Five steps to Spotify success for artists

June 21, 2018

You don’t need us to tell you that the music industry has been going through some drastic changes in the past few years. As a recording studio, we’ve not only noticed an aesthetic shift – in terms of which sounds and genres are most prevalent – but also a shift in the methods of distribution and marketing favoured by artists of all stripes. In 2018, releasing physical media is not the best way of getting music heard, generating income, or growing audiences. Instead, digital marketplaces are now more lucrative: according to a report by industry trade group IFPI, music streaming overtook physical sales as the biggest revenue source for the first time ever, with paid subscription streaming seeing a revenue growth of 45% since the previous year.

In essence, music streaming is more popular than ever before, and major subscription services Spotify and Apple Music are the industry leaders in this growth. From the artist’s perspective, such changes can make the prospect of distributing and promoting music feel overwhelming, increasingly difficult, and perhaps even fickle. But the truth is, whatever your view on streaming, musicians need to adapt to these changes and familiarise themselves with digital streaming. Artists must embrace new media and popular forms of distribution if they want to find success in the modern music industry. Whether you’re looking for huge audiences or a niche following, the following tips will help you improve your presence on Spotify and reach more ears.

Publishing your music

The first step is getting your existing music up on the Spotify platform for listeners to access. Although this will not simply be a case of clicking “upload” and building up a personal profile, getting your music on Spotify is by no means difficult. First off, if you’re signed to a record label, there’s not much you need to do – since labels are responsible for matters of music distribution, they should be uploading all of your existing material on a number of streaming sites (in fact, they’ve probably already done this, in which case move on to the next point).

But what if, like many new and rising artists, you are unsigned and independent? Don’t worry, it’s still easy as pie. While you are still not able to “go it alone”, you can use one of the many third-party distribution services which exist solely to make the music of independent artists widely available on streaming platforms. These include the likes of CDBaby, TuneCore, AWAL, and DistroKid, each of which have been recognised and approved by Spotify for their legitimacy. Such online services handle the licensing and distribution of your music via streaming platforms and relay any artist royalties directly to you (often with a small percentage cut for commission). Some also provide streaming data and sales reports, allowing you to track the performance of your music in certain demographics and channels. Each platform has individual pros and cons, so do your research before signing up to avoid being bitten by excessive publishing fees!

Remember, Spotify is just one of the major streaming services out there and artists can also submit their music to the likes of Apple Music, Tidal and Pandora to achieve a wider reach – music publishers and labels will usually upload your material to every major streaming service, so this step probably isn’t something you need to worry about doing on your own. Furthermore, bear in mind that getting your music uploaded is just a prerequisite for getting your music heard. Spotify is an enormous platform, home to billions of tracks and millions of users. At the start, your music is a mere drop in the ocean: artists need to take action to find real Spotify success.

Understanding editorial playlists

In this day and age, streamed playlists are one of the most popular ways of discovering music. Spotify have a number of ‘editorial’ playlists that are curated and regularly updated by their team – supposedly drawing on “years of experience and a careful understanding of listener habits”. They have a strong and widespread influence on the music that people hear – an influence that is perhaps comparable to the influence that public radio had on music tastes in previous years. That is to say, Spotify playlists are more than a slapdash mixtape of vaguely connected songs, but something more curated, specifically designed to reach thousands of keen listeners.

For new artists with music on Spotify, being included in one of these playlists is a very big deal: they have previously been impactful enough to mark the beginnings of an artist’s music career! But how do you get featured on an editorial playlist? How can you make Spotify choose you? First, it’s important to keep in mind that Spotify do not exist simply to promote your music. They’re not a PR company in the guise of a streaming service! Rather, Spotify aim to give listeners a personalised and high-quality experience, offering them a tailored music selection. So don’t go in with the expectation that Spotify will do your promotion for you – they won’t…

Since the editorial criteria for inclusion on an official Spotify playlist is strictly “democratic” – relying mainly on a combination of listening data and cultural insight – pay-for-play is impossible and there is no chance of artists (or their labels) twisting arms for editorial favours. As such, you’ll have to play by the rules, making an impression within your genre via legitimate means. While you may not be able to directly pitch your music to Spotify, you can get their attention, namely by promoting your music with prominent blogs and getting your name out there – this takes us to our next point…

Creating a buzz

Again, the people at Spotify won’t do this for you so, to an extent, you have to do it on your own. If one of your songs gets featured on a major playlist then this will create some buzz right away, but without any buzz in the first place, none of your songs will get picked up. Simple as that. Most new musicians should already have some kind of loose promotional strategy in place –  whether that’s pitching to smaller music blogs, making connections with magazine editors, collaborating with like-minded artists or regularly attending open-mic performance nights.

However you choose to self-promote, such efforts will contribute to the buzz around your name and increase your chances of being heard by “influential” ears (including those at Spotify HQ). Of course, social media will be a helpful tool here, making it easier to accumulate a following, craft a musical persona and connect with fans. If you have yet to set up artist profiles on social, consider putting this on the top of your list! Alternatively, if you’d prefer a more DIY approach, get some inspiration from our previous blog post about promoting music the old fashioned way.

In recent years, there have been plenty of influential musicians (The Weeknd, Daft Punk, Sia) who created a huge buzz around their music by keeping their identities totally anonymous. Perhaps this approach helps focus attention on your music in its own right rather than simply drawing audiences in with image and personality. Or maybe people just love a good mystery! Either way, by refusing to play to the gallery, you may find it easier to stand out from other artists – and this in turn may pique the interest of writers and editors in the music world.

Music promotion is a big subject and we cannot possibly do it justice in the context of this blog. Just remember, Spotify always have their ears to the ground, their fingers on the cultural pulse, so all you need to do is give them something to hear. If you make an impact on new audiences, fellow musicians, influential media figures and culture as a whole, you thereby make an impact on the curators and editors at Spotify. Consider this food for thought!

Gaining more followers

Despite appearances, Spotify so try to offer as much value to artists as they do to listeners. While artist royalties could undoubtedly be better (see below), there are many ways in which Spotify helps make an artist’s work much more accessible to far more listeners. For example, users have the ability to “follow” an artist for regular updates (both via the app and via email) on new releases and upcoming concerts. This presents artists with some great opportunities:

  • Allowing the artist to connect with their listeners in a more personal and direct way
    (e.g. by sharing personal playlists and listening activity).
  • Helping the artist promote albums, singles, events, merchandise and physical releases (often with the use of email newsletter updates).
  • Making the artist more visible and accessible to followers with increased promotion (namely by featuring them on the app homepage for all followers).

Furthermore – and this is perhaps the greatest thing about gaining followers on Spotify – gaining followers will help artists get featured on Spotify’s auto-generated playlists such as Discover Weekly and Release Radar. Many artists on the platform have seen this happen quite naturally as a result of their follower count increasing. In essence, Spotify claim that having more followers will increase the number of personalised playlists on which your music features. If you have 100 followers, you will feature on 100 personalised playlists every week. As such, one thing you can do to gain more Spotify streams is actively encourage fans to follow your artist page on Spotify. Perhaps offering incentive, such as instant and exclusive artist updates, will make this process a lot easier.

Making money

Let’s make this clear: artists should not be counting on Spotify as their main source of income. The money to be earned through the service will almost certainly not be enough to make a living – artists should expect royalties in the pennies, even in return for tracks with thousands of plays. Indeed, according to this infographic, artists will need over 360,000 Spotify streams per month to earn the average U.S. minimum wage from their music.

The real value of Spotify for an artist should be visibility and reach as opposed to financial gain. Sure, a little extra cash helps, but this should not be your priority. With exposure through Spotify, artists will find it easier to settle bookings for shows, build relationships with industry figures, attract interest from publications and record labels, and cultivate a more dedicated audience. Whether you like it or not, in the digital age, gaining recognition on Spotify equates to legitimacy – and this legitimacy often translates into financial opportunity.

But try not to get ahead of yourself… The road to Spotify success is paved with technicalities, often taking a long time to see any concrete results. But when you know what you’re doing, when you believe in the quality of your music, when you understand the digital marketplace, when you are patient enough, streams and followers will start to build up quite naturally. However, above all, you need to be creating sublime music! We know, easier said than done. But nobody said this would be as easy as typing in a cheat code. Obviously, we’re unable to tell you how to “get good at music”, but we can offer you our recording studio in West London.

Kore offers a large live space and two control rooms, each backed up by an eclectic mix of high-end and vintage gear, brought together by experts in producing various musical styles, and topped off with high levels of professionalism and the most friendly service in the game. Get in touch to arrange your tailored studio session.