Believe Digital: Spotify playlists can’t break an artist alone


Getting an artist featured on prominent Spotify playlists is not a recipe for streaming success on its own, according to James Farrelly, head of trade marketing for the UK and Ireland at music distributor Believe Digital.

“Labels are expecting placement in a New Music Friday playlist, whether that’s on Spotify or Deezer or Apple Music, to be the answer to everything,” said Farrelly, in a speech at the FastForward conference in Amsterdam.

There’s an expectation that will break an artist, but it very rarely breaks an artist. In fact, it very rarely breaks a track itself. And that’s because for most of those tracks that go into those playlists, there’s no core marketing techniques running alongside it.”

On Spotify in particular, programmed playlists have growing clout. That service’s New Music Friday playlist has 1.15m followers, while several others have followers in the millions.

Farrelly said that labels must be prepared, when pitching new tracks in to the streaming services for inclusion on their big playlists, to have marketing campaigns ready to capitalise.

“Without those core marketing techniques, there really isn’t going to be much traction for that track happening on the streaming platform,” he said.

Playlists don’t always create lasting, engaged fans. More often than not, they create fans of the playlists themselves. That’s why you often see that playlists will not change tracks too often, especially on the mood and genre based playlists.”

In his speech, Farrelly compared two singer/songwriters that Believe is working with: Gavin James and Ciaran Lavery, both of whom saw tracks added to popular Spotify playlists in 2015.

Both artists started with around 35,000 daily listeners on Spotify – “daily listeners is a really important metric,” said Farrelly – and ended the year with around 55,000, buoyed by their appearance on programmed playlists in between.

However, marketing activity had been encouraging fans to follow James’ Spotify profile, but Lavery had not benefitted from such a campaign.

As a result, their profiles now have 25.3k and 7.9k followers respectively – although James’ inclusion in Spotify’s Spotlight promotion for artists to watch in 2016 will have had an impact too – although at the time of writing Lavery is actually ahead for monthly (note: not daily) listeners: 981.1k to James’ 845.6k.

“It shows that without the core marketing techniques as part of your campaign, it’s not going to do anything,” said Farrelly.

He also talked about a campaign that Believe ran for Asian Dub Foundation in 2015 around their album More Signal More Noise, with a playlist of white-noise tracks that were swapped for exclusive tracks as fans “followed, shared and listened”.

“They wanted to do something that would bring their older fanbase into Spotify, and also help existing users on Spotify discover their catalogue,” he said.

“We tracked certain targets that when fans had shared a certain amount, or followed a certain amount, or listened a certain amount, and as we hit those targets it would unlock the content… It was up to the fans to work together and be engaged.”

Farrelly said that the inventive campaign paid off in other ways due to impressive Spotify’s own marketing team.

“They were really interested, because it was something new that hadn’t really ben done before, and they gave us support in a whole bunch of territories where Asian Dub Foundation hadn’t really had a fanbase previous to that,” he said.

Farrelly gave a tip for labels, managers and artists wondering how they should use Spotify playlists.

There’s two key playlists that everyone should have: a discography playlist, and some kind of hook to get people in, whether that is ‘This is stuff I’m listening to on tour’ or ‘This is stuff we’re doing in the studio’,” he said.

However, he added that one of the useful elements in the Asian Dub Foundation campaign – Spotify automatically notifying fans when the playlist was updated – has since been axed by the streaming service.

“I think Spotify has now turned off notifications that aren’t a new release for an artist that you follow, so it’s slightly broken. I hope they bring that back,” he said.

Stuart Dredge

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One response
  • Maria says:

    I am an unsigned band within the ambient field, I have some tracks featured on some Spotify playlists with millions of followers a total, but it doesn’t seem to create a lasting fanbase. If I get pulled from the playlists, my career and income are gone. Yes, playlists might break for an artist doing ‘mainstream music’ such Rap or pop who are rapping and engaging their audience, but if you are an artist doing instrumental music for sleep, such placements do not generate so long lasting fans, because the most listening is passive, ‘sleeping’ when listening to these playlists.

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