Af Francine Gorman
In the Nordics, streaming is as every-day-a-practice as brushing your teeth. Over the past year, more than 80% of 12 – 65 year olds used at least one streaming service, and as an active listening region, we’ve been tuning in for almost 10 years. As listeners, we know how to stream, we know where to find what we’re looking for, and we’ll enjoy some of the innovative discovery tools that the streaming services have developed along the way. But as an artist, a manager or a label, one of the biggest questions facing us all in the digital era is this: how do I make my music stand out?
As an industry, we often discuss the subject of the overwhelming amount of content found on streaming platforms, and which methods are most effective when it comes to making your repertoire visible. And as Goldman Sachs issued a report recently stating that global revenues from music streaming are predicted to rise to $28bn by 2030, it’s clear that artists and their teams need to be fully clued up on how to use these platforms as efficiently and effectively as possible.
So if you’re an artist looking to make strides into the streaming world, or if you’re just looking to brush up your knowledge, then read on as we take a look at what the different streaming services have to offer, how artists and their teams can best work with them, and who can help out along the way.
Streaming Services – Who’s Who?
First of all, let’s have a quick look at some of the major players in the current climate…
Spotify – 140 million total users (60 million paying subscribers – June 2017)
Apple Music – 27 million subscribers (June 2017)
Deezer – 16 million total monthly users (6 million paying subscribers – Jan 2017)
Amazon Prime – 16 million Music Subscribers (Amazon Prime Music and + Amazon Music Unlimited – July 2017)
Soundcloud – 175 million monthly users (August 2017)
(More details coming up in the section ‘Facts and Figures: More Info on the Key Streaming Services’)
How to be Seen and Heard
Now that we’ve got an idea of which platforms are the most prominent, we can get to the question at hand – how do we best work with these services?
To answer this, we’re going to have a look at the editorial strategies of each of the platforms, as well as discussing some best practices when it comes to delivering your music to these services.
Playlists – People vs. Robots
It’s fair to say that each of the different streaming services has a different editorial approach. Spotify, for example, prides itself on an algorithm which is advanced in detail to the point that it can basically read your musical mind. They combine this technology with a human touch to create a vast array of playlists to suit every mood and taste you could imagine.
Deezer has a similar approach, with active editors in many of its territories working to create a huge catalogue of mood-based, genre-based, era-based and artist-based playlists. And alongside an in-house editorial strategy, Apple Music brings in selected curators to ensure that they’re offering a competitive playlist service for their users, focusing strongly on artist catalogues and collaborations with media platforms.
They all have one thing in common though, which is that playlists have become the heart of streaming services, as one of the most efficient ways for the platforms to communicate priority releases with their audiences. Each platform boasts a number of new music/discovery playlists, generally created by human hands when new releases arrive on a Friday. And for emerging artists, these playlists are often a strong target, as a feature in a playlist such as Spotify’s ‘New Music Friday’ can lead to a significant boost in streaming numbers and visibility.
So how do you get onto these lists? Well, in short, an editor needs to put you there, which means that the editor needs to know who you are, and when you’re releasing the track. Depending on which steaming service you’re using, editors can be difficult, or quite easy to reach. Deezer and Tidal are relatively open when it comes to accessing their editors, so contacting them through their websites is fairly straight forward. Spotify are typically more difficult to approach, with the service preferring to interact directly with labels and suppliers. In any situation, it’s best to consider the most effective path for you – so if you’re working with a label that has good links, communicate through them. Otherwise, it can be very effective to work with an aggregator or digital distributor, more on that later.
However you decide to get in touch, bear in mind that an editor will want to know:
- who the track is from
- when the track will be released
- who it will be delivered by
- and what’s significant about it.
It’s also good to research the platform ahead of speaking to an editor, to see where else could be interesting to place a track. New Music lists are a great target, but don’t forget that Spotify’s ‘Happy Hits’ playlist has 1.8million followers, and Deezer’s ‘Urban Pop Hits’ racks up almost half a million fans. So look beyond the new music playlists and look beyond the obvious when suggesting spots to feature a song – if a track has a coffee house vibe to it, or a BPM that makes it perfect for a workout, then let the editors know, as multiple placements will help to boost a song’s listening figures further.
Beyond this, make sure to let the editors know if a song strongly belongs to a particular genre, as rock, EDM, Dance, Latin playlists etc. are extremely popular, and may be key to algorithms selecting the track for further playlists.
So now that we’ve got an idea of where a song could appear, let’s look more closely into the nitty gritty, the super important details that could make all of the difference when it comes to your reach, visibility and streaming figures…
The Golden Rules!
Make your music available where people will be able to listen to it.
Sounds obvious, right? So it should, because unless you’re Jay-Z, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to convince a listener to jump ship to a different service, just to hear your music. So make sure that your music is distributed to all of the key services ahead of its release.
Metadata. Metadata. Metadata. Say it again!
This is one point that really can’t be emphasized enough. It’s of vital importance that you deliver your content with a complete and correct set of metadata. Just imagine, you’re sitting in your living room, coffee freshly made, feet up, chill-out playlist drifting out through your speakers. Jack Johnson (for example…) is lulling you to peace with a delicate guitar tune, and then… all of a sudden… David Guetta’s pumping Euro anthem starts blasting out! No. This isn’t what’s supposed to happen.
Lucky for you, this probably won’t happen as Guetta’s team will be pretty switched on when it comes to metadata. But the point is, if you don’t list your track correctly, then the algorithms that we discussed earlier won’t be able to service your track properly. So make sure to be clear and precise about genre, so that Spotify’s ‘Daily Mix’ algorithm, for example, can find your content.
If a song contains explicit content, make sure to mention that. Tag featured artists properly so that the song appears on all of the correct artist profiles, and add songwriter and composer credits where you can. Do it once, do it properly, and then you probably won’t have to worry about it ever again.
Early songbird catches the worm
Streaming services have ingestion processes to go through, so if you want your song to arrive online with no problems, make sure to deliver your content in plenty of time. A big benefit of doing this is the conversation that you’ll then be able to hold with the service in question on subjects such as playlisting, in-service and social media promotion.
Analyse your analytics
One of the great benefits of having your music on streaming services is the audience information that you can access as a result. As we’ve already discussed, due to the amount of content available on services, unless you’re proactively pushing your music, it’s unlikely that you’ll see any unexpected spikes in traffic.
Sometimes however, your wider release strategy can impact these numbers – increased radio play, or a TV feature can lead to an lift in searches for your music, for example. So, if you’re on top of your analytics, you’ll be able to recognize and respond to any increase in attention, and to seek out playlisting support or features from the services that you’re working with to make the music as visible as possible when and where it counts the most.
Got a nice new press shot? Add it to your streaming profile page! Developed a concept playlist featuring your favourite Brazilian hits from the 60s? Add it to your profile! Keep your profile active, up to date, and importantly, tidy. Your fans will want the latest information first, so keep an eye to make sure that new music is visible, and that all content is appearing as it should.
Help Is At Hand – Aggregators and Digital Distributors
Whether you’re an individual artist or a label, if you want to make streaming an effective part of your release strategy, then it’s going to take effort. If you don’t have the time, or don’t know what you’re doing (even after reading this handy article) then fear not, as there are some fantastic companies around that specialize in digital distribution and optimization.
A few things to consider when selecting a distribution partner:
Platforms – Basic but important, does the distributor work with each of the services that you’re targeting?
Fees – How much, and how will you be charged for using their services? Is it a flat-fee, or a percentage kind of scenario? Which works best for you?
Promotion – How much effort does the service invest into promoting content? Have they had similar success to that which you’re seeking with other artists on their roster?
Good partners will have great relationships with streaming services already, as well as an in depth knowledge of the opportunities available through each service, so will often be able to help you to make your music as accessible as possible. To name just a few of the specialist services dealing in this field: Phonofile, The Orchard, InGrooves, Believe Digital.
So there we have it – we’ve looked into the key players (carry on reading for more details on each of the services), the best ways to approach editors, services that can assist you in delivering your content, and some best practices to bear in mind to maximize your tracks’ potential.
A final thing to consider, is that the world of streaming is constantly evolving and so it’s important to keep an eye on what’s changing and how it will affect you and your music. So keep your content up to date, and be on the lookout for emerging services, new playlists and new platforms that you can engage with, to make sure that your music is being heard as far and wide as possible.
Facts and Figures: More Info on the Key Streaming Services
When it comes to total users – premium and freemium (free listening interspersed with adverts)– then Spotify continues to dominate the market, as it has done since its launch back in 2008. Actively available in more than 60 territories, the service distributes around $5 billion to rights holders each year, offering a catalogue of 30 million songs and more than 2 billion editorially and user generated playlists.
Apple Music has stepped up as a serious contender, releasing figures earlier this year to show a significant increase in their active user database since their launch in 2015. Bearing in mind that Apple Music don’t offer a freemium model (although you can access their Beats1 Radio service for free through iTunes), 27 million paying subscribers is a pretty impressive number to have reached in 24 months, and shows that they’re making considerable strides in converting their existing iTunes customers to users of the platform’s streaming/radio led services.
Available in more than 180 countries, and with 16 million monthly active users, Deezer is the most widely available streaming service out there, offering both a premium and freemium model. Founded in Paris in 2007, Deezer remains a dominant force within the territory, with a significant worldwide footprint and one of the largest catalogue offerings out there (43 + million tracks).
Amazon Prime’s music service currently reaches around 16 million people through both its Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime Music platforms. A significant increase is expected in the near future, as the platform taps into their huge database of Amazon registered users and rolls out their ‘Unlimited’ service to further territories (currently available in the US, UK, Germany and Austria). Amazon offer their Unlimited music service to Amazon Echo and Echo Dot users for just £3.99 a month, which is significantly lower than the standard £9.99/€9.99 rate typically charged by competing services.
Tidal is famously known to be “Jay-Z’s streaming service”, having been acquired by the artist and partners in 2015. The Tidal platform was built from the bones of the Norwegian service formerly known as WiMP, and is currently available in more than 50 countries offering a Premium and HiFi (lossless audio quality) model to a reported 3 million global users. Tidal has had a particularly content driven approach to acquiring new users, by making music from the likes of Kanye West available exclusively on the platform.
Finally, there’s Soundcloud, a streaming service beloved by emerging artists, and one that has been gathering a lot of headlines in 2017 due to suffering severe financial difficulties. A free-to-use streaming platform founded in Sweden in 2007, Soundcloud reaches 175 million people globally each month, and holds a catalogue of 125 million songs. It’s the preferred service of unsigned artists (which explains the huge catalogue size), reaching popularity through its open upload policy – the same policy that has led the service into troubled talks with labels when trying to construct a viable financial model for monetising its available content. As a result, Soundcloud has struggled throughout 2017 and was widely reported to have lost 40% of its workforce earlier in the year. Strong investment and a new CEO are now in place however, thanks to survival talks held in August, meaning that the platform’s catalogue and user base remain intact, for now.