The Stars of the Spotify Playlists
We talk to the artists finding success through playlist pitches and placements.
Playlists have become crucial for artists looking to achieve success on Spotify—just ask Canadian rapper Seth Dyer. "It literally kept the lights on," he said. "It let me eat and create and do what I do."
The Toronto-based rapper’s first taste of playlist success came in fall 2016, when he was working on his seven-week episodic project Dyer Days. "There was one week to go before I was finished," he said. "[Up until then], there had been no traction, and I was just gonna chalk it up as a learning experience."
But on October 11, Dyer got a phone call from his younger brother. "He was like, 'Dude, your song ‘What You Need’—it's on this playlist I listen to called Hip-Hop Central. I was like, 'Okay, sweet.' And he's like, 'Yeah, bro. It's got 17,000 plays.' I was like, 'What?' At the time, I had had no numbers like that."
Dyer's success only grew from there. "Then 17,000 turned to 30,000, then 50,000, 100,000. I was like, 'Holy cow.' During that Dyer Days time, I was not in the best financial situation—basically they were gonna cut the lights off. Then I checked with my distributor and I’m like, ‘There's money here.' I withdrew it and paid the bills, and everything was good."
Things have stayed good for Dyer, whose music also often appears on the Great White North-focused Northern Bars playlist. He’s noticed that connections that start on playlists can run even deeper with fans, utilizing Spotify's analytics to figure out which cities he should include on his tour routing. "I've also noticed that people are really listening to the records," he said, "because I'll go out and people will be like, 'I heard 'El Jefe,'' 'I heard 'No Budget,'' and they can say the words. They actually listen."
Australian singer-songwriter Starley had a similarly life-changing experience in 2016, when fellow Aussie Ryan Riback’s remix of her track “Call on Me” was added to New Music Friday Norway. “[The remix] went from a really low number of monthly listeners to, all of a sudden, about seven million monthly listeners,” she recalled. “I was blown away. It was really unbelievable—it had a 0 % skip rate. [Spotify’s team] said they've never really seen that from an indie artist.”
The remix came out in October, and was added to the playlist shortly after. “By December, it had 100 million streams, and [things] just kept going from there.” Using Spotify for Artists’ analytics, she’s noticed new areas of the world discovering her music. “My biggest marketplace right now is Paris, which is really interesting,” she said. “It's Paris, then London, then New York, then L.A.”
Getting fans beyond borders
Alok's first experience with Spotify was as a listener. "[Using] it kind of changed my perspective about searching for music," explained the Brazilian DJ and producer. "I use it to search for music, [and while I] travel and work out. It’s amazing; it’s a huge world. I find so much good stuff over there."
Alok has also benefited from being found—particularly by people looking at Spotify's playlists. "[My career] was growing really fast, and my crowd was complaining about not having my stuff [available on Spotify]," he recalled. "I started to focus over there, because I saw amazing feedback."
Alok's 2016 single "Hear Me Now," a collaboration with Brazilian producer Bruno Martini and California vocalist Zeeba, landed on a Spotify playlist, helping his star rise on the service—it was selected for increasingly better-trafficked playlists, eventually hitting the No. 23 spot on the platform's Global chart. "I saw the power of those playlists," he said. "They changed the market… the song started to [get airplay on] radio networks, even though I didn't have contact with radio at all.”
Alok's fanbase has grown substantially since then, with his Global chart success landing him on the highly trafficked Fuego playlist. Currently Alok averages 8.6 million listeners a month, while Spotify’s This Is Alok playlist offers a snapshot of his currently popular music. It's one of the most highly trafficked playlists focusing on a Brazilian artist, with more than 956,000 followers from around the world.
"My music has an international language," he said. "It is not only focused on one country. It's amazing how many barriers you can break through music."
Maximizing an opportunity
For a few months now, Spotify has been inviting artists and labels to test those boundaries by pitching their music to playlist editors through Spotify's playlist pitch feature (which can be found in Spotify for Artists and Spotify Analytics—a detailed how to can be found here). The program only started in July, but it's already bearing fruit for artists like Portland pop duo Small Million, who pitched the dreamy title track from their upcoming EP Young Fools to Spotify after getting wind of the New Music pitch feature from a friend. "It seemed like a great opportunity," said Small Million's Ryan Linder, "so we immediately jumped on it after noticing the feature was available on our artist dashboard."
Shortly after that, "Young Fools" made it onto Spotify's Mellow Morning playlist. "It is still relatively fresh, but being on Spotify's radar has been great street cred and definitely helps with getting the music out there," said Linder. "The more people are listening on Spotify, the more people start to take notice in general, and vice versa—there’s a nice spillover effect."
Landing on these kinds of playlists can also open artists' ideas of where their audience is, which is what happened to Scandinavian drummer Snorre Kirk when two tracks from his recent album, Beat, landed on the State of Jazz playlist. "The realization of what [being on a playlist] actually meant did not dawn on me until I started seeing my average listener numbers going from 300 to 400 per month to 2,000 to 3,000 per day, with spikes of 4,000 to 5,000 on weekends," he said.
With the help of Spotify for Artists analytics, Kirk realized that his now-growing fanbase had also branched out far beyond Scandinavia. "I was taken aback by seeing the overall effect of being playlisted, and surprised to see the demographics that make up my worldwide listener base—it was nothing like I’d imagined," he said. "Being featured on this playlist has brought my music out to a much bigger audience than ever before. Most interestingly, the most active countries, in terms of listeners, have been countries where I have no touring activities whatsoever, and where distribution of physical copies of my music is minimal or none." In addition to receiving increased interest on social media and from the press, Kirk has also been approached about playing festivals around the world.
Appearing on Spotify playlists helps artists’ local profiles, too. Dream-pop duo Valley Hush, who recently relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles, utilized the pitch feature and saw their August single “Letting a Flower Die” appear on New Music Friday the day of its release, with other additions to playlists like Left of Center in the days that followed. “People respect the platform, so it’s really validating—especially as a fully independent artist,” they explained via email. “We had some labels and a few industry people reach out to us after the last single was on New Music Friday… it’s easier to get shows booked, too. We’re new to Los Angeles, so it’s helped us on a lot of levels.”
As these stories show, pitching music for playlist consideration can open up new frontiers for musicians of any stripe (and the process is easy). "It changes the whole conversation," said Dyer. "Before, I was somebody that didn't have any numbers or any kind of traction moving. Now, I can say I have over a million streams on Spotify with no budget."