Playlists at Work: Katie McBride
One of her tracks found its way onto New Music Friday lists—and into the ears of loads of eager fans.
Toronto, Canada-based singer/songwriter Katie McBride has fans in Iceland. And it’s not just because her blissful electro-pop EP, World of Dreams, pulls from the calm atmospheres of ambient music which might fit the aesthetic of such a serene country. It’s because McBride used Spotify for Artist’s playlist pitch tool to get the reverb-drenched “Garden of Grá” onto New Music Friday playlists, immediately planting her song in the ears of wider audiences.
The path towards establishing her sound and finding a wide audience started with McBride’s listening habits. “I just listen to ambient music, basically,” she says, " I'm a pretty upbeat person, but there's melancholy as well. And I think that comes through in my music—the mood is always quite mixed.” To celebrate her various moods and influences, McBride created a Lovelist—her personal playlist of favorite tracks containing a wistful Joanna Brouk tune, a spacey KAYTRANADA instrumental, and a ghostly a cappella Grouper song, among others. While talking through the world of playlists, McBride took some time to tell us about her experience with Spotify’s pitch tool, how she uses her Lovelist to interact with fans, and more.
Spotify for Artists: What spurred you to try the playlist pitch tool?
Katie McBride: In the past I had had a positive experience with Spotify playlisting, but the way my music had gotten on those playlists was random—I uploaded music and it happened to get featured. This time I wanted to make sure it was on their radar so I emailed a Spotify curator to pitch them the music. They let me know about the new playlist submission tool, which I then tried using the Spotify for Artists website. I was able to submit that song for consideration in a much more efficient way, and it worked to get the music on some great playlists.
Why did you choose "Garden of Grá" as the track to pitch?
I had released a few singles already, and then I was putting out the EP, and I think I just picked the last song I wanted to be a single. So it was the last song that I thought was the strongest as a standalone.
When and how did you notice something had happened as a result of pitching?
I think I got an email. I use Spotify for Artists, and they send you a little notification there. It's a pretty significant boost when it happens.
What playlist did "Garden of Grá" end up on via your pitch?
I think it got on New Music Friday Canada and New Music Friday Iceland, which I loved. I was excited. It's really nice to get that boost. When that happens, it's such a wider audience you're able to reach. Especially if it's the right playlist, where you know the people gravitating toward it are likely to get into the rest of your music and go check it out. The Iceland thing was really cool, because I've always really loved Iceland, and I went on a trip there last year and love Sigur Rós. There's something about the fact that I got on this New Music Friday Iceland playlist. Especially with that song—it made sense to me. It made me happy, because now all of a sudden, all these Icelandic people are going to be able to listen to that song, driving around in Iceland.
It's pretty crazy. Sometimes [the playlists are] Canada-specific, but the reach is pretty incredible. It's really exciting, I think, for artists, when they get featured on these playlists. I mean, it was for me.
Was there a fan reaction?
I definitely got more people following me on social media. I don't know if this is a weird thing to say, but it kind of legitimizes your music, in a way, to people. Especially when you're an indie artist. I'm just thinking out loud—it's nicely official. So for people who were already following my music, they were obviously stoked, and then I got new people checking it out.
For independent artists, I think it often does help legitimize you in the eyes of people outside the industry.
Exactly. And it's a way bigger reach than I would've had at this level 10 years ago. There's no way I'd have hundreds of thousands of people hear my music. It's just a totally different avenue. Before, you'd have to have a hit and get on the radio. [Playlisting] is a game-changer.
Now, you can have a version of a 'hit' in the music you want to make, because it reaches so many people who love it. Basically, it makes it so that you can experiment a bit with form. Because some of the songs I've made that have done well on Spotify would not have gotten radio play, because radio play is a very specific kind of playlist. It's upbeat, it's very immediate, it follows a specific form. Whereas with these playlists, there are ‘radio’ hits for every mood and person.
Has it helped you establish yourself within the Canadian music landscape, or helped your career outside Spotify?
I think I'm still figuring that out, to be honest. One really positive thing is, in terms of building a team, it certainly not only exposes me to listeners but to industry people. In that sense, it can be really good because if you look me up, cleary the music has done well in this one zone. More Canadians have heard my music now. It's definitely had benefits. Recently this promoter was hitting me up because the release had done well in the Spotify realm. So, the promoter hits me up, I get better gigs, and then that's more exposure. Everything kind of feeds off each other. It's interesting now because I know artists that are just like, Spotify artists. They just get millions of plays on Spotify and then they're not super-active in terms of touring. They focus on one and not as much on the other. But I think if you want them to influence each other they can.
How has being discovered through the New Music Friday playlist affected your growth as an artist?
Reaching a wider audience, being able to draw more people to gigs, getting fans. This could be a bit of a reach, but maybe it does take a bit of pressure off artists to write a hit in the traditional sense to get exposure. Maybe if this was a few years ago, I'd be thinking, “Okay, I have to try to write a radio thing.” Whereas now I can write an ambient song and it can go on an ambient playlist. It gives me, maybe, a little bit more freedom in terms of getting exposure in other ways.
This interview has been edited and condensed.