Artists have more power, more tools and more knowledge than ever before. I’ve been a music lover my entire life, with a music collection of Funk, Hip Hop, Punk, Rock, Electronic, Ska and everything in between. I spent 15 years DJ’ing, hosted multiple podcasts and radio shows, helped numerous artists become labeled as independent, produced music under various aliases and worked with a few background music services. After many years of trying to break into the music industry, applying to multiple jobs, I concluded that my resume wasn’t strong enough… so I decided to build my own opportunities through self education.
This book details vital parts of my journey; from a keen music lover and starving music producer to a well fed streaming music nerd who makes a living in this beautiful, crazy industry. It is the result of many conversations with friends, artists, labels and managers. I suggest grabbing a pen and paper because I’ll be hitting you with some things I wish I knew when I started out.
Many pieces of advice I share start with a question from an artist. This book is written as though I am telling a new artist how to set themselves up for success through the use of streaming services, all while building value in their brand through strong playlist curation.
Tip: When you see text with Tip at the start (like this) pay close attention. These are short, quick, pieces of gold.
Goal setting should be common sense; if you don’t have a goal, you have nothing to aim for and nothing to celebrate. For many years I wanted to be a world famous DJ and live out of a suitcase, clocking up frequent flyer miles and being a life member of an airport lounge. Rather than breaking up my end goal into smaller, obtainable targets, I was focused on the bigger picture. For example, I would need to develop unique skills, such as turntablism, while putting on an entertaining show that would draw bigger crowds each week, I would then need to push for becoming a support/warmup DJ for touring artists, find management... the list goes on and on.
It’s safe to say, I didn’t become a superstar DJ and tour the world. My priorities changed, I got a little older, and the idea of living out of a suitcase for countless nights, no longer held my interest.
I eventually got into producing electronic music with a good buddy of mine and realized that I wanted to focus my energy on creating and releasing music.
I wrote myself a new set of goals on the back of a scrap of paper. This time, I was more prepared. I set smaller, more realistic goals that would help me reach my end goal of becoming a producer. After one year the piece of paper was dirty, smelt terrible and could have been translated into digital form. Despite it all, I held onto it because it helped keep me accountable. I knew I wasn’t going to recycle that piece of paper until every goal was crossed out. I don’t have that piece of paper anymore as these goals have since been hit, but here is what it had scribbled on it:
- Release a full length album of music. 60 minutes minimum
- Collaborate with a talented vocalist
- Release a physical CD
- Play a headline show
These goals were all met; then new goals were created. It’s important to always feel like you are accomplishing something, even if something like “have a top 100 song on Beatport” seems unachievable, write it down. When you cross a goal oﬀ your list, take a moment to celebrate, then get right back to grinding and working on the next one.
The next set of goals I created led me to where I am today:
- Work out how Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services work, become as close to a guru as possible
- Make strong contacts that curate large playlists
- Get featured on a Spotify editorial playlist
- Create my own playlist brand
- Make a living from music, whether it’s producing, releasing, pitching, or a combination of things.
- Speak at numerous music industry conferences
Tip: Break your time up into blocks to allow 100% of your focus on a specific task. You’ll find that by giving all of your focus to that one task it will be most likely be completed sooner. Use this spare time to stand up, take a quick walk, then come back and focus your attention on the next task.
How did I tick these goals oﬀ? How can you do the same? Follow the instructions in this book and you will be well on your way.
There are different types of playlists, each playlist has value but how you approach the curators will change based on the type of playlist.
- Editorial - Curated by staff who work directly for the streaming platform. These can provide significant streaming numbers but should not be your only goal as these curators rarely communicate with artists and their support is never guaranteed.
- User - Also known as third party playlists. These are curated by an individual who has an account and has made their playlists public for anyone to follow and stream. Through making a connection with the owners of these playlists you may have a better chance of receiving future support on user created playlists.
- Brand - A company profile with playlists, think Nike, Walt Disney, even celebrities can be verified with a brand account (influencers if you prefer). These are usually very hard to contact without knowing who at the company is in charge of the playlist.
- Tastemaker - Very rare to see, in Spotify particularly when you go to a users profile, instead of saying 'user' near their profile photo it will say 'tastemaker'. Rumor has it these tastemakers have earned this status through solid curation and artists have seen more editorial support after being added to a tastemaker users playlist. Coincidence or not, keep an eye out for these golden curators!
It's not uncommon for record labels to also curate their own playlists. The majors have their own playlist brands:
- Warner = Topsify
- Sony = Filtr
- Universal = Digster
Other labels will curate under their own name, the following electronic music labels have their own playlists for example:
- Walt Disney Records
Artist playlists can grow very quickly with the right network of supportive fans. The following artists have significant followings online.
5 Seconds of Summer
Notice that even artists that are no longer creating new music still maintain their playlists. It will always be a home for fans to enjoy their music, plus if the playlist has a significant following it is highly valuable to the artists manager/label who can include songs from similar artists in the playlist.