Playlists are the currency of digital middlemen

April 29, 2024 ☼ music

I’m not sure playlist curators are the boon to indie artists folks think they are.

For the last 4-5 months building up Kid Lightbulbs, I’ve tried various ways of getting my music placed in playlists (mostly on Spotify), based on the assumption that having my music on playlists that are followed by or listened to by lots of users will increase my reach. Given that broader reach, a small percentage of users within my reach may like it, add it to their own playlists or library, and keep listening ultimately growing into fans. This has been constantly nudged as the main way to promote oneself in the modern streaming music business (ie. Spotify, thanks to its 65+% market share).

I have found that this hypothesis is (mostly) incorrect. Most playlist opportunities seem to be for the benefit of the playlister’s brand rather than the artists. Many are outright pay-for-plays scams. Artists are nudged constantly to share and promote the playlists, and I’ve only seen one-off listeners from those playlists. Virtually zero repeat listeners. I question whether they’re worth my time.

I don’t think this is entirely the fault of all playlisters (outside the scammers).

There are folks who are interested in the artist making the music they enjoy, and others who have it on in the background. Spotify has made music incredibly convenient and affordable for the latter group, and that’s most of their users. Most folks simply don’t care about the artist; instead, the vibe.

But playlisters, like all creators, often seem to want their own personal brand. So the artists on their playlists are in competition for attention with the playlister themselves. When you are promoting a playlist you’re on, you’re promoting Spotify and the creator; you’ll get a tiny fraction of the attention a listener might give.

What’s working for me instead: consistent releases, honesty & vulnerability & fun, actively engaging with communities online to find the folks who’d seek my music out.

This is not to say stop submitting to playlists! Some are great! I love several of the playlists I’m on from folks in this community, many of whom are also artists (which I think helps defeat the whole creator brand thing I argue above).

This is barely advice, just an observation, and it’s highly contingent on what the bar for success is for an independent musician. Do you want to inflate a number, or find legitimate supporters of your work?

© 2024 brandon lucas green