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The Compilation: From an Artist’s Perspective

recordsI got a call recently from a fellow songwriter, who is based out of Arizona. He was asking for my advice about hiring a PR person for his upcoming album release. It’s his 4th album, and he wanted to do it right this time and plan ahead. He mentioned a PR agency I’d heard of here in NY. They seemed to have an okay reputation, but they wanted to charge him $3,500 a month. (!) It was a hefty price tag for an artist who, despite having great music, is still not well-known enough to compete with Ryan Adams in the eyes of the press or the general public. I ended up talking him out of it and recommending some other more affordable options.

My songwriter friend is not a novice, nor is his situation unique. Like many lesser-known artists, he’s not backed by anything except his own hard work. He’s not behind the times, he’s just doesn’t live in a major metropolitan area. He’s also one of many talented artists I know just like him: trying to figure out how to keep making music, and moreover, to get people to hear it.

The point here is not to depress anybody, but to present yet another way for my friend here, and artists everywhere, to be heard: the resurgence of the COMPILATION, brought back into our lives as the modern mixtape.

The point of a physical music compilation in the record store days was for labels to introduce their new artists. Sometimes these compilations waited like hidden jewels in music store bargain bins, or got mailed out with magazine subscriptions. They presented a grab-bag full of new ear morsels for us music nerds everywhere to cut and paste and put on our own mixtapes for friends. It was a point of pride to come up with a band nobody had ever heard of before, especially in my hometown of Oklahoma City. To us Midwestern kids, unknown bands were like exotic rare birds that had flown in from the land of cool to save us from hearing Garth Brooks all day, every day.

But now the choices are so vast, there are so many SoundCloud and Bandcamp artist profiles, that as both listeners and artists, the thrill has changed. Word of mouth is not merely helpful, but we rely on it. We need the tastemakers and the music journalists to filter the choices for us, otherwise it’s too overwhelming. Long gone are the days where we listened to THE RADIO to determine what’s good for us. The phrase “alternative music” came about because people wanted an alternative to the mainstream Top 40 programming. Now we almost have too many alternatives to the mainstream, a lot of which have been lumped into one big unclear channel called “indie.” And so the question remains, how do smaller artists get their music heard?

Unlike an expensive PR budget, having a song on a compilation does not cost the artist $1,000-$3,500 a month. Nor does it have an expiration date of a typical 3 month PR campaign. It’s the new breed of mixtape, but the sky is the limit with how many ears it can reach. A well-curated compilation album also has more weight to it than a simple streaming playlist, yet it has all the equal benefits when it can be transferred onto a streaming service. So for someone more under the radar, finding ears to hear your music is no longer limited to who has heard of you and feels like buying your album. If you’re on a compilation with 20 other artists, the fans of those artists will be introduced to you, and the snowball effect occurs… without paying an additional dollar for publicity.

… Continue Reading

The Rise of Streaming, Impact on Artists & Labels, and How to Adapt

cloud-musicUnless you don’t work in the music business or you were on Mars for the past year, you’ve heard about it: streaming is on the rise, but unlike downloads which were more or less a transcription of the physical world into digital, streaming introduces totally different paradigms. Let’s have a look at them and their impacts on artists and labels.

Download & Physical = Ownership Model / Streaming = Access Model

When you buy a physical or digital copy of an album, you buy it at a specific price and only one time. Then depending on how much you like the album you bought, you listen to it 2 times or 1000 times. With streaming, you no longer buy an album, but each of your listens (of more than 30s) generates royalties for artists and labels, and these royalties are paid either by advertising if you are on an ad supported model (YouTube, Spotify Freemium, etc.), or by a monthly subscription if you have subscribed to a service.

So in the physical/download world, the main lever is to get more buyers. In the streaming world, while you also want more people to listen to your music, you’re hoping these people listen to your music more often, too.

We all remember the 90’s, when we discovered a really good song on the radio, bought the album without having listened to it and the only worthwhile song from the 8 or 12 tracks was that radio single. In the streaming era, this shouldn’t happen anymore: because you have access to whatever music you want, unless you are dedicated masochist you will theoretically only listen to the music you love. That’s a big difference: even if a hit single can always help build awareness, each of your songs has too be good enough to be listened to repeatedly.

The second big change is you can release songs in the format you want and when you want. You no longer need to have a full album of minimum 30-40 minutes ready; each time you have a new song, you can — and should — put it “live” and build awareness around it.

This strategy makes even more sense for new and developing bands, as they can start to drive revenue with their first songs. Indeed, unlike download and physical revenues, where you see a big peak around release date (X buyers x $10), in the streaming era, even if you can still observe a peak around release due to curiosity/promotion, you should continue to observe pretty decent and regular streams over time (1+1+1+1).

In the download/physical world, release is the end of the process. For streaming, it’s just the beginning. As an artist or label, this translates into quite a big change in your cash flow, especially if you are used to getting substantial physical pre-orders. With streaming, you will need more time to recoup your initial investments, BUT revenues will last longer, and as such, streaming adds value to catalogs on the whole.

To capitalize on this, it’s a good idea to release new songs immediately, followed by remixes and B-sides so you can continuously build your catalog and as such, your revenue long-term.

Playlists and Socials: Sharing Is the New Promo

When speaking of promo, I always picture this: before the Internet, choices came from the top and as a consumer you could only choose between what labels, radio stations, TV stations and stores had selected for you. Now, with both Internet and the growth of streaming, choices are increasingly coming from the bottom — from the fans, through viral sharing, on socials… Of course, you still need people to love and pick your music to bring it to others, and the bigger/more influentials that “dude” is, the better it is for your music; but you don’t necessarily need to wait for the “Big Dude” of the Music Biz anymore. Everyone and anyone can help you spread your music by posting it on Facebook, Twitter, and adding it to their playlists. And who knows, perhaps at the end of the day, the “Big Dude” will listen to your music and like it, too.

One tip on sharing: be emphatic. Think about what you would like to see on socials from your favorite artists and labels, and don’t hesitate to highlight other artists — known or unknown — you like and “tag” them. Perhaps they will also love what you do and return the favor.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with this: Always be sincere and never abandon the music you like to try to please more people. If it’s honest, you’ll find your fan base and it will be more loyal and dedicated for it. Now, welcome to a world of profusion and to the Sharing Economy!

Convert Promos to Monetized Streams

SpotifyEmbed_QMagazineMonetized streaming is becoming a more and more important source of revenue for our artists and labels. It’s often presented as a new world of doing things (which is true), but this does not mean abandoning all the old principles of a music release, rather modifying and melding the two to work together.

Many recent UK chart single successes were streaming for weeks before they hit their ‘impact date’ and achieved a Top 10 status (streams were recently integrated in the UK Singles Chart). Streams were built up as radio and promo were going on, and 11 of the 14 singles on BBC Radio 1 A List are currently available on paid streaming services. Though we may not all have the resources to achieve a No. 1 or even the desire, the principle remains the same: make sure your retail strategy directly takes advantage of a music release’s traditional tools — in this case, press and radio.

Here are some examples:

When you take a single to radio, make it available to stream, too. While non-monetized streaming services are great, make sure you fans are able to listen to it on a monetized stream as well –this will actually put some cash directly in your pocket.

When premiering a track or video on an editorial site, again, make it available on a streaming service that pays out, and suggest getting the site to embed a link from a monetized streaming service as part of the premiere.

Spotify recently announced 10 million paying subscribers; Deezer is at 5 million — and that’s not including freemium users for either. Arguments against accessibility are becoming weaker and weaker. Don’t be afraid of asking your publicist to push for an embedded playlist from a monetized streaming service, rather than just a free streaming platform. It’s becoming increasingly common for editorial sites to accommodate this, and in the past few months, we’ve seen them on premieres from The Guardian, Q, Drowned in Sound, Clash, and Rock Sound among many others. The BBC has even integrated them into their BBC Playlister.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 10.48.12Take a gander over to Pitchfork, where there are Spotify embeds next to most album reviews. See the giant spike in the graph on the right? This was recorded on a Wednesday, two days after the release of the album, which coincided with it receiving Best New Music from Pitchfork. You guessed it, next to the glowing review was a Spotify embed. This demonstrates the powerful effect that directly joining your press with a retailer promo can have on your final numbers.

In addition to new strategies like embeds from streaming services, platforms like Shazam make the connection between hearing something and connecting it to a retailer quicker and simpler. We’re no longer in a situation where you have to wait a month to find that great track you heard at midnight on John Peel’s radio station and purchase it. Take advantage of these new opportunities and find ways to connect your press and promotions with streaming services and tools that will help you monetize your music faster.

Bonus: If you’ve got a WordPress-based site, you only need to copy and paste the HTTP link to include a Spotify embed. Case in point: find below a New Electronic playlist we recently set up in the UK, featuring music from Hyperdub, Caribou and araabMuzik. Enjoy!

Spotify The Easy Way: 6 Steps to Streaming Success

Spotify New Official LogoStreaming is continuing to grow, and having worked closely with Spotify over the past few years, we feel that all independent artists and labels should strengthen their presence on the service.

To help, we’ve compiled these 6 super easy action items we’re confident will make a difference. Try them out!

1. “On Air, On Spotify”

If your music is “On Air” — meaning on the radio, on YouTube, SoundCloud, or anywhere online — it should be available to stream on Spotify. This way, you’re both monetizing your music and encouraging playlist adds and profile follows for continued listening.

2. Verify Your Profiles

By verifying your profile — artist or label — similarly to Twitter, you are giving your artist the ability to directly communicate with fans, and be highlighted with Spotify’s check of approval. These profiles not only show off an artist’s discography but also house tour dates, merchandise, biography, photos, and allow you to toggle over to view your playlists on your user profile. Your verified profile is a way to communicate with your fans within Spotify through the Spotify Social and Discover feeds, and in-­client messaging. Every time a new piece of content is released ­(new single, EP, album), your fans get a push notification, and every time you add tracks to your playlist, all followers of that playlist will get notified.

It’s simple to request a verified profile — just contact your client rep.

3. Tell Your Fans That You Are On Spotify and Grow Your Followers

Think of Spotify as a social network that allows you to monetize your own content in a creative, promotional way. On Spotify, you can gain a follower base, which in turn becomes a promotional channel­ — these Spotify followers receive notifications about updates to your content and your listening habits. Sharing your Spotify profile across your artist properties and socials will drive fans to follow you on Spotify, and allow you to engage in conversations with your fans.

Here are some practical ways to grow your Spotify followers:

  • Follow artists you like to help your fans discover the music you’re listening to
  • Create and share your playlists
  • Share across external social networks. Encourage conversation when sharing: ask fans what tracks they’re into
  • Share single tracks and albums you’re listening to and asks fans what playlists you should follow
  • Add Spotify links to YouTube and other video descriptions
  • Add the Spotify Follow Button to your website ­– putting this button on your website allows fans to follow you in an easy single click without leaving your website.

4. Playlisting

Similar to how a DJ would curate a mix for a radio station or club, streaming services use playlists as an easy way to share tracks and promote discovery.

Keep these in mind when creating your playlists:

  • Ensure your account is never empty, and that you have at ­least 1­2 public playlists available.
  • Focus on one playlist –­ choose one to maintain, and add to consistently.
  • Update regularly –­ Adding tracks on a regular basis is key. The more frequent the adds and the bigger the playlist, the better. Each time you update your playlist, it will appear in fans’ Discover feeds, and followers of the playlist will be notified.
  • Share it. Actively clicking “share” ensures you reach your fans. You’ll find the “share” button towards the top of each page, or right click (cmd+click on Mac) any title to copy and paste the link to be shared across other social platforms.
  • Share with messages: Include text when you share to help your story stand out.
  • Listen to music from your Spotify account. You’ll appear in the live ticker feed (on the right side of the Spotify client), and you’ll generate stories through Discover.
  • Add themed playlists. Once you’ve grown one playlist, add more niche, smaller playlists around certain events or themes.

5. Spotify Play Button

Spotify provides a quick and easy embeddable code that you can put on your website so that your fans can listen to your playlists and discography. By putting this Spotify Play Button on your website or Tumblr, your fans can listen to your music while continuing to engage with your site.

  • It’s easy to get the Play Button: just right click on the playlist, track or album on Spotify and select “Copy Embed Code.” This copies the link to your clipboard.
  • Paste the code into into your website and the Spotify Play Button will show up on your site.

6. Metrics

Next Big Sound provides free up-to-date analytics for your artists. When you log in, you can see your growth in followers, streaming data, and the effects of your social media campaigns. You can see how doing all of these best practices grows your streams and revenue.

  • Apply to see your Spotify data here.
  • Read this overview for a full breakdown of how to use Next Big Sound.

*For a full description of Spotify Best Practices ­ visit the Spotify Artists Hub.

Sit Back, Relax & Enjoy the Show: YouTube Playlists

February 28, 2014 Featured News, YouTube No Comments

man-watching-tvWhile it will likely be some time before tons of people are watching YouTube on internet-connected TVs, more and more people are turning to the popular video platform to watch full length movies, documentaries and other pieces of long form content on their computers, mobile devices and tablets. The reason? Many people crave the same experience they get with traditional TV — the ability to flip it on, sit back and watch for an extended period of time without having to do much else (other than make some popcorn!). How can you tap into your viewers’ desires for a lean back experience? Create and update playlists on your channel!

As we discussed previously, YouTube has placed a larger emphasis on watch time and audience retention. The search and recommendation algorithms both reward videos and channels with higher watch time, and watch time also has an impact on ad CPMs, which can be affected by a number of factors. Playlists are a great way of extending viewing sessions and increasing your watch time. Pro tip: when promoting a video on your channel, always link to the video within a playlist. Odds are the viewer will stick around to watch more than one video.

Be sure to get creative with your playlists. Artist-specific playlists are great, but go above and beyond! Create them around sub-genres, creative themes and tentpole events. And don’t limit playlists to only videos on your channel. Use videos from other channels, too: fan videos, in-studio performances, live footage, etc. Playlists are also a great way of leveraging popular content on your channel (or someone else’s) to help drive views to your newer or less frequently viewed videos.

Be sure to update your playlists regularly and rotate them on your channel. They’re also a great way to keep your channel fresh and active, even if you’re not uploading new videos. It’s worth incorporating a playlist strategy into your YouTube planning and getting your viewers to watch for longer!

Having trouble with thinking of new content for your YouTube channel?  Check out our post on Solving YouTube Writer’s Block!

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