Ah, just look at you!
Fresh-faced, green as they come, the world in front of you and not even a single stream under your belt yet.
You’re a cowboy that just stepped off the train in a new town with nothing on your back but a guitar and nothing in your head but a song and a dream. You’re a true romantic, and you deserve everything.
But how do you get everything? How do you even get started?
Well, you could just wing it: go park your ass on a barstool in the nearest saloon and start belting out songs, and if you notice anyone listening, hand them a business card…but that’s a risky play, and if you were looking for a risky play you’d be playing blackjack at that table in the corner instead of songbirding over here on this barstool.
Okay, sorry – enough with the cowboy stuff. That’s getting us nowhere, and it’s starting to feel like this article might be targeting country music, or maybe bluegrass. We’re not not talking about country music, of course, but this advice column (is that what this is?) is welcoming to all genres, popular and esoteric.
A Streaming Strategy
You want streams on Spotify.
I get that.
After all, big streaming numbers are one of the primary signifiers of legitimacy for today’s independent musicians, and without them, you might as well be invisible. Hell, Spotify won’t even start publicly counting your streams until you accrue a thousand of ‘em, and the road to that number can feel long indeed if you don’t have a coherent strategy in place.
So, let’s put one together. Before we do that, though, it might be worth taking a second to set expectations. As is my wont, I have good news and bad news to deliver to you; the good news is that getting a thousand streams actually isn’t that hard, and it’s an especially easy goal to achieve when you do take the time to develop a strategic approach beforehand.
Caveats apply – they always do, right? – but if your music is decent, there’s very little standing in the way between you and your first stack of streams. If, on the other hand, your music is indecent (or just, y’know, terrible – I don’t actually subscribe to a decency metric as applied to music), all bets are off, but I have a feeling it’s killer, so let’s start with that as our premise.
The bad news is that a thousand streams isn’t going to bring you happiness.
Or, for that matter, wealth.
Maybe you showed up here with your feet firmly on the ground and you understand those points already, but it bears repeating: it is hard to make money on Spotify, and you’ll need way more than a thousand streams to pull off that miracle.
Even so, I remember the first time I hit a thousand, and money aside, it does feel pretty good!
If nothing else, having that stream count spring into existence next to your song title represents a defined, tactile hurdle that’s been cleared, and it’s encouraging to receive hard evidence that a thousand people (or one person a thousand times, or two people five hundred times each, although Spotify’s hard to trick like that these days) took the time to listen to something you created.
Make Good Music
“Do it for the right reasons” lecture: concluded. Let’s get down to brass tacks.
I mentioned this point already, and I won’t harp on it for much longer, but the most obvious thing you should do to get your first thousand streams on Spotify is, well, make good music.
To be sure, “good” is in the ear of the beholder, and yes, a lot of the beauty of music is in the rainbow we create with our millions of totally unique contributions and ideas, but there’s also a more technical, objective component to music-making that obliges a little less wiggle room, and that’s the one I’m talking about here.
It’ll cost you money up front, but tracking in a real studio and having your song mixed and mastered by real-life audio engineers will pay dividends in elevating the perceived professionalism of your finished product, and starting with a polished product will make your sprint to a thousand streams a total cakewalk (a…cakesprint?).
More subjectively, make music you love – bottle whatever dank magic it is that’s pouring out of you – and the people will be able to tell.
Give impassioned performances, mean it when you sing.
Don’t record a song about being seventeen and drinking Bud Lights in your pick-up truck just because you think it will sell (there I go, passive-aggressively sniping at country again); pursue that freaky, uncomfortably personal stuff that you think no one’s gonna understand.
They’ll get it.
Once you’ve got your genuine, from-the-heart, painfully emotional, professionally recorded song in hand, you need to slap that thing up on Spotify. This part couldn’t be easier. I like Distrokid myself, but there are myriad avenues to actually publishing your song, so pick one and be done with it.
Hit the Pavement
After that, you’ve got a few different routes to potentially pursue. I won’t go into painstaking detail here about how each of those routes work – for our purposes, I’ll just give you a broad outline of what they are and what they might accomplish for you – but I’ll link out to some more detailed guides that will help get things moving.
Play some shows, and yell about your music on social media. You’ve got nothing to lose but your dignity (I kid, I kid), so get out there and humiliate yourself at an open mic or two. For real, though: the value of public performance is often set aside in our increasingly digital world, and that’s a shame.
Show up, play live music, talk up your new song, mention your Instagram handle, and subliminally insert your band name into your between-song patter, people will find you on Spotify and start driving those streaming numbers, and that’s all before you’ve spent a cent on ads or marketing.
Become an Ad Man
Which brings us to ::drumroll → balloon fart noise:: ADS AND MARKETING.
Both methods cost money, which brings us back around to an earlier point about how this noble quest for one thousand streams is designed to bring you exactly that (one thousand streams) rather than riches; you know that now, though (right?), so I won’t waste any more time on it.
Now, trying to make heads or tails of the Facebook ads manager as a total n00b to the thing is no joke; there’s a reason why there are a million platform experts out there ready to take your money and tame that wiley beast for you. That said, you can figure it out, and you’ll save yourself hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars if you do.
Whoever ends up turning the knobs, though, the utility of Facebook ads is that they allow you to zero in on a very specific audience and then get your music in front of that audience at a regular, predictable cadence. It may take some experimentation to dial in exactly the right settings and hit gold, but once you get there, you can turn your ad set on at will like a faucet to generate yourself a nice little flow of streams.
That flow will cost you a set amount per day, but you get to decide how much you want to spend, and you can always take a break whenever you feel like it.
Chase the List
Playlisting represents a very different approach, and it seems to generally attract a bit more controversy from the Angry Internet People than Facebook ads, likely because (and I’m only guessing here) it’s more of a gamble.
When you throw your money in the direction of the playlisters, you’re basically spinning a roulette wheel; if you hit big, the rewards can be fairly enormous, but if you don’t (and it’s very, very possible that you won’t), it’s going to feel like you started a little money bonfire.
Based on my experience, determining whether playlisting is a tool that you should consider in targeting your first thousand streams really depends on what kind of music you’re making.
If the song you’ve chosen to promote is easily categorizable and fits neatly into an established genre, you’re likely to find playlisting to be far more useful than if it exists somewhere in those gray zones – songs that are cross-genre, niche, or intentionally off-putting tend to be a harder sell.
In what appears to be an experience contrary to that of many independent musicians, I’ve actually had the most success with playlisting, although I did have to fight through a frustrating (and expensive) learning curve to determine which of my songs were the most likely to find success with that method.
What I like most about playlisting is the long-term, ongoing streams it can generate when a song does strike gold; landing a placement on a big playlist with tons of followers (say, “Acoustic Coffeehouse”) can net you hundreds of streams per day, and while it’s true that some playlists will dump your song like, uh, a shitty boyfriend, after a few weeks, you might find that some are content to leave it on there indefinitely.
I promoted my recent song, “Fulcrum,” using Playlist Push, and it secured enough placements right out of the gate that it spent a heady two weeks accruing more than five hundred streams per day – as they do, things eventually leveled off, but a month and a half later, “Fulcrum” was still grabbing around two hundred streams daily. Not bad if you ask me, and if my goal had been a thousand streams, I would have knocked it out in two days.
Choose Your Weapons
So, let’s summarize where we’re at so far: you’re bringing two primary weapons to this fight (that’s “dual-wielding” to the gamers among us – I see you!), and those weapons are Facebook/Instagram ads and playlisting.
You’re going to supplement those weapons with live performances and rigorous social media activity; if you want to pursue the video game metaphor, you can think of those supplements as the flaming oil with which you’ve coated your weapons. (Clearly, I’m picturing Geralt of Rivea…anyone? Anyone?)
Of course, there are plenty of other tools – arrows in your quiver? – available to you, but some of those are for the Advanced Readers only; most of Spotify’s internal marketing tools, for instance, aren’t even available to artists that don’t draw a set number of monthly listeners or followers (I’m not in that category yet, but I’d be delighted to review those tools for you if I ever get the invite).
Onward, Brave Soldier of Music
With that, I offer you best wishes in your hunt alongside a dose of reality: while you’re hunting, make sure to zoom out every now then to get a bird’s eye view of exactly what it is you’re chasing.
A thousand streams is a great milestone to target, and best of all, it’s achievable, but as soon as you get there, I have a prediction: you’re going to move the goalposts.
One thousand streams – any number of streams, really – without some kind of meaning to prop it up is just a hollow number; the idea is to generate those streams from perfectly matched, enthusiastic listeners who genuinely love your music and will save it and listen to it again later, and if you can manage to make that your goal – finding your One True Audience – the streams will certainly come, and then they’ll continue to build on themselves.
It’s the difference between shooting a firework and building a staircase. Think about it.