HEAVY ROTATION: How playlist curators and toolmakers are helping musicians make it in a digital world
Gone are the days of the charts being ruled purely on CD sales. Streaming now takes precedence over downloads, physical sales, radio plays, and the weight that streaming carries in determining what’s successful or not in the charts is getting heftier and heftier.
As things currently stand, it would take roughly 154 streams of a track on Spotify Premium to be counted as the equivalent of a sale on the Billboard Top 100 chart. That number stands at 1,250 streams for a sale of an album.
While that may sound like a big number for little reward, you only have to look at the numbers of the most-played tracks to see how that works out for artists. For example, Spotify revealed that Ariana Grande was one of their most-streaming artists of 2018 – claiming 49 million listeners each month.
Yes, admittedly, the criteria for streaming eligibility does favour those artists that can rake in numbers in the millions. For up and coming artists, how can one even contemplate reaching the feats of Ariana Grande, Drake or Ed Sheeran? Well, getting featured on the right playlist is certainly the best way to get things rolling.
Playlists catering to specific moods, occasions and genres serve the ever-lazy in us by giving us exactly what we want and need before we even realise it properly. It’s not unlikely that by listening to Hot Hits or Rainy Day Music, you’ll stumble across a few artists you’ve never heard of before and actually quite like.
While the platforms themselves, such as Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, have their own teams crafting and curating the majority of these wondrous playlists, there’s also a few major players coming out of the woodwork too. Record labels have also got in on the action too, such as Universal’s Digster, Sony’s Filtr, and Warner Bros.’ Topsify – all in a bid to ensure their roster of talent feature heavily in your morning gym routine.
Getting on these playlists, particularly by artists not on those labels, is tough but not impossible. Spotify claim their biggest playlists are curated by their own curators through a combination of data analytics and trend insights, but the platform has recently introduced more accessible ways for unsigned and new artists to get noticed by those that decide.
Yet, the platforms and record labels don’t possess all the worldly power of playlist curation. We are all able to create our own playlists which can then gain followers. With such abilities, many are finding a name for themselves due to the sheer popularity of their playlists.
One brand currently utilising playlists to the best of their ability is Soundplate. Starting life as a music blog before then turning into a record label and then, additionally, a music technology company.
“As the label continued to grow, I started to come across some problems that I assumed other small artists and labels were also facing so decided to work on tech-based solutions to them,” says founder Matt Benn.
One such solution was to create playlists for their own artists. “We, of course, support the artists on our label using our playlists but we also support thousands of independent artists and artists from other labels,” Benn adds.
“As streaming continues to be the driver of the music industry, the digital tools we use for A&R, promotion and admin will continue to change and improve”
“Streaming platforms are a unique and exciting opportunity for new artists to be discovered,” says Benn. “We are committed to helping independent artists and record labels and a great deal of our time is spent building tools for the independent music community or checking out new music from indie artists/labels.”
A number of those ways of supporting independent artists is through their selection of tools, aimed at helping musicians make a name for themselves in this thriving industry. Whether it’s via their music industry directory, connecting artists to necessary companies and professionals (such as music marketers or copyright protection experts), their music smart link generator, or even their submission service that allows artists to suggest music for inclusion in Soundplate’s most-popular Spotify and Deezer playlists, there’s plenty to help musicians get onto the digital map.
“I think as streaming continues to be the driver of the music industry, the digital tools we use for A&R, promotion and admin will continue to change and improve. More time and resources will undoubtedly be spent developing tech,” Benn predicts.
Another platform helping artists to find their numbers in the world of streaming is SpinGrey, who have been creating playlists on Spotify since the early days of the platform. “We wanted to help people by always having the perfect music suitable for the thing they are doing. Whether you’re driving your car, or tanning at the pool, SpinGrey has got the perfect playlist for you” says the platform’s co-founder Booy van Hees.
"Artists are attempting to make their music 'playlist-proof' in length and through the build up of a song"
“What differs us most is that we don't go for the standard hits of today. We try to be different and to be a platform giving the more unknown and upcoming artists a stage on the one side, with people who like to discover new sounds on the other side,” Hees adds.
It’s a formula that works, as well. One of SpinGrey’s most popular playlists is ‘It's LIT’, a collection of hip hop and trap music that has over 26k followers.
Another playlist that is incredibly popular is ‘Piano Focus’, a collection of minimalist piano music. “I wasn't aware that there is a big pianist community, but most of our track suggestions come from that side – and it has a lot of followers as well,” Hees says.
Playlists aren’t just having an impact on our listening habits and the charts, either. In fact, the success of a song on streaming is being used as a formula for the big labels to replicate.
“Artists are attempting to make their music 'playlist-proof' in length and through the build up of a song,” says Hees. “it's quite the paradox; you can discover music from any kind but on the more regular playlists, you'll find music which is quite alike.”
Perhaps that is why independent curators, such as Soundplate and SpinGrey, are crafting out a thriving community then. People want different, people want something refreshing to their ears.
For artists trying to find their audience today, it’s important not to chase after the cookie-cutter tropes of a streaming hit – SpinGrey’s Hees says that individuality counts for a whole lot. “I hear so many artists just copying and pasting elements of popular songs. It might help you into having one hit, but it will never give you your own sound which is necessary to stay popular.”
Meanwhile, Soundplate’s Benn says that making the best music you can is the essential first step. “That really is the most important thing. When we are sent music we don’t base our decisions on stats, followers or press shots, we listen to the music, everything else can come later.”
“For artists trying to get on playlists, make sure you are using Spotify for Artists to submit your music to their in-house editorial lists,” Benn adds. “You should also submit your music to relevant independent playlist curators.
“Getting on playlists big and small can be a huge help for getting music discovered by users and surfaced by the Spotify algorithm.”
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