Want to grow your Spotify playlist to expand your listener-base? Paid ads are one way to do do it. In this post, Brian Hazard walks us through the steps of his successful Instagram Stories ad campaign.
“If you were wondering how I found your work, it was through Spotify. I was looking for vocal synthwave playlists. Yours had the most followers and I really enjoyed the first song.”
My Spotify playlist has been getting a lot of action this year. Not because the search algorithm starting picking up on it or because it went viral on Reddit. I grew it the old-fashioned way: by paying for it.
On March 10, 2020, my Spotify playlist had 1,079 followers. On May 19, it had 3,124 followers. That’s 2,000 followers in two months, with a total of $378.46 in ad spends. I learned a lot in those two months, and I’m paying much less per follower now than I was at the beginning. (More on that later.)
The benefits of owning a popular Spotify playlist
Owning one of the top playlists in your genre offers several advantages:
- Strangers are more willing to check out a playlist than a song, album, or artist profile.
- You can promote your entire scene instead of just pushing your own stuff.
- You can trade placements on other artists’ playlists.
- You can place your name (in the description), likeness (in the cover art), and music alongside the biggest names in your genre.
- A high follower count legitimizes the playlist and generates more streams due to its perceived authority.
- A high follower count attracts higher-quality submissions on SubmitHub.
Convinced yet? Here’s how I did it…
Creating Instagram Stories ads
Instagram Stories ads are 15-second videos with a 9×16 aspect ratio, essentially 1080p flipped sideways. iMovie can’t do it, but it’s a breeze with ScreenFlow.
ScreenFlow is also great for making square videos, which take up more screen real estate on social media. I’m using a really old version that I bought years ago for screen capture, but it still does everything I need.
I’m hyping ScreenFlow so much, I may as well become an affiliate… done! If you want to try it out while supporting my Passive Promotions blog, click on the banner below:
Note that it’s Mac only. If you know of any good Windows alternatives, please share them in the comments!
I’m sure that’s way overkill video-wise, but I love that it encodes audio at 320 kbps!
My winningest Spotify playlist ads
Here’s a playlist with four of the 24 ads I’ve tested so far. Remember that Instagram also includes a call to action (“Listen Now”) at the bottom of the screen, with a caret telling the user to swipe up.
FRAME DJ was a huge help in coming up with ideas. He noticed that “scrolling through the playlist” ads like the first were being used to build massive EDM playlists. He also came up with “imagine the warmth of 80s synth music.” I was skeptical at first, but it outperformed the others at the time.
I’m quite proud of “it’s always midnight somewhere,” featuring the music of The Midnight. Clever, huh? Still, I was glad that “bask in the neon glow of an 80s that never existed” performed just as well using my own music.
Facebook Ad Library is a helpful resource. There are several expensive courses on Spotify promotion that center around Instagram Stories ads. Rather than pay for them, I just looked up the relevant artists’ ads for inspiration.
Test, test, test!
I can’t stress the benefits of testing enough. Try different songs, background images, copy, fonts, timing, you name it! Don’t forget to test which 15 seconds of your track converts best, rather than just starting at the top of the chorus. I test each ad by letting it run solo for two days — ideally two weekdays because weekends may perform differently.
Remember, gaining followers is the goal, not clicks. Every morning, I wrote down my follower count and tracked the increase from the previous day. It should scale with clicks, but if it doesn’t, your ad may be confusing users.
I placed the song from my ad, typically my own, in the top slot of the playlist so people recognize it immediately and know they’ve come to the right place.
Setting up Instagram Stories ads
I won’t walk through every step in the ad creation process, because… yawn. The campaign objective is traffic and the sole placement is Instagram Stories.
I mostly targeted US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Once I launched my free CD campaign, I restricted my targeting to US-only, where I charge $5 to ship a CD, versus $15 internationally.
Eventually, I opened it up to Mexico and Brazil, where I’m getting clicks for $0.04, versus $0.11 in the US. The lower cost-per-follower is offset by a lower payout-per-stream. Ultimately, I settled on splitting my geographic targeting into two ad groups at $2.50 each per day: US, and Mexico/Brazil. If I kept them in the same ad group, the latter would eat up the vast majority of my budget.
Choose your targets wisely and make sure they are all countries where Spotify is available!
I got about 50 new followers a day, so that’s 10¢ per follower if I attribute all growth to the ads. That assumes that organic growth is canceled out by unfollows.
Interest targeting no more
You may have noticed that I mentioned where I’m targeting, but not who I’m targeting. That’s because I already spent a few hundred bucks to build a look-alike audience of 75 percent video viewers (a topic for a future post!). In an earlier post on my blog, I said that look-alike audiences don’t work, but it turns out I was doing it wrong.
You’ll likely need to use interest targeting in the form of “artists I sound like” or “my genre” plus Spotify. Remember, you want to narrow the audience using Spotify as an additional interest. Hopefully, there are targetable artists that you sound like or genres your music fits into cleanly. I’m not so lucky, which is why it cost so much to create that look-alike from mostly non-music-related interests.
Deep Linking with URLgenius
“Wait, don’t I already have the Spotify app?” you wonder. Yes, you do, and clicking the “download app” button will open it. You want to avoid this confusion at all costs. The solution? URLgenius.
URLgenius creates deep links that bypass the download prompt and open the relevant app directly. The first 1,000 clicks are free. After that, it’s 1¢ per click. In this case, a penny spent is more than a penny saved in cost-per-follower!
Here’s a URLgenius link to my playlist. Now you owe me a penny.
My Spotify playlist results
Do people actually listen to my playlist? Indeed they do! Here’s my Spotify for Artists data for the top slotted track:
I’ve got another track in the middle of the playlist, which only generated 436 plays over the same period.
If I consider my playlist campaign only in terms of my two songs, that’s 2,000 streams for $174. That’s not terrible relative to what you’d pay for Spotify PR, and I know the streams are legit!
SubmitHub to the rescue
When my playlist hit 2,000 followers, I made the mistake of announcing it on social media. Suddenly I was receiving submissions from every corner of the Internet. Most didn’t fit because they didn’t have vocals or weren’t even close to synthwave. Some artists sent me full albums or, worse, directed me to their Spotify profile, expecting me to scour it for any appropriate tracks. It got to be too much, so I turned to SubmitHub.
If you’re unfamiliar with SubmitHub, you can read all about it in this article on my blog. In short, SubmitHub is a platform where curators of all stripes screen and manage submissions from artists, labels, and publicists.
I’ve always pushed back against claims that SubmitHub was payola and that curators were somehow scamming artists, but now it’s obvious how off-base those accusations are. Once I worked through 200 submissions, I was allowed to raise my price to two premium credits. Now I get $1 out of every $2 submission. I’m currently receiving 15 submissions per day on average, making $20 per hour while falling behind on mastering and production work that pays far better.
SubmitHub is no get rich scheme. The vast majority of curators only charge a single premium credit, which is $10 per hour at my pace. It has its perks, though! Curators can purchase credits at a 50 percent discount. 45 minutes per day of my time covers both the cost of my playlist ads and my own artist submissions.
Feel free to submit your track to me if it has 1) great vocals (not just vocoder), 2) obvious ’80s elements, 3) traditional pop structure, and 4) a synth-driven arrangement. You wouldn’t believe how many people send me instrumentals!
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I think that covers the entire ecosystem! So, what do you think? Is playlist promotion a viable substitute for artist promotion, at least on Spotify? It’s definitely a ton of work, but I take pride in my playlist and genuinely enjoy listening to it. It’s nice to be in a position where I can help other artists rather than feeling like we’re all competing in a zero-sum contest. I suppose that goes for my blog too.
Do you curate a Spotify playlist? Have you tried Instagram Stories ads? Let’s swap strategies in the comments!
Brian Hazard is a recording artist, with over twenty years of experience promoting eleven Color Theory albums, and head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion.
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