It’s the most common question every indie artist asks themselves at some point in their career:
What is the meaning of life?
Unfortunately that’s not the question I’ll be answering today. But I will be trying to answer the second-most-common question:
Is paying for promotion worth it?
When I started releasing music six years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I released a three-song EP, and I sent about 20 cold emails to blogs and playlists in hopes that someone would pick up one of my songs. It took a few hours to create and gather the materials, and then a while to tailor each pitch to each curator.
Update: it’s been six years, and I only ever got a response from one of them (more on that later). They must all be on an anti-me vacation or something.
Now, aside from being an artist, I’m on the blog side of things too, and I have been for a while. I’m writing this article right now, but I also write reviews and interview pieces for artists we cover. Jon (TSM founder, my brother, good dude) asked me once in 2017 if I want all the submissions we get to be forwarded to my email. I said yes. Big mistake.
Even back then, I would get too many submissions to handle. Jon is way better at it, and we have a bigger team now, so it’s manageable, but still: I cleaned out my email yesterday afternoon, and it already has a big stack of new submissions.
All that to say a few things: cold-email promotion is inevitably painful for both sides, and almost definitely a losing game for the artist. Playlisters and blogs are run by real people who don’t have time for an artist’s half-hearted shouts into the void.
But, curators do provide a real service that’s valuable. Increase in promotion is a key metric for an artist’s growth; coverage on playlists and blogs is the main thing you can track to keep an eye on the trajectory of your career. In an internet-driven industry, those things are how you get more fans.
So, that leaves artists with two options:
1. Don’t pay for promotion, and hope your shouts into the void eventually find their mark.
2. Pay for promotion.
Given the fact that an artist’s time is valuable and better spent elsewhere than promotion, option number two is the better choice.
Before we unpack that, though, I want to address the elephant in the article: paying for any sort of promotion feels icky, even through a third-party like SubmitHub. The music industry has a bad taste in its collective mouth ever since all the Payola stuff was brought to light. And it doesn’t help that a lot of people who offer paid promotion are actually trying to scam you. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be selfish motives from either side. But there are.
All that said, there are three characteristics that make a paid promotion service worthwhile: effectiveness, personal-ness, and transparency. If it doesn’t have all three of these things, it’s a scam.
So, I’ll amend that second option a tiny bit: pay for promotion, but make sure it’s not a scam.
One of the most popular promotion resources used by indie artists is Omari MC. They offer a lot of services, but promotion is where we’re focusing today: more specifically, Spotify promotion, since Spotify is, in my opinion, the most important area of focus for an artist today. The rest of this article will be an honest review of my recent experience with Omari, in an effort to answer the larger question, Is paying for promotion worth it?
Here’s how promotion with Omari works, and how it went for me.
First, you choose what type you want.
Omari’s promo tools span pretty much the entire music industry. Promo for every platform – from Youtube to TikTok to Spotify to Apple Music to social media to radio – is offered on their site. I’ve stated elsewhere that I think Spotify is one of (if not the most) important platforms for an artist’s growth, so I chose that. A few quick reasons: it’s the most popular streaming platform in the world (and it has consistently been an innovator to set it up for lasting success), it has the most in-depth artist resources of any major streaming platform, and it’s statistically transparent, making it easy to track multiple areas of growth.
Omari offers six types of Spotify promotion with a simple formula: pay more to get more coverage. I chose their silver tier, which is pitched as “Typically 3-14 playlist placements resulting in ~1000-10,000 plays” and is priced at $147.
Their model is simple: they have a curated network of independent playlisters (not bots, so that there’s no chance of your music being taken down) and, based on the genre of your song, they find the playlists that fit your music the best.
Second, you submit your song.
They ask for your name, email, a Spotify link to your music, and a short description of it. You can submit anywhere from one song to a full album or more.
I’ll save you any self-promotion, so I’ll be vague about my own music. I pitched one song that I called “anthemic folk,” which basically means a folk-ish song that builds and explodes into a singable bridge and final chorus.
Third, you sign up for Spot On Track.
Spot On Track is an advanced Spotify statistics tracker which tracks how songs perform on specific playlists. It’s a great tool, and you don’t need to promote with Omari to use it, but it costs money. If you use Omari, they grant you access to a free trial period that runs about the length of your campaign.
If you’re a numbers nerd (which you should be; growth is easier to measure when you have tools like Spot On Track), then it’s smart to stay up to date daily with how your campaign is doing. I’ll confess I only checked back in a few times, and I definitely regret not paying closer attention. The campaign is over now, so I’d have to pay to continue using the service.
Fourth, you reap the results.
After you’re all set up and submitted, then Omari’s team does the rest of the work. Based on the description you give them and their own interpretation of your music, they pitch it to the independent curators who best fit with your sound. Their network covers pretty much all genres, so unless your music is particularly abnormal, they probably won’t have much trouble finding placements for it.
As the campaign starts, you’ll receive emails from Omari about the status of your submission. Once it goes live, they send you a personal Spot On Track link, leaving you free to check back in as often as you’d like.
Omari’s model is pretty standard across the board: because they’re subject to the Spotify algorithm, and because independent curators aren’t perfectly predictable, there’s a little bit of leeway for how well your song will perform in their network.
Alright, now let’s get into how it went for my recent release.
Here are my exact results.
Using Omari’s silver tier Spotify promotion (again, marketed as “3-14 playlist placements resulting in ~1000-10,000 plays”), my song was placed on 15 playlists which generated a total of 505 streams by 440 unique listeners.
In all honesty, it was a little bit disappointing, but I think I can explain why.
First of all, because Omari’s services are tailored to the specific song and artist, and because the streams are real (not bots), they can’t give you a concrete guarantee.
In the initial handoff, it’s up to the artist to explain their music well; the more detail they can give about their song, the closer fits Omari can find for it. I was pretty vague about my song (I called it “anthemic folk”), and in all honesty, it doesn’t really fit the “folk” genre. It ended up being placed on 15 very folk-centric playlists, but didn’t perform as well as other songs on the playlists. A clear reason for this could be that it wasn’t what followers of those playlists were looking for. Or maybe my music just kinda sucks, which is possible.
Important takeaway here: genre is important. If your songs are straight down the middle of a genre (no shame in that), you’re probably way more likely to do well with an Omari campaign. My song was a little off-center, so my results were abnormal.
Before we wrap up, I’ll talk about some pros and cons. Then I’ll try to answer the question, Is paying for promotion worth it?
What are the pros and cons of Omari MC’s Spotify promotion?
Omari is transparent, personal, and at least somewhat effective. Though they under-delivered on their prediction, part of that could be attributed to the song itself not fitting on playlists. Compared with other campaigns I’ve run independently on social media, their dollars-to-streams ratio is better than many artists can do if they do their own promotion (about 3.43 streams per dollar, which seems low, but many ad campaigns are around 2 per dollar).
Another pro is that Omari’s services are extremely easy to use. It took a less than 10 minutes to set it up. And – because they’re tailored to you – the more you use them, the better your results with them will be. If you have the budget to go with them for a whole project, then results are much more likely to be better.
Well, they did under-deliver on streaming count, but the bigger problem was their listeners-to-streams ratio. That’s a much more important metric for growth, because it tells you how many people are hearing your song for the first time and choosing to hear it again. Because Omari’s network is so vast, it’s hard to ensure a quality listener base.
To put this in perspective, my Omari campaign generated 505 streams from 440 listeners (or about 1.14 streams per person). And as I said at the beginning, when I first released music, I got a placement from one playlister (Alex Rainbird) which established a crucial relationship I’ve maintained over the years. Alex’s channel was small then, but he has an extremely dedicated audience. Last month, he covered the same song I sent to Omari, and generated 7,671 streams from 3,975 listeners (or about 1.92 streams per person).
The key here is that, when paying for promotion, it’s hard to ensure a high-quality listener base because money is involved, and it’s not the listeners who are getting paid. But I also got really lucky with Alex.
Is paying for promotion worth it?
Final answer: it depends on a few things.
First, the quality of the service. Omari is great because they’re transparent, personal, and at least variably effective. But the unfortunate truth is that the more transparent and personal a service is, the less their results can be guaranteed, because they’re not relying on money to run the show. The best growth is organic, but organic growth can’t be perfectly predicted, for a lot of reasons.
Second, the quality of the song. This is hard to gauge, especially since it’s probably your music you’re trying to promote. But it’s still worth saying: only pay to promote your best stuff. The deep cuts, the genre-benders, and the six-minuters are going to be tough for even the best PR people to pitch. The more a song adheres to a genre, and the more mass appeal it has, the more likely a campaign is to do well.
Third, your budget for money and time. Like I said, most new artists don’t have the time to spend on cold-emailing, so paying for promotion is worth using. But on the flip side, most new artists don’t have the money to spend on promotion, since making music is expensive enough. Somewhere in the middle, there’s a balance between being willing to pay for promotion, but being smart enough to only do it when you know it will be worth it.
There’s no real way to predict success as an artist. Being an artist vocationally is just like running any other business: you make decisions, and sometimes they work, but sometimes they don’t. The key is to weight the pros and cons, and make your best guess as to what the outcome will be. Paid promotion is like that: the best growth for streaming numbers is seen through real, organic growth. You can’t pay directly for it, but you can put money into it to load the dice in your favor. Omari is a good way to start, but it’s not for everyone, because everybody’s music is different.
That’s a good thing.