For the past few years the industry has been obsessed with Spotify.
And rightfully so. It has proven to be one of the most powerful tools at, wait for it, making money in the digital age.
I know I know, this is totally counter-intuitive based on all the headlines you’ve read since Spotify launched in the US about 6 years ago. All the doom-and-gloomers (i.e. old people), were wreaking havoc on every outlet they could: NPR, Billboard, Trichorist, you name it. They claimed that Spotify was devaluing music, was going to prevent artists from being able to make a living, and no one was going to make any money off of the paltry amount that Spotify pays per stream. The only problem? They were so, so wrong.
We’ve now seen that not only can Spotify be a powerful discovery mechanism, but is actually enabling totally independent artists to earn a substantial income from the platform.
But this isn’t happening from the traditional ways that an artist grew a music career. Before, artists had to get fans first who would then buy their music to listen to it. Now, people listen to music (for free), discover artists, then become fans and THEN pay the artist (for tickets, merch, crowdfunding, etc). But regardless if the fan ever gets to the final step of paying the artist directly, the artist is getting paid for every stream. Sure, each stream isn’t a lot (around $0.0035 on Spotify, more on Apple Music, less on YouTube) BUT, when a song is included on a hot playlist, that could mean millions of streams a month for an artist that may have exactly zero “fans.” This is happening. And happening often.
But how do artists actually get on these playlists?
Now that Spotify has enabled artists to submit directly to official Spotify playlist editors via SpotifyArtists, you can try to go through the front door and do your best to try and get on official playlists, but unless you have some serious buzz, it’s unlikely.
A clearer path to Spotify success is getting on a bunch of user-generated playlists, which can generate a lot of streams that will then trigger Spotify’s algorithm and potentially get your song added to the algorithmically-generated official Spotify playlists like Fresh Finds, Release Radar and Discover Weekly (with a potential reach of millions). Other official playlists (the ones that are “Created by Spotify”) are becoming algorithmically generated, but that information isn’t public. And the biggest Spotify playlists like Today’s Top Hits and Rap Caviar, use data to decide whether a song will make it on the playlist or not. It’s becoming less the will of one single person and more of what the data dictates. However, if one single person at Spotify really digs your music you can bet that you will get included on a bunch of hot playlists and start earning some serious cash (has happened to many of my friends).
User Generated Playlists
First, what are user-generated playlists? These are any playlist NOT “Created by Spotify.” Can be “Created by Joe Schmo,” or literally anyone else. There are companies and playlist networks that create a bunch of playlists. And there are individuals that create playlists. I have a playlist with over 10,500 followers called Low Volume Funk which gets about 2,000 or so listeners a month. You probably have created your own playlist for personal use, but never thought to promote it to get followers. If you get a bunch of followers you could actually earn money from it. How? Keep reading.
Since the industry realized the power of Spotify playlists, entire industries have popped up within Spotify’s ecosystem.
Some follow Spotify’s terms of service, others don’t. But, this industry moves so quickly that Spotify’s terms of service cannot keep up.
I wrote about how I used a playlist pitching (or so I thought) service only to have my entire album get removed because Spotify flagged it as getting ‘fake streams.’ Apparently the company I paid to pitch my songs to playlists was not merely pitching it to playlists, but getting bot accounts or click farms to listen to 30 some seconds of the song to generate streams. Spotify can fairly easily detect if the streams are from humans or bots/click farms.
Rule of thumb is, your song should have about a 10% save-stream ratio. Meaning, if you have 10,000 streams, your song should have about 1,000 saves. If you have 500 saves, it probably won’t get flagged. If you have 2 saves, it probably will. And Spotify doesn’t just look at save-stream ratio. They look at many other factors like how long someone listens to the song, how many playlists it gets included in. You get the idea.
There have been a lot of companies that have come and gone over the past few years that have to do with getting your song more streams.
Some shadier than others. But it can be very hard to discern which are legit and which aren’t in this landscape because it seems that Spotify hasn’t quite figured out what they want to allow yet.
They officially came out against the practice of paying a playlist curator for inclusion on their playlist, however, it has been reported that major labels are employing this practice (the new Payola). And Spotify officially bans the practice of buying and selling playlists (meaning, you make a playlist, it becomes popular, then you sell it to a company for a bunch of money), but this practice is widely being done – in part because it is very difficult for Spotify to catch these offenders.
Last year there were a bunch of playlist pitching companies (they will now tell you they are “streaming promotions” or “management” companies, because charging to pitch your songs to playlists (or even paying playlist curators to LISTEN (not guarantee inclusion, just listen), is murky waters.
A few of the biggest players in the space have either gotten shut down or forced to pivot. And a few of the founders of these playlist plugging services have become extremely guarded in what they are willing to share – for fear of Spotify’s wrath. They don’t think they are breaking their terms, however, Spotify could change their terms at any moment and then they would be.
This Brings Us To Playlist Push.
Update 4/18/19 – The TL:DR is, I cannot recommend Playlist Push at this stage anymore. I’ve received too many complaints from readers who had poorly run campaigns and after testing it now 3 times on my own, it is not a service that brings the kind of results you want to see to build your music career.
I first discovered them through an artist managers Facebook group I’m a part of. People were asking about them and the founder and owner, George Goodrich, chimed in to answer questions. We met for drinks, he seemed like a nice enough dude and I decided to try them out.
George assured me that they operate well-within Spotify’s terms of service and that he has relationships with people at Spotify and isn’t worried about getting shut down. He used to work at Repost Network, an indie distributor, where he developed many of his relationships.
George comped me two campaigns – for two totally different artist projects. One was for a fairly straight ahead indie pop/rock song (from 4 years ago) and another was for a throwback horn-heavy funk tune (just released).
Had I paid for the campaigns, the indie rock one for the song “Keep Fighting” would have cost me $620 and the funk song for “Together” would have cost $330. The prices are set based on how many playlists are in his network, how active they are and how many followers they have. Because there are more indie rock playlists, that campaign costs more. Campaign prices range quite drastically – from around $150 or so all the way up to over $3,000 (if you submit to nearly every genre that is remotely near your song). The most playlists (with the biggest followings) in the Playlist Push network are for rap and pop.
How it works, you submit the song to Playlist Push for approval (they don’t approve every song). Once approved, you select the genres you’d like to submit to.
The more genres/moods you select, the more expensive your campaign will be (and the more playlists you will get pitched to).
Playlist Push Playlists
Playlist Push has around 500 playlist curators in the network, however George told me they add around 5-20 new curators each week and also drop playlists that aren’t active enough (if the listener-to-follower ratio drops below 1% that’s an automatic drop).
Basically, the campaign lasts two weeks and I was kept in the loop on the progress through regular email updates. That was nice to get.
At the end of your campaign you get a full report that you can see in your portal of how the songs did. So you know that it was actually submitted to curators, you get to see their reviews of your song (however, THANKFULLY, Playlist Push hides the one star reviews so you don’t RAGE like you do reading SubmitHub “feedback”). However, some of these reviews were a little annoying like “Not a great track. Don’t really get the vibe. Nice try but not just quite like it should be. Bit too poppy.” Fuck off! YOUR WANG’S A BIT TOO POPPY, DANIEL! IF THAT’S YOUR REAL NAME!
But for the most part, the reviews were fine.
Most people just said they dug the song but it didn’t quite fit their playlist – which is fair. I have a playlist and people occasionally ask me to consider their songs. I always listen. And the best way to turn them down is to compliment them on the song and then say it doesn’t fit the playlist. You can’t argue with taste!
As you can see, the indie rock song (“Keep Fighting”) did much better than the funk song (“Together”). But that’s expected, I paid more for the campaign.
If we were to merely add up the numbers increase from these campaigns, just in the two weeks, it definitely did not pay for itself (in streams). Two months later, some of the playlists have kept the song included and a couple have removed it. As you can see, some of the playlists are WAY more active than others. Or some just have WAY too many songs for the playlist to generate any kind of traction.
However, neither of these songs are very ‘current.’
Meaning, they both use all organic instruments, there’s no rapping, no beats, nothing that ‘the kids’ are into these days. And what most Spotify Playlists are plugging. So I decided to chat with a manager who has had success on Playlist Push in the past and represents artists with the sound of ‘today.’
James Davidson is a manager at Wild Union and his current clients include Lael, Hotel Apache and Sophomore (Abigail Breslin). I have to say I very much appreciated his candor with me. James is an open book and he is sharing his knowledge with the community. So many artists and managers I speak with are so guarded and will not discuss anything on the record for fear of backlash from… someone. Or for fear of being ‘wrong’ or embarrassed. Who knows. As you very well know, I’m all about sharing the knowledge with the community, so James is a man after my own heart. We are one music community. If you learn something, share it! It’s not a competition.
Anyway, he said that the campaign he ran for Lael (an electro-pop artist) was incredibly successful. They spent about $750 on a campaign for the song “Can’t Lose” and in two weeks got added to 25 Playlist Push playlists which triggered some official Spotify algorithmically generated playlists like Fresh Finds (Lael got the #1 spot), Release Radar, Discover Weekly and a few others which generated 220,000 streams in two weeks. But not just that, James told me that Lael got major label writing deals and, as a producer, was able to book out the next year and a half in his studio. All from the success of this song on Spotify.
James also ran a PP campaign for the indie rock band Hotel Apache. Their campaign definitely saw results, but not like Lael. They spent about $350 and got 15 playlist adds returning 34,000 plays from Playlist Push adds, 4,000 new followers and 44,000 new monthly listeners.
Update 4/18/19 – The Latest Campaign
I just ran a campaign a new Brassroots District song that is more in the smooth, R&B, soul realm. It’s a groove tune. It got added to 17 playlists. Sounds great right? Well, not so much. Some of the playlists it got added to?
- Boybands and Hit Songs – Westlife, A1, 98°, N Sync, Plus One, Blue, Backstreet Boys,Boyzone,Hanson
- 2000 Indie Rock
- P!NK – Hurts 2B Human / Walk Me Home (Pink Hurts to Be Human Edition)
- Ares 2008-2012 Vol2 |Electronic Dance Music|
The song couldn’t be further from the songs on these playlists. It did get included on one called SEXY BATH and that seemed to be a closer fit (the song is damn sexy!), but the playlist only had 913 followers but was bringing in nearly 2,000 listeners. Something isn’t adding up. Even though it brought in “monthly listeners” and streams, it did not bring in any fans or followers. And why would it? If someone is listening to the Boy Bands playlist hoping for the hits of the late 90s and our nu-soul, R&B, funk tune pops in, either they skip it instantly, or they playlist is so much in the background that they aren’t even paying attention.
But here’s the kicker. A short while after getting added to these playlists, the Fans Also Like Spotify algorithm started displaying artists I’ve never heard, who sound nothing like Brassroots District and had songs all in a language I don’t understand – Korean? Japanese? Chinese?
Prior to this latest Playlist Push campaign our Fans Also Like contained some of the hottest emerging R&B, Soul and Funk acts around. I was fans of all of them. Now it looks like we are a nu-wave surf rock band from Japan.
This was so traumatizing that I asked George to remove all of our songs from all the playlists we got. 2 weeks later, our Fans Also Like haven’t budged. It’s a real bummer.
I’ve also received many complaints from Ari’s Take readers since I first posted this review from artists saying that their rejections read something like “great song, but our playlist is only rap” for a hard rock song.
This all being said, Playlist Push’s current model is extremely flawed. Until they update their system to only submit songs to applicable playlists, I cannot recommend using the service.
Where Does The Money Go
The money is split between Playlist Push and the curators. How is it split? Not sure. But here’s the thing, now having tested it as a curator, I can tell you that if I don’t review a song, I don’t get paid. Playlist Push still gets paid. So, if they charge the artist $2,000 for a campaign because it will get submitted to 50 playlists, but only 25 of those curators review the song, the artist still has to pay the full $2,000 and Playlist Push still makes all their money.
Some curators are making a serious dough running their playlists. The more music they consider, the more they make.
What Acts Work Best on Playlist Push?
Hip hop and pop do the best on PP. Currently there are the most amount of rap/hip hop and pop-focused playlists on the network. Granted, pop is a very broad category, but it’s more of the electro-focused, slightly left of center pop (like Lael).
Here’s Old Man Herstand throwing around ‘electro’ like it’s a genre. Yes, granted most music today has electronic elements, but coming from someone who uses exactly zero electronic elements in my own music I have to point that out. There is an entire funk, soul, singer/songwriter, jazz, rock world that still exists in 2018, believe it or not, utilizing organic (real) instruments. Not computers. I got nothing against beats, programming, computers, of course. Most of my friends make this kind of music, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s not the only kind of music that exists today despite what the charts would make you believe. You just have to know where to look.
I would really like to see Playlist Push bring in more diverse playlists. They do exist. I actually put together a list of about 50 funk/soul playlists with large and active followings for my own promo outreach. I don’t believe any are in the PP network (none of them reviewed the funk song I submitted at least).
Update 10/31/18 – What’s It Look Like From the Curator’s Side??:
Since writing this review, I have become a playlist curator for my playlist Low Volume Funk to see what it looks like from the curator’s side. First off, it’s not really a money-making venture unless you’re doing SERIOUS volume. Currently I’m making $2/song. Considering I (or my team) listen to each song in its entirety and then try to write a thoughtful review, it’s not really worth the time. But I understand other curators probably have more time or only listen to a snippet of the song and write short reviews.
And as a curator grows within the platform they could be earning up to $20/song if their playlist is gigantic.
The biggest frustration I’ve noticed having been a curator on the platform for just over a week is that most of the songs I’m being sent aren’t remotely close to the songs on my playlist. I selected the genres “Funk” “Soul” and “R&B” and the songs on my playlist all have organic instruments – not created ‘in-the-box.’ However, most of the songs submitted to me so far are hip hop or pop songs that are fully electronic (no real instruments). So, if an artist selects the “Soul,” “R&B” or “Funk” genres, I’ll get sent the song. I really wish there was a better genre selection tool that only sent songs that would actually fit on the playlist. I feel bad that these artists are wasting their money sending the songs to me. At least on SubmitHub, you can personally pick the playlists you’re submitting to. With this, you have to just trust that Playlist Push will send your songs to the appropriate curators.
George did mention that they have a totally new genre selection process rolling out very soon. I’ll update this once that is fully implemented.
Is It Worth The Cost?
You can’t look at PP campaigns as a dollar in dollar out sort of thing. Even Hotel Apache’s campaign which brought them 34,000 in two weeks (and over 50,000 plays in a month). That looks great on paper, but when you calculate it for what you’re going to actually make from those streams, it’s only going to be around $175.
If you’re a pop, hip hop or electronic artist, this could bring you some streams and monthly listeners. Will it bring you fans? That hasn’t been proven. What’s clear at this stage is you have to break out of the playlist-first mentality. You do NOT need to get on playlists to be successful on streaming or with a music career. Just ask Lucidious.
Will this last forever? Most likely it won’t last for the next 3 years (at least in its current form). The streaming landscape changes so rapidly, and by this time next year, Amazon or Apple may be the most powerful players in the streaming space. We don’t know. But for right now, Playlist Push can help you crack Spotify if you don’t have any ins directly with the company.
The Music Industry Is Not Merely Spotify
This all being said, you have to get out of a Spotify-only promo mentality. The music industry is not Spotify. Yes, Spotify is one of the most powerful players in the music industry at this moment in time, but Spotify will be the first to say it – they want to help out artists who are running active careers: playing shows, getting press, building a fan base on and off social media. Have a story to tell.
Spotify cannot be your only story. It can be part of your story. But it can’t just be “they got 1 million streams on Spotify!” Ok, and?