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[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Monica Moser of Streaming Promotions.]

Playlists have evolved from a music lover’s pastime to an essential area of attention for all artists & groups in 2020. 

Some have even posited in recent years that they are the “new radio,” though their function is different and the strategy to secure them is more elusive. Some fear that they are changing the very way we write songs and that playlists are destroying the album format.

But how did we get here?

Music becomes socialized.

Spotify launches in 2008 and suddenly music consumption and playlists are a part of the social landscape. 

You can follow your friends on the platform and see what they’re listening to and share playlist links on Facebook, Twitter and later Instagram.

Users begin discovering the differences between personal, editorial and algorithmic playlists and normal listeners become music curators, discoverers, and promoters. You don’t have to burn a CD or share an iPod earbud with your friends anymore to share a new discovery. You can post a link on socials. You can even DM a song via Spotify.

Playlists grow in importance.

As playlists begin to grow in popularity, they also begin to grow in significance. 

Users begin to strategize how to grow followers on their playlists realizing that they could essentially break an artist in the process. They begin to think more seriously about SEO-friendly playlist titles, how to create the most aesthetically-grabbing playlist cover, how many songs they should place on their list, and more.  

When artists started creating their own playlists, that was yet another target for rising artists. Taylor Swift’s playlist “Taylor Swift: Songs Taylor Loves” now Taylor Swift: Songs Taylor Loves 2, has helped generate serious traction for smaller artists and groups such as Yoke Lore and MUNA. *note that the title isn’t just “Songs Taylor Loves” —having “Taylor Swift” in there helps with SEO.

Starting to be viewed as mini radio stations, artists and music industry players begin to take them seriously, and you start to see playlist promotion companies and departments pop up all over the place.

Spotify for Artists

Spotify for Artists, the artist portal lousy with data & analytics, launches in 2013.

This tool is significant not only for the platform itself but for the way artists now begin to think about their music. Before this there was certainly chart information and demographics to analyze, but now it’s sleek, colorful, user friendly, and in the hands of every artist that releases music. 

It also continues the evolution of playlists down a path of left-brained thinking. Which song is getting streamed most on this playlist? Is it due to its duration? Its placement on the list? Its title?

Artists begin to think more analytically than ever before.  

New Music Friday

Originally launching as “New Music Tuesday” in 2014, New Music Friday has become not only a catalyst of significant exposure for newer/green artists, but has also helped solidify Friday as the most popular release day. This industry shift occurred in 2015 originally to combat piracy and has sustained because of charts, “tradition,” and—you guessed it—streaming.

Elusive Editorial. 

In the summer of 2018, Spotify begins to allow for the submission by artists to their editorial playlists

Spotify unlocks their gates to every artist and their team to be considered for editorial placement. But, how do we know someone is listening to every single submission and if they are, for how much of the song? How many songs actually get placed through this method? How many are due instead to label, management, or personal connections?

40,000+ tracks are released on the platform everyday

Absolutely submit to editorial. But consider using a third-party playlist service and build relationships with independent curators on your own. 


So what is the ‘state of playlists’ in 2020?

They are ubiquitous. They must be analyzed through the lens of a marketing brain. They are important and as popular as ever.

Playlists have come a long way in a short period of time. Now that we understand their history, evolution, and current significance, how should artists prioritize them?

Consider investing in a playlist promotion company. 

Getting third-party and branded playlist placement is a substantive part of the artist strategy. It’s important for stabilizing numbers on Spotify, for instigating discovery by producers, managers, labels and fans, and for overall legitimacy. 

Consider working with a company and build relationships with curators on your own. 

but…

Avoid the scammers.

If you see the word “guarantee”…run. 

Make sure the company you work with is ethical (not utilizing pay for play, pitching to botted lists, etc.) and be sure they are being realistic in their expecations with you. Here is a more in-depth guide to avoiding these scammers. 

Evenly allocate budget & strategy to press, touring, and social ads. 

Even though securing playlists is an important piece of the pie, make sure it’s not the whole pie.

Be sure and make playlist pitching a part of your strategy along with securing blog features/premieres, tours with bigger artists, and social media advertising.

Be analytical but also be a human. 

There’s always a danger in going to the extreme. Make sure that on your path to becoming more strategic and data-focused you don’t lose your humanity.

For example, if a song has the potential of getting more streams if it’s shortened, this decision should certainly be considered. But don’t only release short songs for the sake of getting more hits. Don’t sacrifice the quality of your song. Hold simultaneously an algorithmic approach to music along with your artistic integrity. 

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