If you’re an independent artist marketing your own music, then the world of Spotify can seem daunting.
The word “algorithm” belongs among the most boring words in the English language, and after the great purge of tracks receiving fraudulent streams this year, paying borderline-sketchy companies for growth on the platform is increasingly frowned upon. But for better or for worse, Spotify has largely cornered the market on music streaming. If you want to see success as an artist these days, it’s all but necessary to have a platform-specific strategy for getting your music heard.
The best way to guarantee that you get consistent streams on Spotify is simple: get people to follow you.
Not in real life, of course. That’d be creepy. Just get them to hit this button:
Except, you know, on your profile instead of Taylor Swift’s.
To illustrate the importance of Spotify followers, this is the metaphor that I like to use.
Think of your music as an independent restaurant, and your followers as regular customers.
An independent restaurant can’t rely on first-time customers or out-of-town tourists to keep it alive; if they did, any slow months (or global pandemics) would really take a toll on the business. Instead, a restaurant’s goal is to create loyal customers: people who know the waiters’ names, and follow the Instagram page, and are the first to try new menu items when they debut. Those regulars then act as a real-life algorithm, designed to keep the restaurant in business, and steadily convert new customers into more regulars over time.
In the same way, you can’t rely on week-long playlist placements (even on Spotify’s editorial playlists, which I’ll talk about later) to drive your streams and grow your audience. Instead, you should be finding ways to get people to listen to your music repeatedly, add it to their own libraries, and tell other people about you. It might seem counterintuitive, but high streaming numbers are not the end goal; consistent streaming numbers are. And followers are the only source of consistent streaming numbers.
So, with that in mind, here are the best ways to get Spotify followers in 2021.
1. Do research to understand the platform.
The fact that you’re reading this tells me that you’re willing to do at least a little bit of research to grow your Spotify presence. That’s good. Keep doing that.
I’ve been using Spotify as an artist and a listener for about five years now, so I am at least partially qualified to speak on the subject. However, only Spotify employees can really go into detail about the ins and outs of how their platform works. So, when I say “do your research,” I am mostly referring to Spotify’s own cornucopia of articles and videos that cover everything you would ever want to know about how it all works.
They have a ton of stuff. Artists talk about the best advice they’ve ever received. Playlisters talk about how their process works, and cover best practices for getting your music placed with their editorial team. And Spotify employees talk about new features and strategies for using them. Plus it’s all really satisfyingly branded.
Honestly, there’s too much gold on their site to give you any sort of direction. Just do some digging about topics that apply and appeal to you. Understanding the platform is the first step in using it well.
2. Use playlists, but use them the right way.
This is where most artists go wrong. They focus on pay-to-play and editorial playlists.
Pay-to-play playlists are made by users who have garnered a large audience. You can pitch to their creators directly, or through playlisting services. Either way, it probably will cost money. And though the pay-to-play model isn’t necessarily bad, the playlists are general and not curated for specific listeners, so there’s no guarantee that the people who hear your music will like it. Because of that, the conversion rate for new listeners to followers is low.
Editorial playlists are playlists that employees of Spotify personally curate, and are updated regularly. While those playlists generate a lot of streams, it’s really hard to get on them, and placements don’t last very long since new music is prioritized. And, just like pay-to-play playlists, since they’re not curated for specific listeners, the conversion rate for new listeners to followers is low.
As I said before, playlist streams are like new customers at a restaurant. While it’s great to have business of any kind, they don’t mean much for long-term growth and real-world success unless they translate into regular customers, which Spotify calls followers.
While getting on an editorial or pay-to-play playlist is flashy and easy to brag about, the truth is that the lion’s share of listens, even for major artists, comes from two other things:
- Users’ collections, which they generate themselves by actively choosing to create playlists and save specific songs
- Users’ personal algorithmic playlists, which are generated by Spotify and dictated largely by what is in their collections
A user’s collection is essentially their virtual rolodex of music they listen to regularly. When they discover new music they like, they can take three actions on Spotify to make sure they don’t forget about it: save it to their library, add it to their personal playlists, and follow the artist’s page.
Algorithmic playlists are generated mostly using the data from a user’s library, personal playlists, and followed artists. There are a few kinds of algorithmic playlists, which are automatically generated daily (like the six genre-based Daily Mixes), weekly (like Release Radar and Discover Weekly), and seasonally (like Spotify Wrapped).
(Quick note: Spotify is the world’s most popular streaming service for a reason. They’re scary-accurate at predicting what songs users want to hear at any given time; that’s why their algorithmic playlists are so popular. They know what you want, and can deliver it perfectly.)
In short, you want algorithmic playlist placements more than editorial or pay-to-place playlist placements. I promise. And I can prove it.
The two most popular algorithmic playlists are Release Radar and Discover Weekly, which update on Friday and Monday, respectively, and get the most listens on those days. Here’s a look at Taylor Swift’s streams last month:
Do you see the obvious wave-like pattern, correlated perfectly with the days of the week on which algorithmic playlists are updated?
Even for somebody as successful as T-Swizzle, streams are completely dictated by the days the Spotify algorithmic playlists refresh. Pretty crazy.
The good news is that Spotify has a tool for getting new releases guaranteed placements on some algorithmic playlists. You can read about that here.
So to summarize, most pay-to-play playlists are fine for driving streams up momentarily, but won’t gain you followers, because those playlists were not designed specifically for their listeners’ personal preferences like Spotify’s algorithmic playlists are. But, if you’re able to focus on the right kinds of playlists, growth is naturally exponential. The more algorithmic playlists you appear on, the more followers you will gain; and the more followers you gain, the more algorithmic playlists you will appear on. And so on.
3. Get covered by non-playlist curators.
There are tons of magazines, websites, and blogs out there that are willing to showcase your music. In fact, you’re on one.
A lot of artists these days, when they’re marketing their music, take a streaming-heavy approach, and pitch exclusively to playlisters in order to drive streams. We’ve already talked about why those playlists aren’t necessarily as helpful as they seem. But even the best playlist-focused approach might be missing out coverage that is potentially more meaningful.
Any music blog that’s been around for a few years has almost definitely built up a dedicated fanbase of music fans who trust their opinions. This amounts to a readership that will pay attention to all the new posts on a site, week in and week out. This is definitely true for Two Story Melody, and I’ve seen it firsthand with other coverage outlets I’ve been a part of. So, while a stream from a random playlist means that somebody listened to your song for at least thirty seconds, a much more meaningful connection is made when somebody reads about your song.
Think of it as a simple function of time and effort. Hearing a song takes up a little time and almost no effort on the part of the fan. However, reading a thoughtful article about a song takes more time and it takes effort on the part of the fan. The more time and effort they give, the more likely they are to feel a connection to what they heard or read. So inherently, curators that specialize in articles, blog posts, and other things that take time and effort to consume generate more meaningful connection with fans.
Next time you run an email or SubmitHub campaign, try focusing on curators that will spend time writing articles or blog posts about your music. Though it’s not necessarily possible to track a readers-to-Spotify-followers conversion rate, you’re more likely to make some meaningful connections with people who will want to keep up with your music. That will mean more followers.
4. Never go a week without a reminder to your fans.
Many of us are small independent artists who run our own media. It’s easy to overlook simple things, like a weekly reminder for your fans to follow you on Spotify.
You almost definitely have Instagram and Tik Tok accounts where fans can interact with you. You probably have Twitter and Facebook accounts, too. But you might be missing out on a few key ways to get the word out about your music.
A common media outlet that gets overlooked by newer artists is email. Email newsletters inherently feel more personal, and they are a great way to establish a weekly rhythm of keeping your most dedicated fans in the loop. Services like Drip and Mailchimp make it really easy to get started on email marketing.
Another method that’s getting more and more popular among artists is text message marketing. Don’t worry; you don’t have to publicize your private phone number. There are services (including one built right into DistroKid) that will generate a phone number for you to send and receive texts from, without your fans intruding on your privacy. If you need convincing, here’s a key statistic: text messages have a 98% open-rate, while only 2% of total followers see your social posts.
Whichever outlets you choose to focus on, the point is this: all of these are daily, weekly, and monthly points of contact between you and your ever-growing fanbase. Don’t waste that influence. Never let a week go by without posting, texting, or emailing a link to your Spotify page with a prompt to follow it. Make sure to emphasize how quick and easy it is to hit the follow button, and make it as personal of a prompt as you can, so that your fans feel as if they’re in on the journey with you.
5. Use Spotify for Artists resources.
As I said earlier, the Spotify for Artists blog and video series are incredibly helpful. But don’t stop there. There are a number of other things Spotify for Artists can do for you to help build your follower base.
First, they have branded, auto-generated graphics ready for you to post, which draw your fans to your Spotify in easy and cool ways. Promo cards are easy to make, and are perfect to send out via social posts, emails, and text messages. And they regularly have new versions of these throughout the year (example: the millions of year-end statistics cards you see from your artist friends in December).
Second, they make almost all of their features easily embeddable. You can easily include a follow button, a web player of a song, or a playlist you’re included in by going through Spotify for Developers. This cuts out the middleman (a link), and it looks way better.
Third, if you want to make your own graphics for promoting your Spotify profile, they grant free access to all of their branding. Logos, fonts, and other icons are all free to download from the promotional section on their site. That way, you can combine your own artistic vision with their undeniably recognizable graphics, in order to help fans connect you to Spotify in their minds.
Last, the Spotify for Artists app and website have an absurd amount of statistics that help you track who listens to your music, when they listen to it, how they found it, and how they interact with it. All of these stats are worth keeping up with, so that you are familiar enough with your audience to cater to them, and so that you can track your growth every time you implement a new strategy.
I encourage you to make good use of these tools if you haven’t already. Plus, they’re always coming out with new tools to make your music seem legit to current potential followers. As of the day I’m writing this, Canvas is the most recent example.
So, to summarize:
It’s tempting to care a ton about streaming numbers and not so much about followers. But statistically speaking, Spotify Streams are great, but Spotify followers are a much more significant metric for real-world payoff. Followers guarantee consistent streaming numbers, and represent real-life people who are fans of you and your music. (If you skipped to this paragraph, go back and read the restaurant metaphor.)
Spotify is pretty transparent about the way they do things, so it’s important to read up on their model and familiarize yourself with all of the tools they give you. On top of that, it’s important to focus on their algorithmic playlists rather than editorial or user-made playlists, simply because these are both a product of and a way to grow your follower base.
Outside of Spotify’s own resources, there are plenty of other tools to pull your listeners in and get them to follow you on the platform. Blogs, magazines, and websites (like this one) are all great ways to put your music in a context where new listeners will actually pay attention to it, rather than just let it go in one ear and out the other. And once new listeners become fans, social media, email lists, and texting lists are all great ways to connect with them.
In the end, it’s so, so important to use Spotify as a way to further your artistry and get people to pay attention to it. And you and I both know that your music is dope, and definitely worth paying attention to.