Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
The C.L.I.M.B. is a podcast produced by Brent Baxter and Johnny Dwinell dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists “Create Leverage In The Music Business.” This post is excerpted from Episode 398, “Do You Have the Wrong Strategy on Spotify?”
Spotify. I see so much information in articles and hear things that I believe is inaccurate. I’m a bit of a tech geek, and I also have a foot firmly in the music industry. You know I was an artist, I toured. So, I see stuff differently than some others in the industry because of my personal experience working in different sides of the music industry.
And the industry people — you have to remember — even though this information might be coming from people you love and respect, and who deserve your respect, it doesn’t mean they know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to digital platforms.
There was a time, maybe ten years ago when everybody was excited about how many Twitter followers you had. You could get a deal if you had a boatload of Twitter followers.
But, I was able to create Twitter followers like nobody’s business. Nobody was looking at engagement, they were just intoxicated with the numbers. And then, guess what? We started looking at the numbers differently. Are these bots or are they real people? Are they real people who actually care and are engaging with the artist?
Then, as recently as a couple years ago, there were a bunch of signings with artists who blew up on TikTok and, to date I don’t think any of them have made the money back. Again, the industry was just intoxicated with the activity.
You need to be smarter than the industry
So, I’m telling you, the industry gets it wrong, a lot, and it’s up to you to be smarter than them. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was something along the lines of, “When you wake up one morning and have the epiphany, the realization, that your world, the reality that’s around you, is created by a bunch of people who aren’t any smarter than you, it becomes very freeing.”
Here’s one of the things that I see a lot of press on, and a lot of artists worry about follows on Spotify. Should you be optimizing for follows?
The resounding answer is: No. It is a mistake to optimize for follows. I’d suggest you focus on other strategies, like increasing monthly listeners.
Your followers are tied to Spotify’s Release Radar playlist. So, it seems like a good idea. It’s the playlist that everyone wants to get on right now. But, the problem with Release Radar is that it’s like new love. It’s exciting. It’s full of hope and passion and it scratches a brand new itch. But when you look closer, it quickly turns into an ugly, drunken, good-for-nothing, child-support-skipping, toxic ex.
The reality of Release Radar
When you compare Spotify’s Release Radar playlist to Discover Weekly and Radio playlists, it’s the weakest algorithmic playlist on Spotify. And you’re going to find a ton of media praising Release Radar, everybody seems to love it. But it’s all hat and no cattle.
Think about this from the lens of a Spotify user. As a user, what do you get when you follow an artist on Spotify? All they get is to see your future releases on Radar. That’s it. What’s their motivation for following you?
If you discover the artist on any playlist (whether it’s a Spotify editorial playlist or someone’s personal playlist) and you choose to follow them, you’re following the artist account, not the playlist. So, for example, the links to follow Morgan Wallen on Spotify’s New Music Friday Country playlist and the Hot Country playlist are the same link that goes to the same place: Morgan Wallen’s Spotify account. This would also be the same link if I were on Morgan Wallen’s Spotify account, clicked on the three dots in the header by his name, clicked on “Share Artist,” and sent it to a friend.
So, my point is that there are artists who are hyper-focused on how many follows they have on their respective Spotify artist accounts. While there are lots of things that impact your popularity score on Spotify (which factor into your chances of getting on an editorial playlist) — like number of streams, skips, saves, repeats, personal playlist ads, etc. — follower count isn’t one of them.
For whatever reason, a follow on your Spotify account is only good for Spotify possibly putting your new release into the Release Radar playlist of the person who followed you. Unlike all the other playlists, Spotify’s Release Radar is user-curated, as opposed to a Spotify- or playlist-owner curated. This means that on any given Friday, the songs and artists that appear on MY Release Radar playlist will not be the same as the songs and artists that appear on YOUR Release Radar playlist, because you and I have not followed the exact same artists. Furthermore, if I’m an artist with 1,000 followers on my Spotify account, only about 30 of those 1,000 followers will see my new release in their Release Radar playlists, so don’t bother focusing on followers.
Plus, you’re going to have a ton of competition with releases on Release Radar. Usually 50 to 100 artists are in the playlist, and the Release Radar playlist works in an elimination round format. The competition is significant. It decreases the odds of your song getting on the playlist, and that’s all you get for a follow.
Saves and follows
The the ratio of how many streams you get to a save vs. the ratio of how many streams you get to a follow is ridiculous. The save ratio is like 0.8 percent, meaning if you get 100,000 streams, you’re looking at 800 times somebody saves the song.
Follows, by comparison, is maybe 0.25 percent. You might get 250 followers, tops, per 100,000 streams if it’s really rocking. So don’t focus on trying to get followers. It’ll happen in time, but it’s it’s not worth chasing.
Focus on writing good music, focus on getting more streams, focus on promotion of your music and your artist brand. You’re not going to live or die by your number of follows, even though some industry people might tell you differently. That may be a metric some important people are looking at right now — but so were Twitter followers ten years ago. Here’s your chance to be smarter than than them.
More importantly, only 3–5 percent of your followers on your artist profile will discover your new release through the Release Radar playlist. That’s the same percentage as folks who’ll find you via organic reach.
Music marketing vs. distribution
So, you have a ton of competition to even get on the Release Radar playlist, and the only thing that a follower gets is the ability to discover your new music on a Release Radar playlist in the future. The odds of you getting on the playlist are not good, especially when you’re starting out and trying to build your brand and then when you do — when you win and you get on the Release Radar — only 3–5 percent of your followers are going to discover your new music through it.
Spotify in particular — but all streaming services — are distributors. Don’t confuse them with marketing and promotion. Distribution is where you go to consume something. Marketing is why you’re going to that distributor. Distribution makes your song available; marketing makes your song desirable.
There’s a lot more to the conversation — listen to Episode 398 on the C.L.I.M.B. podcast!