How to Maximize Your Playlist Strategy with Direct-to-Fan Marketing

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After finding that users spend more time listening to personalized playlists than human-curated ones, Spotify announced in March that some mid-tier playlists would start including algorithmic suggestions based on listener behavior. As reported, the number of Spotify users who seek out a song for repeat listens after discovering it through a personalized playlist goes up 80%.

This change is happening at a time where there is growing uncertainty about the benefits of being added to a big playlist. An artist might experience a spike in streams from the right placement, but this does not guarantee a gain in new followers willing to buy a concert ticket or merchandise⁠—a phenomenon dubbed the “dry streams paradox.”  

The fan loop 

As with any marketing strategy, it’s risky to rely on a single platform for traffic. On Spotify, this is complicated even further by the time-sensitive nature of third-party streaming playlists. Placement on New Music Friday, for example, only lasts for one week.

This isn’t a criticism of streaming itself, but a reality that artists and their teams need to consider when developing their fandom game plan. Playlisting can certainly help an artist’s career in the short term. If a song takes off in a playlist, there can be long-term benefits too, since users will add it to their own curated lists and continue to listen to it. But there is still a lot more that can be done outside streaming platforms to extend the life of a song and improve fan relationships.

To turn casual listeners into core fans, there needs to be a clear path to connecting with artists after streaming discovery. For many acts, this journey begins with an optimized Spotify profile, including social links to active profiles. It’s surprising just how many artists, both large and small, leave this section blank. Planning for what comes after this jump is crucial—social profiles should be set up so people can watch behind-the-scenes videos, sign up to a newsletter drip, download unique content, or do some other activity that kickstarts further engagement. Artists need to give their followers something to care about. 

If people aren’t taking the next steps when you want them to, retargeting ads that provide new offers or content can be helpful to nudge them along. It’s important to note, however, that fan engagement isn’t a one-time thing or one-way street: to develop strong bonds and build momentum, artists need to consistently share meaningful, relevant content and connect with fans how, when, and where they want. 

While it’s hard to beat Twitter and Instagram for provoking artist conversations, as public social shifts toward messaging, opt-in apps like Messenger and Whatsapp (both of which Facebook is working on unifying with Instagram) may offer better opportunities for one-to-one relationships in the future. 

Watch Midem’s keynote on how to cultivate a fan base with Twitter:

All these “off-platform” activities mirror what local bands and artists have done for years: gigging at venues around town, setting aside time for one-on-ones with super fans at shows, and selling their merch. Framed this way, streaming platforms (similar to an impromptu concert) are the first step in the path toward fandom. 

Providing context and gaining insights

Compared to music formats that came before it, playlists do not provide much context about the music in them—if we’re compelled strongly enough by a song to pull up our phone or desktop app for more information, we only get the song and album title, and artist name. So even if playlists are increasingly tailored to our tastes, this lack of context about the music makes it difficult to connect at a deeper, enthusiastic fan level. 

This is partly why YouTube still drives one billion visits every month from people looking for new tunes. Users can choose to watch the artist perform in a music video or stick to UGC. There are comment sections to browse and replies to unfurl, which, for better or worse, tell us about the artist’s fanbase and if we fit in. Recommended videos or further searches for the artist will uncover more songs, but also interviews, concert footage, and TV appearances. In a short period, we can get a good sense of who an artist is.

So activities outside of streaming platforms offer a meaningful way to interact with fans, but they also help to re-contextualize an artist’s music. Not to mention the additional metrics gained from other platforms.

Imagine a song gets one million plays on Spotify—how many of those people hitting the play button will also buy a concert ticket or t-shirt? It's hard to say. On the other hand, if the same people open a newsletter every week or vote in Instagram polls or download exclusive music, it is easier to tell who the true fans are and whether those fans with make material purchases in the future. With both Instagram and Snapchat testing e-commerce features with in-app checkouts, artists have a lot to gain if and when rolled out. 

Full circle: the people who engage with artists off platform are more likely to go back to Spotify to search for their songs, share them, and add them to individual playlists. Waves of organic activity are important cues for streaming algorithms to place these songs in larger, personalized playlists, creating more awareness for casual listeners and restarting the fan loop.