Playlists grow ever more important as a way of presenting and finding new music. We took a look at the practices surrounding playlists from the perspective of both the artists and the curator, and the most important finding seems to be that in addition to knowing your goals and what you’re doing, you will need to have a great understanding of the playlist audience in order to get your song featured.
Last year, we talked to Mona Fimreite from Norway’s Phonofile about playlists and how artists can use them to promote their music. The full interview can be found here.
In that article we looked at playlists from the artist’s point-of-view, trying to figure out how artists benefit from playlist placements and how to approach the tastemakers and curating teams managing them. Mona recommended keeping close track of where you’re being added (if you are) and to investigate who the curator teams behind the playlists are.
So keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at one of those playlist tastemakers you’ll need to charm in order to get your song on a playlist. The Guardian shadowed Deezer editor and tastemaker Sam Lee for one day. Sam’s job is to maintain, manage and find new music for the playlists on Deezer’s services, and a lot of his time is spent on finding the right songs to put in the right place. You can find the full interview here.
Sam paints a picture of a very competitive playlist culture, where every song and placement is evaluated through data provided by the services. The editors can see exactly when songs don’t work, are skipped, or when people stop listening to the playlist completely. Deezer is not only competing with other streaming services, but there’s also in-house competition, with editors keeping track of their playlists’ performance in relation to the other playlists on the service.
Sam says a lot of his time is dedicated to not only finding the right song, but also finding the right spot for it in the playlists. The tracks are pitched by major and indie labels, but to an extent also by independent distributors.
“Now, we do see labels coming to us and pitching for specific playlists. I’ll sometimes end up in conversations where I say ‘actually, I don’t think it’s acoustic afternoon, it’s more fireside evening,“ says Lee.
“But I’ve got no qualms about saying to them ‘no, this track doesn’t work’. This isn’t about me and what I like, it’s about understanding our audience – who they are and what they want – and serving them the music that they’ll love through my own filter.”
It’s not only the audience and tastemakers ultimately deciding if a song gets featured. The artist is a resource for the streaming service, and the service needs something in return:
“… the conversation focuses on marketing activity around the releases, as well as what the artists might be able to do for Deezer.
This, it turns out, is a growing part of the music marketing machine. Where artists would once have focused purely on print, TV and radio interviews, they’re now also setting time aside to work with streaming services: from live sessions and video interviews to creating their own playlists with audio commentary or taking over the streaming service’s Twitter account for a day.”
So what can we learn from this? Long-term relationships are needed in order to really get in a dialogue with curators, but fortunately that can usually be done through a label or distributor, even if it’s not a major one. You also need to think about what you and your music will contribute to the audience of the playlist host. Do you fit on the playlist where people listen to a certain type of music? Will the users keep listening? Will they look up more of your music on the service? Is there anything more you can do?