 billion was paid out to labels and independent musicians through 2015—Spotify has found itself at the center of the streaming royalties war. It takes many, many streams on Spotify (or any streaming service) to match the income from a fan purchasing music on iTunes or Amazon. Because of Spotify’s low royalty rates and the potential for streaming to cannibalize physical sales (the company is also accused of having lack of transparency regarding label agreements), some high-profile artists, like Adele and Taylor Swift, have removed their music. But unless you have the kind of fans who will crawl over glass to get your music and you can survive without streaming, Spotify’s 75-million-listener audience, and the resources it offers musicians, provide a huge opportunity to get discovered, grow your fanbase, and generate some royalties where there weren’t any before.
If you’re new to using Spotify as a promotional tool, consider the following strategies to make the most of the service. Many of these techniques serve as best practices for internet streaming services, so work them into your master music plan.
STREAMING, SPOTIFY, AND SOCIAL TOOLS
We all know that the internet has changed the way fans discover and consume music, and artists need new strategies to take advantage of these new models. Spotify was one of the first streaming services on the scene, offering an enormous catalog and a simple, streamlined interface. But much of Spotify’s success is due to the fact that it’s a social network that happens to be a jukebox. Because of its robust social tools, it has changed nearly everything about how people listen to—and promote—music online. Platforms like iTunes and Amazon have been great channels for distributing digital copies of your music globally, but in the end they serve as storefronts, with no way for artists to engage with fans, and they don’t offer much communication back to the artist beyond a revenue report line item. Spotify’s features empower artists to interact and build fan relationships in the same place where 75 million people listen to music.
In the past, musicians relied on a “sugar rush” of attention for new releases. While this model saw spiked initial press, album sales, and perhaps radio play (with the accompanying royalties), interest would usually quickly fade, along with the revenue. Streaming works differently: Because fans “follow” the artists they like on Spotify, they are notified when there’s a new release. Releasing music more often to create steady, consistent engagement with your audience will keep your music “alive” and generate royalties longer as people discover and play it over a greater period of time.
Because playlists are so popular, more than two-thirds of all songs played on Spotify are presented as singles vs. albums. If one of your tracks is added to a popular playlist, it can remain there indefinitely vs. disappearing from radio airwaves. The track stays in the long tail forever, generating a bit of income each time it’s played. And, as your fanbase and streaming subscribers increase, the income will follow.
KEEP STREAMING IN MIND
The world of social media has an unending hunger for new activity, and your music release strategy should address that demand. If Twitter is about tweets and Snapchat is about photos and videos, Spotify is about releasing new music and sharing tracks and playlists. It takes a listener one click to follow an artist on Spotify. And once they do so, they’ll get notified every time the artist releases something new.
Considering singles comprise nearly 70 percent of all listens on Spotify, and followers are always looking for new material, some musicians are choosing to release their albums as three or four EPs over the course of the year. They might also put together one-to-two-song releases, a couple of remixes, and finally, at the end of the cycle, the complete album. Breaking up album releases in this way can create a dozen events over the year. Each release keeps the artist in the top of fans’ minds and provides new material to promote within Spotify, on social media, and with the press.
To break up your releases, group tracks into EPs and singles and then sit down with a calendar and pick target release dates a couple months apart. Don’t forget that your alternate song versions—live recordings, alternative takes, acoustic versions, and anything else you can dream up—can be added to the mix and will help keep you releasing a steady stream of new material for your fans to enjoy. Think beyond the music, and create additional events based around videos, art, or new merch for sale. Planning out the year with all the events you have in mind will help you manage news and give you reasons to update fans.
Once you complete your release schedule, synchronize each music release with all of the digital platforms you use (YouTube, iTunes, etc.). Make sure your release is available to buy at the same time it’s available to stream since purchases generate more revenue, and your streams are excellent advertising for your fans who do buy music.
In the end, the goal isn’t to substantially change how you make your music but instead to change on how you release it to the public. Spotify, like any social network, rewards consistent engagement.
BUILD OUT YOUR PROFILE
To get the most out of the service, and to take control of your artist page, you will need to create a personal account on Spotify. Make sure that your profile art matches your public persona. Also, considering that social networks are a visual experience, keep your eyes open for customizations on the platform as they give a number of places where you can upload art, especially if you become a verified user (as we explain below).
Once you create your profile, follow artists have influenced your music, or who play in a style similar to yours. Visitors can view whom you’re following and your fans will be curious which artists inspire you. You’ll also want to friend people who have influence, such as those who manage popular playlists in your genre. Watch their activity to get a feel for what they’re doing, and share your tracks with people who friend you so they can listen and add them to their playlists. Once your music is available on Spotify, inform your fans through your mailing list, social networks, and website. Ask them to follow you; when you reach 250 followers, you can “claim” your music and unlock additional social features through Spotify’s Artist Verification Program.
To help you grow your followers, Spotify provides tools such as the Spotify Follow Button (developer.spotify.com/technologies/widgets/spotify-follow-button) and other widgets to get the word out. Be sure to ask fans to follow your artist page whenever you reach out, such as each time you release a new track or EP. (Make sure that you have them follow your artist page and not your personal profile.)
Once you hit 250 followers, Spotify will let you claim your artist page and merge it with your personal profile. To do so, you’ll need to follow Spotify’s verification steps (spotifyartists.com/verification). This isn’t an instantaneous process—it can take Spotify up to four weeks to review and approve.
When you’re verified, you can begin sharing your playlists and listening habits with the fans who have followed your artist page. You can also brand your playlists with images and descriptions, and automatically inform your followers about new releases. Spotify shares best practices on how to use your account on its artist blog (spotifyartists.com/blog).
AN ARTIST PAGE MUST BE ACCURATE
Your artist page is the first thing Spotify listeners see, so you’ll want it accurate and up-to-date. Much of the text, photos, bios, and credits you’ll see on Spotify are pulled from Rovi (rovicorp.com), and the lyrics are pulled from Musixmatch (musixmatch.com). Updating these two services with your information will benefit your presence on Spotify as well as other services. For information on how to do this, see the Electronic Musician feature “Credits Where Credit Is Due” at emusician.com/credits.
ALIGN YOUR SOCIAL PRESENCE
Once you’re a verified artist, update your web and social presences with Spotify widgets (developer.spotify.com/technologies/widgets). Link your artist, song, and album pages, and playlists. You can also embed tracks, albums, and playlists so others outside of Spotify can listen. A bonus is that this generates royalties, in contrast to other services like SoundCloud, which doesn’t pay at all, or YouTube, where income comes only indirectly through advertising.
Get onto a hot playlist, gain new fans: the Afternoon Acoustic playlist, for example, has more than 2 million followers. ADD MORE THAN MUSIC
As a verified artist, you can sell merchandise and promote your live shows on your artist page. Spotify partners with BandPage (bandpage.com) to allow you to post your merchandise, and with SongKick (songkick.com) to allow your artist page to share your tour dates.
Verified artists can message their followers with song links, playlists, and more. Again, new releases are excellent times to use this feature, but other reasons to reach out to your followers include when you create a new playlist to share (by the way, this should be a mix of popular music and your tracks), when you discover another artist you like, or when someone else’s playlist adds one of your tracks, to give that playlist some recognition. Don’t forget to echo the messages to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr so you can connect with your non-Spotify fans as well.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PLAYLISTS
Playlists drive most of the interactions on Spotify’s social network. When listeners use Spotify’s search tool, many content categories come up such as artist name, song title, album, podcasts, and playlists that include a song or key word they’re looking for. Fans are trying to create a mood, explore a genre, make background music while studying or working, or DJ a party. So, playlists often have names like “Mellow Morning” (234,907 followers), “Party Mix” (7,059), or “Beer & Wings” (42,001). Listeners discover your music when it appears on popular playlists and Spotify makes it easy for listeners to click on your name and check out the rest of your catalog.
To create a playlist that promotes your music, you’ll want to piggyback on popular songs that fit the track’s style, mood, or theme, or the content or lyrics of the song(s) you’re going to promote. Don’t simply create a playlist focused only on your music. Come up with a playlist name that will grab people’s attention since most playlists are discovered through search.
If you’re a verified artist, Spotify allows you to customize your playlist by branding it with your own cover art, description, and links to your website and social media. (Note that you can only do this on the desktop client.) Once you’ve finished your playlist, share and message it to your followers. Refresh and update your playlists on a regular basis to stay top of mind or to add your latest release. Followers will get notifications when changes are made.
To get your music on popular playlists, find the top lists for your genre, style, mood, or theme and follow them. A playlist includes the profile of the person who created it, so you can search them out and follow them. If they follow your artist page or personal profile, then you can message them directly. If not, you may be able to find them outside of Spotify on social networks or the web since some playlist curators build their own presences much like an MP3 blog.
In fact, you will want to use the same professional tactics you use when contacting MP3 bloggers: Reach out in a genuine way, let them listen to the track, and ask if they will add it to their list. One of the benefits of getting added to a popular playlist is, curators don’t tend to remove songs, which drives long-term plays. Also, once you’re included in one, you can always go back to that curator if you have another release that matches the playlist.
Finally, don’t forget to reach out to your fanbase and ask them to add your songs to their public playlists or introduce you to curators they may know. If they’re not doing it already, this can boost your plays and get your music to new fans.
TAP INTO THE STATS
Learning more about the demographics of your listeners helps you build your fanbase, target your marketing, and understand who ultimately is paying you. Spotify collects a wealth of information about its music and users and shares insights with you through its Spotify Statistics service. To get access to this information and tool, visit the Fan Insight request page: artists.spotify.com/faninsights/home. The information you can get includes demographics; location information; audience trends; listener preferences including how they listen; engagement level of your fans; and playlists your music is appearing on. If you have an account with online music analytics provider Next Big Sound (nextbigsound.com), add your Spotify information by making a direct request to nextbigsound.com/spotify.
As the Spotify paying subscriber base grows to 40 million users and beyond, artists will find that it’s worth being on the platform and getting the most out of its artist tools. Naturally, you should pay attention to other services in this space because streaming is still in its early days. Apple Music may be behind Spotify today, but it also has a huge customer base to draw on, so it has the opportunity to grow quickly.
Although you can—and should—engage your fanbase using traditional social media and continue your promotional campaigns through other platforms, Spotify uniquely combines its own music-based social platform with a mechanism to earn income for plays. With its social network tools and follow feature, you can create regular engagement with your fans in the same place they’re already listening to their music. And every time you drop a new track, your users get a message the next time they open it to check it out. Don’t leave money on the table: Build a robust music business plan that takes advantage of everything Spotify and other streaming services have to offer.