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Which Is Better for Spotify Promotion: Ads or Playlist Pitching?

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There’s an age-old debate in the music marketing world:

Which tactic is better for Spotify growth: Facebook ads or playlist pitching?

It’s a question that’s led to a bunch of hot takes (and, to be fair, plenty of nuanced conversations, too). There are people I respect on both sides of the divide.

For instance, on the side of ads, we’ve got..

1) Tom Dupree III giving five reasons why he thinks playlist pitching is a waste of time. (Side note: If you want to learn Facebook ads and can only follow one YouTube channel, choose Tom’s.)

2) Dustin Boyer of Venture Music going off about how the whole third-party playlisting model is broken.

3) Circa of Indepreneur offering his rationale for ditching playlisting in favor of ads.

But, on the side of playlists, we’ve got…

1) Ryan Waczek of Indie Music Academy talking about why he thinks playlist pitching is always more cost-efficient than ads.

2) Cyber PR, run by Ariel Hyatt, offering their take on the value of playlist pitching.

3) Mike Warner, author of Work Hard, Playlist Hard, who (unsurprisingly, given the title of his book) makes the case for building streaming growth through playlists.

Confusing, right?

Now, I’m one of those people who is inclined to believe the last impressively-worded thing I’ve read or heard. I think of it as being open-minded; a less generous person might call it being gullible. Either way, that inclination is why I try to go light on social media, rarely read news, and generally live under a rock.

So, I’ve waffled back and forth on this for a while.

But here’s where I’ve ended up:

1. Playlist pitching is more cost-efficient.

In other words, when you pitch to playlist curators, you can get more streams for less money.

There are two reasons for this:

1. You don’t have to pay to switch people from one platform (i.e., Facebook or Instagram) over to another (Spotify).

2. You’re paying for mass exposure rather than targeted advertising.

Those two facts make the cost per stream for playlisting campaigns much cheaper when compared against ads – and, if you get on a good, engaged playlist, it’s really not close.

2. Ads lead to more engaged streams.

While ads tend to cost more, they offer one huge benefit: Assuming they’re run correctly, they’re virtually guaranteed to lead to engaged streams.

This is true for two reasons, as well:

1. Good ad campaigns usually “warm up” audiences – they expose people to your music, and then they retarget people who are interested in it. Warm audiences are more engaged.

2. People actually click on ads, so they’re actively demonstrating that they’re interested in your music and want to hear more. If you get on a playlist (say, “Chill Indie Vibes” or “Workout Jams”), there’s a good chance you’ll be on in the background.

Because ads lead to more engaged streams, they tend to lead to a higher percentage of saves and follows per stream – which makes this a safer bet than playlists for helping you to accumulate good data.

So, where do I fall in this debate?

Answer: On the side of whatever article / YouTube video I just read or watched.

Kidding.

In seriousness, if you’re trying to decide between ads or playlist pitching to drive Spotify growth, here’s my two cents.

Think of both methods as investments in your Spotify growth.

Playlist pitching is like investing in a higher-risk, higher potential reward stock; it could crash, but it could also give you an incredible return.

Ads are like investing in a safer stock; you’re almost definitely going to drive results, but you probably won’t see outrageous returns (quickly, at least).

Ideally, I think you invest in both so that you have a balanced portfolio.

(Wow, this is becoming the most involved finance analogy I’ve ever made.)

But, if you’re a normal musician (read: close to broke) and only have the money to invest in one, it comes down to what your risk tolerance is and what your goals are.

If you want long-term follower growth, go with ads – but be willing to steadily spend a bunch of money over a long period of time as you get your campaigns optimized.

If you want to swing for the fences on raw streaming numbers, go with playlisting – but be ready for the possibility of lame results or a bunch of disengaged streams (because, even if you get on a list with a lot of followers, there’s a chance your song will primarily play in the background).

Long-story-short: 🤷‍♂️

I hope that, in spite of my waffling, that was somewhat helpful. And hey, here’s the bottom line:

Spotify numbers are not the defining measure of your artistic success.

They’re not totally meaningless; they represent the people you’ve reached, at least to some degree.

But let’s be real, you didn’t start making music so that you could see a certain number next to your song on Spotify. You started making music to communicate meaning – and also because it’s just freaking fun.

And that means that, whether you rack up streams or not, your music is inherently meaningful. Don’t let the debate over marketing distract you from that.

Keep making beautiful things. And, as always, good luck.

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