Playlists at Work: Shura
The electropop singer-producer talks about getting involved in pitching, being among the decade's best, and why artists are excellent curators.
The Brooklyn-via-Manchester singer-songwriter Shura has experience on both sides of the playlisting game. She's been featured on playlists focused on independent music like Independent Music Monday, as well as cross-genre mood music sets like The Most Beautiful Songs In the World and Front Left; she's also gotten into the curation game, releasing collaborative playlists with artists she respects, like girl in red. We talked to her about her involvement with her songs being pitch, and how the inclusion of her 2016 hit "Touch" on a decade-end playlist affected its streams.
Spotify for Artists: How involved do you get with pitching songs for playlists?
Shura: Things that get submitted, normally, are your single, or your focus single. That decision is often made with a record label: "What's the first thing you're going to release? What's the focus point? What's the video?" And that song will often be the song that's submitted for playlisting. Before that happens, I normally have either a long conversation, or sit down and write what the song is about. I tend to be a part of that process and write it myself, because sometimes if you let someone else describe what you've made, it often doesn't really do it justice—or it can feel a bit strange and weird. What's good about it is that you have the option, as an artist, to be as much a part of that as you want to be. I can log into the backend and see exactly how my song is being submitted, and I can edit it and change it if I want to.
When you first release a song, the hopes are that you get New Music Friday and other first-week-orientated playlists. There are lots of them, and they can make the difference between having 5,000 people listen to your song in the first week or over 100,000, depending on where in those playlists you are. Those are the obvious focus points that record labels especially want to target.
In contrast to new-music-centric playlists, "BKLYNLDN" eventually landed on The Most Beautiful Songs In the World. What was that like?
I remember the day [it happened]. If you decide to access the backend of Spotify for Artists, you get notifications when you're added to playlists. Obviously, it's quite a funny one when you get an email saying, "Your song has been added to 'The Most Beautiful Songs In the World.'" You're like, "Oh, wow—that's quite a big claim." And then you go check it out and you're like, "Oh blimey, there's quite a few followers on this."
It can make a huge difference to people discovering you. Look at some of the artists and the songs on that playlist; it's not necessarily a genre playlist. There are artists very different to you. People who might be subscribing to or following a playlist like that then get exposed to a smaller artist like me, who they may never have discovered because they're not listening to indie or alternative playlists. Stuff like that can really make a big difference, and that is one of the most streamed tracks. "BKLYNLDN" is the most streamed track, in fact, on my new record. So that's clearly made a huge difference.
I noticed that Front Left, where you were recently featured, also has a pretty wide genre remit.
Yeah. I was added to that because Spotify also asks artists to guest-curate playlists, which I think is really great because I think some of the best curators are, of course, musicians. If you're a musician, it's probably because you're a fan of music more often than not—or at least you'd hope. Girl in red was invited to curate 20 songs for Front Left, and she picked out one of my songs along with lots of other great artists. It's great that Spotify is beginning more and more to invite artists to be a part of that curation process as well. Also, artists have their own playlists of stuff they're currently listening to. I've just started a collaborative playlist [series], where I invite a musician I admire or a friend who's a musician to collaborate on a playlist with me.
How did you put together a collaborative playlist with girl in red?
What I try and do with that is, I say to whoever I'm inviting, "Pick a minimum of 15 songs." Fifteen is a manageable number to expect someone to pick without having to spend days on it, and then I'll do the other 15. I like to sprinkle in a couple of tracks by that person, and a few by me. Not only are people discovering what it is that we're listening to, but maybe there are some fans of mine who might not be familiar with girl in red's music. It's about highlighting that artist and their music taste as much as I can. Hopefully, also, there'll be people who are familiar with girl in red who will discover me through that playlist, too. It's a way of elevating not only that artist, but also the world that they live in, and musically and creatively what it is that they vibe off. A lot of the time it is smaller artists that people might have no idea about.
Your currently fm playlist has a lot of varied artists, too. Playlists like this seem to be a good way of letting people know that you take inspiration from a lot of different sources.
Totally. We do live in a post-genre age. Growing up, for me, was very much "You listen to one genre, and you dress a certain way as a result of that, and that's it." Streaming has really changed the way people consume music. We are less tribal. I can exist on playlists alongside completely different genres of music, and it's a discovery tool for people. No one's going, "Oh, this is weird—that, next to that?" They're in a discovery phase, which is fun.
Congratulations on "Touch" being part of the Best of the Decade For You playlist.
Is it? I didn't even know.
I know that's a pretty popular song for you, but I was wondering if you had seen an uptick in listens as a result of that playlist going live.
I can log in and have a look—this is the good thing about Spotify for Artists. It looks like in the last seven days, it's had a significant increase. So weird. I love that. Best of the decade! Thank you so much. On Wednesday, December 4, "Touch" had 11,000 streams. That's about average for me; it's my most saved song and most played song. Then the following day—I'm guessing, when I was part of this playlist—it doubled. Not too shabby.