“Playlist Pitching” and Spotify: This is strange territory

Getting a song on the radio is still very important to labels, artists, and managers. Every week, label reps drop in to see program directors and music directors with new songs/albums/artists on their priority list. They come armed with stats and stories, hoping to convince the radio station to add these songs to the playlist for regular rotation.

In the olden days (and this is still a major issue in the US), money, gifts, and favours (travel, hookers, blow) would change hands in exchange for airplay, an illegal practice known as payola. (Side note: In almost 40 years in the business in Canada, including more than two decades as a music director, program director and consultant at some very powerful radio stations, I have never–NOT ONCE–been offered anything like this. Payola is not really a Canadian problem–at least in my experience.)

Now that we have streaming, there’s plenty of pitching that goes on to companies like Spotify. Artists, managers, and labels know that if they can get a song on one of Spotify’s in-house-managed playlists–and there are more than 4500 of them–the song has a chance of taking.

For example, Rap Caviar has millions of subscribers who depend on its recommendations for their supply of new and cool music. Get your song included on that list and your career could blow up.

So how, exactly, are songs pitched to Spotify playlist curators? Fortune has this story.

The stories about Spotify seemed to come in a wave last year. “The Secret Hit-Making Power of the Spotify Playlist,” reads a May 2017 Wired report. “’They could destroy the album,’” The Guardian wrote of the streaming service in August. A month later followed a Vulture profile of the most influential Spotify playlist of all: Rap Caviar. The piece’s headline: “How a Hit Happens Now.”

In other words, streaming killed the radio star. It’s no longer a secret how important Spotify playlists can be to an up-and-coming recording artist, but the means for which an artist can get a song’s placement on those playlists remains a bit murkier. The traditional route: Promote on social media. Tour as much as possible. Sell merchandise. Maybe even hire a publicist. Anything to generate buzz and consideration on a playlist like Rap Caviar, which boasts nearly 10 million listeners and can add hundreds of thousands of streams to an artist’s song.

But all of that can take time. If you have money, a new crop of companies will offer a shortcut.

Ah. Time to follow the money.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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