Written by Lindsey Batista, Rock the Dream
If you’ve looked into how to promote your music in recent years, you’ve probably come across countless strategies to outsmart the “algorithms” on streaming and social media platforms. Maybe you’ve tried them, or paid for services that promise this, or you thought it was too complicated to waste your time on.
Algorithms are real ways that social media, and yes, Spotify, put your content in front of people. And, they do impact how your songs and following grow, or don’t. Though you don’t need to “outsmart” them, or pay your way around them, you can absolutely use algorithms to your advantage if you take the time to understand them.
So what is the algorithm on Spotify? With the thousands of tracks uploaded each day, Spotify can’t have real people listening to all of them to find the best and put them on playlists. Instead, they use data and their algorithm to do this. It’s intended to help good music get noticed amongst all the white noise. The data that Spotify collects comes from what you input when you upload; genre, mood, etc., as well as the numbers of listens, skips, new followers, or getting added to playlists. The goal for Spotify is to identify which listeners will like your style of music, and to put it in front of more of those people.
What does this mean for you? Contrary to some beliefs, the algorithm is really meant to work in favor of the artist, regardless of the size of their following. To do this, you need to consider the data that Spotify uses and how your own tracks are doing. The first part is listing your song with the correct genre and mood labels. Take the time to really listen to the song, compare it to other songs in the genre and playlists that you think it should be next to, and even ask for some outside opinions. Being honest with this is only going to help you.
Next, think about your promotion strategy. We all know playlists are huge in promoting music today. It sounds logical that the more playlists you get on, the better your music will do since more people will hear it. While this may get you more listens at first, doing this wrong can reflect negatively to the algorithm. It notices your number of plays, but also the number of skips and saves in relation. If your song is on 10 playlists, but it really only fits into the genre and style of one of them, while it will get more plays, the 9 others will be racking up people who skip the song and don’t save it, because it’s not what they’re looking for. This essentially tells Spotify the song is “bad”, when it really was just shown to the wrong people.
In this case, less really is more. Finding those few playlists that your song actually fits, and pitching to those is a much better strategy. This is also why paying for playlist promotion can be tricky. There is always the issue of “bots” and fake streams, and the fact that paying for streams can get you kicked off of Spotify. But, it’s hard to know if even services that promise “organic” promotion, or real listeners, will be beneficial. While you will get exposure, you run the same risk of being put in front of “any” audience, and not the right one. It’s best to steer clear of this all together, and save money to put into more music and other types of promotion.
The goal of all of this “promotion” is to get your music in front of new people, so your fanbase will grow. The algorithm will work to do this even at the smallest scale. The best way it does this is by putting songs into people’s “release radar”, for people who have listened to you before, and “discover weekly”, for new people that will probably like your music. This process is going to be slow, but it will work for you in the long run.
Don’t skip promoting to your current audience, even if it’s just friends and family! Post on your social media, and simply ask for anyone that likes your music and wants to support you to follow you on Spotify, like your song, share it, and pre-save new releases. Having followers on Spotify is often overlooked, but it’s another piece of data that can help you, and it guarantees your releases to be put on “release radar” playlists.
The same goes for likes on Spotify. Even if your following is only in the hundreds, anyone who shares your music probably has a similar size following, which increases your exposure exponentially. Getting pre-saves is one of the best ways to show the algorithm that people want to hear your music! The moment your song is released, you’ve already gotten saved to playlists. Even if it’s just a few, something is always better than nothing, at least in the eyes of the algorithm.
This strategy will continue to work with every release, so you should try to do so as often as possible. This means singles are the way to go. Especially when just starting out, there is no benefit to releasing an EP or an album. This way, you have a chance to promote every song, and have continuous positive feedback for the algorithm to pick up. The industry in general is moving away from albums, so save that dream for when you’re more established.
A final tip is to pitch to editorial playlists before you release. This isn’t exactly using the algorithm, but it offers an opportunity you should not pass up. As long as you schedule your release date at least 3 to 4 weeks ahead of time, you can pitch it to Spotify editors directly. There will be a link on your Spotify for artists page to submit the song and have a chance to get onto a Spotify editorial playlist.
These are the official playlists that no promotion service can pay to get you on. There is obviously a lot of competition here, but they have put small artists, even with their very first release, on these playlists. This comes down to the quality of your music, but make sure to fill out the form as precisely as possible.
Like always, make the genre and mood selections that are most accurate. You also have a chance to explain a bit about the song, so tell them your promotion strategies and why your song fits certain playlists and will do well. It is a PITCH, not just a backstory. Also, update your profile and artist bio beforehand to look as professional as possible.
I know that as an artist you want to focus on the craft and let the music speak for itself, but it’s very rare to succeed that way today. The industry is falling more and more into the hands of artists and out of the control of record labels. This means you have a much greater chance of being able to accomplish your goals as a musician, but you have to focus on the business side and put as much work into it as in the music. Just like learning an instrument, it takes time and practice to succeed, but diligence pays off.