Making money in the music industry has always been a challenge, particularly now with physical sales in a nosedive and radio in decline. But streaming has emerged as an opportunity for artists to earn a meaningful amount of money from their work, particularly if they land on the right playlists.
Guest post by K.O. Vonn of BandBasher
For any artist trying to make a dollar in today’s digitally-driven economy, prospects seem bleak. The decline of radio and physical music sales is so chronicled that it would be inane and wasteful to restate the situation here.
The silver lining for musicians ranging from “literally just started” to indie to those signed to a major label, has been the rise in popularity of music streaming. But as I learned with my recent article How Many Streams It Takes To Pay Your Rent, it’s starting to feel like expecting meaningful payment from streaming is a win-less alternative.
When the head of Radio 1 left broadcast radio to become the Head of Content Programming at Spotify, it proved how important taste-makers/musical curators are to music and to streaming in general. Then, Recode reported that largely unknown, independent acts saw a 50–100% streaming increase after being included in Spotify’s sponsored playlists.
Enter the next savior for the music industry: playlist plugging.
Playlist plugging is the process by which a third party gets an artist’s song placed on a Spotify playlist, resulting in more streams for that artist. More streams = more visibility = higher payout (in theory).
At first, it sounds like an answer to streaming’s problems and the central issue many face in getting their music heard. There are a lot of companies that claim to do it but there’s also a lot of artist’s who’ve come out claiming fraud and fraudulent behavior (per Spotify’s terms of service).
Brian Hazard of Passive Promotion reportedly lost $285 for a 0% bump in streams and Ari Herstand of Digital Music News had his album removed by Spotify after using a playlist plugging company.
So, is it “illegal”?
Technically, no. And this is the grey area in which playlist plugging companies thrive. Connecting musicians to Spotify playlist curators for a fee isn’t (yet) in violation of Spotify’s rules. It’s not even “wrong” for a site to promise plays for your track. However, the way in which companies secure these streams can be fraudulent — and that can result in a ban on your track, your album, or your account.
Spotify’s system isn’t perfect. Play counts and followers can come from the result of bots (usually individuals in the far east playing a track for 35 seconds to register as a count). Or, the more sophisticated bots are computer programs designed to click on certain links at certain times. Don’t be fooled, major artists are guilty of using bots to boost their numbers too (though they may not be aware of their label doing it).
How hard is it to use bots to game the system? Can you make one for yourself after a quick YouTube tutorial?
“To make it? Not hard. To get past Spotify’s anti-spam play protections? Very hard,” says Giles Wells, Bandbasher’s Director of Development.
“To make the plays random enough so that Spotify doesn’t think they’re generated by a bot is the hard part. Plus, of course, I’d imagine that play manipulation is against the Spotify artist agreement so you could potentially get banned for engaging in this.”
He is 100% correct.
What are the repercussions?
Track removal. Albums taken down. Maybe a ban on your artist profile. It’s all within their right to do. Spotify monitors all activity on their site (again, it’s not a perfect system, but they’re trying to maintain the integrity of their numbers). Massive amounts of track plays without likes or playlist adds will get the attention of site admin.
Think about it this way, Spotify barely wants to pay anyway, why would they give a piece of their profits to fake activity?
YouTube seems to operate on an elevating strike system (where the more you violate their rules, the harsher the punishments will be). Eventually though, they’ll take your videos offline and ban your account. Other platforms like SoundCloud regularly remove content with fake play counts. And SoundCloud isn’t even paying artists. That’s how important authentic numbers are to these companies.
At this point, we’ve talked a lot about the legality/morality of playlist plugging. Maybe you’ve decided to go for it. Some of these companies are operating legitimately, so there’s a chance it could work for you.
A Few Examples
There are so many sites, I don’t have the space in my life to do a deep dive on every one, but I’ll give you a rundown of ones I’ve come across.
No matter the reputation you’ve heard around the web or the rep the site claims to have, first and foremost, if a playlist plugging company doesn’t ask to hear your music before taking your money, it’s likely some form of a scam (more music industry scams here).
This goes for every service offered to musicians, if they (1) promise you something (2) ask for money (3) don’t ask to hear your stuff = it’s a scam! Or, at the very very least, the value of the service is low.
Some may have heard of Streamify, the company that claims to “deliver plays to your tracks”. That should be a dead giveaway that your music and account is at risk of being shut down by Spotify. This was the company Herstand used and resulted in the removal of his music by Spotify.
They claim “ordering plays takes a minute and then you can sit back and Streamify takes care of the rest.” No. No. No. No.
Artists, beware of the easy win because it is very rarely a legitimate one.
Streamify says your music will be sent to “totally unique users” via a “huge partner list that includes music promoters, DJ’s, online radio stations, playslists and various other parties.” In reality, they appear to be using click farms.
I first read about Playlist Push in an article by recording artist, Brian Hazard on Passive Promotion. Check out his story for the details, but the long and short of it is that he spent $285 and saw zero effect on his streaming numbers.
After a little digging, I found a Medium article that mentioned Playlist Push and rated it against other playlist plugging companies. It’s rating was quite high, especially in comparison with the other companies on the list. Low and behold, the writer was outed as the owner of Playlist Push. After being attacked by users for the fraudulent article, he added an addendum:
While Hazard eventually spoke with the owner of Playlist Push, he decided not to continue with their streaming promotion services — instead opting to get paid for putting playlists together as a curator. This doesn’t mean the service is necessarily a scam, just that it was negligent in the curators they were enlisting to help promote artists.
This site claims you’ll “work with 650 Spotify playlist curators”.
Some green lights for this service are their claims that “all submissions will be screened across our team of curators” and that once they’re “confident the artist has play-listing potential” they’ll start “a market research plan and identify [the artist’s] key demographic”.
In researching the site, I started by doing what I tell every musician to do: Google “[SITE TITLE] scam” and “[SITE TITLE] review”. For the most part, Playlist Pump checks out as not an obvious scam. ScamAdvisor warns the site is young and a free email address was used to create the site. That is not a dead giveaway for a scam, just that it’s a higher risk than older, more well-established sites.
Playlist Pump has a Facebook you can also check out for comments and reviews.
One thing that caught my eye about this service was the line on its site: “Our efforts to attempt to maximize exposure and trigger algorithmic playlists like Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Daily Mix, etc.” That sounds fancy and all, but in truth they’re letting you know they don’t have any contacts at Spotify to secure you a spot on those playlists. Though they do claim to have “relationships with more than 500+ curators on Spotify”.
They “also work with startup artists to determine the validity of their music on Spotify. Through feedback and research we are able to determine how tastemakers will respond to your music.” This could be a benefit to artists still finding their niche, and the feedback could be parlayed into other areas of an artist’s career (i.e. where to book shows, what kind of merch to make, etc.).
. . .
In the end, the only way to know if a service really works for you is to use that service. Undoubtedly, this will include you putting up some money (which sucks when there’s such a high risk for the return on your investment to be nil).
However, you don’t have to enlist any of these services. What they do, you are entirely capable of doing yourself — as long as you’re prepared to put in the time and effort.
Here’s How To Playlist Plug Yourself
Authenticity in your streaming numbers is what’s best for your brand.
1. Submit your music to blogs and playlist curators with like-minded tastes.
This is exactly what the plugging companies are doing. While some of them may already have a large network of curators, when you put your networking skills to work you can build these relationships for yourself.
SubmitHub has a premier tier to get you started ($1 per submission, you know exactly who you’re pitching to, and if they don’t provide written feedback within 48 hours, you get your money back). You can also search your favorite music blogs for contact emails.
You won’t get far if you can’t get some media attention. Reaching out to media outlets involves crafting an interesting, newsworthy press release. This lesson connects you with the big do’s and don’ts when making the perfect press release.
2. Promote your music on social media.
This should be a no-brainer. People need to know your music is on Spotify if they’re going to include it in their own playlists. Just don’t go the route of “Hey look at me. This is my song. Don’t you want to listen to it because I did it?”
Episode 198 of the DIY Musician Podcast by CD Baby talks about “3 Things That Will Hurt Your Music On Spotify”. They suggest promoting new music instead with a catchy line like “Here’s the song that got us kicked off stage”. That’s pretty genius advice.
3. But also promote elsewhere.
I keep saying this but I have to: The internet is a big place. There’s a world of data beyond Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Spotify has its own space to promote playlists on the Spotify Community Playlist Exchange. Reddit also has a Spotify Playlists sub that’s pretty active.
4. Use analytics.
Sites like Spot On Track and Chart Metric pull in mass amounts of data and help show you what’s hot and what’s not in the world of music streaming. These sites can also be used to determine if a certain playlist is a scam (i.e. clickbot farm). The more you know, the more you can do.
And knowing is half the battle.