At AWAL we help independent creators tell their stories. A huge part of this storytelling involves growing an audience as that’s how the music has an impact. Whether we’re looking at newer projects like the awesome, London-based singer Carrie Baxter or a global star like Dayglow their journeys include editorial support from various partners at stores, radio stations, blogs, and so on.
The part in the journey when you get the first bit of editorial support is often the first chance you really get to share the music with a wider audience. In the same way, a well-placed synch can help accelerate a career so does the right playlist. That means they are always going to be part of the picture when growing a fan base.
We caught up with Sam Potts who heads up the Global Commercial Partnerships team in the UK for AWAL. His team works closely with all the major music platforms. They are involved in everything, from locking in those all-important first playlists for projects right the way up to the intricate partnerships needed to power a globally resonant project like Little Simz’ “Sometimes I might Be Introvert” album, We took time to ask all the burning questions we hear and left plenty of space for him to answer questions we didn’t think to ask.
If you'd prefer this in video form head here. If not...
1/ Can new artists get on a playlist?
Yes, a new artist can get on a playlist. But when that playlist comes, differs between many different artists. I've seen an artist with no profile, release their first track, and it goes straight on a playlist or two. And sometimes for other artists, it takes a little bit longer.
It's important to remember that while playlists are important on the streaming platforms, they are just one part of what DSPs can offer new artists.
If you're waking up in the morning, and the first thing on your mind is, am I going to get a playlist? you're thinking about the wrong thing. It's an important part of the puzzle but getting a playlist is not a strategy in itself.
Working with the partners; making sure that pitching information is in on time, metadata is accurate, Asset Delivery is punctual are just as important as getting those playlists.
2/ When is the best time to pitch a release?
Timing is key when pitching releases. Editors and Streaming Platforms receive a lot of music on a day-to-day basis. So the longer and the bigger the build-up, the more time you can put between getting the information, the assets, the metadata, everything in before you release, the better. At AWAL we tend to work more or less three or four weeks out from release is what we found perfect. Giving the DSPS time to listen to your music to work out where to put it to decide whether they like it is really important, and making sure that they've got everything they need to make those decisions.
3/ What is the best release strategy for streaming platforms? Should we be thinking about releasing individual tracks or albums?
The release strategy will vary depending on what kind of artist you are, and where you are in your career. It may be that a single or a couple of singles going into an EP is the right thing for you. Or maybe it's multiple EPs working into an album, perhaps you're a singles artist, and you just want to put out individual tracks. The most important thing to think about as an artist, especially working with DSPs is consistency.
I recommend, if you have a track ready, to know exactly what's gonna come after it. Services enjoy and work best for artists when there is a consistent release schedule.
So, you have a track gaining momentum both on the platform and off-platform… you want to make sure that you have a track lined up and ready to capitalize on that momentum and keep it going.
4/ Does it matter what time of year we're releasing as far as playlisting goes?
No. The only time throughout the whole year when it gets quieter and when the playlists aren't refreshed as much is around Christmas and New Year. Other than that you should think more about your release schedule in terms of what is going on in your campaign. What are those moments off-platform that makes sense to align with. For example, you may have a key festival appearance, a press feature running, a support tour kicking off etc. Putting out the release around those things is a better strategy than the alternative - putting your finger in an air.
5/ What has been the impact of Spotify playlist submission tool? (5:08)
It is an incredible tool, in terms of being able to organize the amount of releases and information that is going into Spotify. We've seen that the tool enables a much wider group of artists to be heard and considered at Spotify. The great thing about that tool as well is that it allows you to make sure that the information is in there in a timely manner, and is the most efficient way of having editors around the world, listen and consider your music.
Some advice on filling in the Spotify Playlist Submission Tool; make sure you're being honest. Make sure that the information is correct and fits you as an artist. Make sure it's filled in on time. Anything less than seven days ahead of the release date will mean that your music will not feature in algorithmic playlists, such as release radar, Discover Weekly (it will be featured on weeks 2,3,4 after release). Getting in that first release week is, important. So be thinking about filling in that Spotify pitching form at least a week ahead.
When it comes to adding more qualitative information and description really think about how you're going to use that valuable real estate? What is the language that is going to hook an editor in, assuming they maybe know nothing about you? Also, don't include Spotify data - Spotify editors, DSP, contacts, people within Spotify are always going to know more information about your Spotify data than you. Think about how to convey a message or a description about you as an artist and the world you're creating around yourself in a concise. And that might be a storytelling element. It may be a lyric, it may be, you know something, what, what's the thing that defines you as an artist? What's the thing that makes you distinctive, if you're a little bit further along in your campaign, and you've got lots of off-platform, things to talk about, (for example, radio, press quotes, you know, live dates) those things are really useful as well.
6/ How many streams do we need before we could be getting playlisting? 8:00
There isn’t a minimum amount of streams in terms of getting playlisting. I have seen artists receive editorial support on their first release. That doesn't always happen. And I would also be clear to say that it is often down to the music. The music is your strongest calling card and you need to be confident in that music. Ultimately, editors are curating playlists with the intention of keeping their audience engaged as long as possible. That means that they are looking at tracks that fit that particular playlist. You want to be giving them as much opportunity to pick that track up as possible. Therefore getting the right information, the pitch, the assets delivered early is really important.
7/ So to what extent do we need to have things like radio or sync or blog pieces on us in order to get playlisting support? (9:20)
I think off-platform things like you mentioned; blogs, radio, video plays are all really important in communicating demand for an artist or communicating an audience off-platform. That is important, especially when you're trying to increase or drive momentum or drive excitement. That said it's not absolutely essential, as I said before, To give you an example, of an artist We recently worked with, he doesn't have a profile at all on streaming services. He has, however, built up a good collection of content on Tik Tok, and has somewhat created a world around himself and his art through using that one platform. And that platform has been very effective. It's sort of a showing what kind of artists he's about how he wants to position himself ahead of putting music on streaming services. And I think that has been very effective for him.
It may be that your channel is Instagram, it may be that your channel is Tik Tok, it may be that you have a fantastic website. Whatever it is, just make sure that it communicates who you are as an artist in a very clear way.
8/ How important is new music Friday, new music daily, and other playlists like that? (10:52 )
They're important because they show that the editorial team on the platform has talked about your record internally, and has deemed it strong enough to be included. A lot of the industry looks at that list.
However, New Music Friday, is not the most important thing. It is an important part of a wider strategy when dealing with playlists. But it's not the be-all and end-all.
Often. We see artists that don't get included in New Music daily or new music Friday, for example, but also do go on to get really good genre playlisting thereafter. Similarly on playlists, like playlists, like fresh finds, for example. These playlists are not only there for very, very early on artists that are very early on in their career, but they're also slightly informed by off-platform things like blogs, discussions, blog mentions. So there are plenty of avenues into streaming services. And in turn in terms of editorial playlists that don't include music Friday, new music daily.
9/ How did the streaming platform algorithms work? (12:15)
Yeah, pre saves is a really interesting strategy that I think we're seeing another sort of resurgence of recently. They're really important, because algorithmically, the services I think, favor engaged streams and engagement from the audience and from listeners. And that means the difference between an engaged stream and lead back stream is an engaged stream is a listener who's come onto a platform and played from the artist page or paid from the track page or, you know, made a proactive choice to stream that record, rather than a lean-back stream, which is a stream that's been put, listened to within the context of an editorial playlist or, for example, a radio feature. And what the engaged streams tell the streaming services is that there is an audience a, there is an audience and there is a fan base, and there is a listenership out there that are searching out the music. And that encourages them often to give those artists more support. But also it triggers the algorithm to another thing internally at streaming services is what were what we could call a save. And save is another indication that a listener loves a record or wants to engage with a particular track, saving it to their library. That is another thing that can favor a B fit very favorable to the algorithm.
10/ Are there tools that independent artists can use to help build an audience on streaming platforms? (13:57)
I think there is one particular tool that we're using a lot of AWAL at the moment, and it's called feature FM. It's a tool in which you can create a pivot link to put on all your social channels on a website. Wherever you are engaging with your fan base online and that link is clicked, it will take the fan to a page where they can then go into their preferred services.
It also has a data capture option as well. You can therefore acquire an email address or acquire a follow on Spotify, for example. And all of those things are really important and can be very effective in building an audience from streaming services.
Using time, energy, and resources to drive followers is a very effective return on investment. The lifetime value of a follow on the Spotify platform is huge and therefore worth doing and putting time and effort into it. And then that is an audience that will hopefully be showing up for you every time you put a record out and can be finding your new music on release radar in the light of Discover Weekly.
When it comes to an email address, it is probably one of the most valuable things you can acquire. As an up-and-coming new artist, that email address allows you to have a direct relationship with your fan, you can then leverage monetize that in however way you see fit. That could be a merch play, it could be selling live tickets, it could be notifying them about a new release. That email address is worth a lot.
11/ Should I use playlists promotion platforms? (16:00)
It's fair to say this is a slightly gray area. If you come across one of these companies, and it seems too good to be true, it probably is. What I would advise really is is to join a company like AWAL. and have them pitch your music for you and deal with the streaming services. On the playlist pitching companies - there are a few of them out there. They're not called playlist pitching companies, they’re usually marketing agencies, of which that is part of their service. Be careful - If it feels like it's pay to play, then I would be very, very cautious about moving ahead with that company.
12/ Is it useful to optimize your artists page on these various streaming platforms? (16:51)
It is useful to optimize your artist page on streaming platforms. One of the first things it does is shows the partner itself that you are a user of the platform that you care about the platform and you're interested in making that artist profile page as best as possible for the fan. Make sure that the picture, the description, everything on it fits your overall release strategy. I've always been a fan of a coherent theme in a coherent design spec across all your platforms and pages is really, really helpful in building a world around your music. But also, you know, things like Spotify, for example, you can do an artist playlist, which is another way of showing your fans, your audience, but also the people at Spotify, what kind of music you're into what kind of artists you resonate with, or you potentially references influences. It also allows you to sort of building your brand a little bit too. And you know, putting your own music in those playlists, and then promoting those playlists is also another good way of driving streams of your own music.
13/ So do you recommend artists make their own playlists? (18:09)
I do recommend artists make their own playlists. I think they're a really useful tool to demonstrate the musical taste of other artists that potentially you reference in terms of your influences. They are a fantastic way of engaging more fans and giving them an excuse to come stream your music or find out more about you. So yes.
14/ Is SoundCloud different to other DSPs? (18:39)
Yes. I think it's best to view SoundCloud more as a social network in many respects. It's a DSP and a partner that you really get out what you put in. It's not a service that is primarily driven by playlists, or editorial playlists, for that matter, I would say it was it's a service and a partner that is optimized when you engage with it on a regular basis.
Make sure that your profile is constantly engaged with that you're sharing new music, you're commenting on others' music, you're potentially commenting on fan comments. It's a great place to also put up ideas. You know, often we see artists on SoundCloud, just, you know, put up clips, you know, things that perhaps you wouldn't necessarily deem as finished. It's that kind of platform.
Also make sure that as an artist, you're following other artists that you want to be associated with. That's another way of people allowing, you know, allowing discovery. But yes, very useful, I think for building an audience at the very inception of a career.
15/ What is the AWAL newsletter? (20:02)
The AWAL newsletter is an email mailer that we send out to our preferred list of DSP contacts around the world. It features AWALs releases for that week. And we see very high open rates with it. It goes very far and wide all around the world to a multitude of DSP partners, and it's a hugely effective tool in communicating what's out on AWAL each week.
Do you pitch to all territories? (20:38)
We do pitch to all territories. However, when it comes to artists that are in the very early stages of their career, we tend to focus on the home territory, as do the DSPS. It's very important to build an established audience and fans and engagement in your home territory. And then usually this is a precursor to going international a little bit further down the line when you potentially built up a bit more momentum in your campaigns.
16/ Is it worth artists reaching out to independent playlists curators? (21:14)
Absolutely, there are a lot of independent playlist curators out there. And often the most effective way of communicating with them is with the artist reaching out directly. And also, some of them have their own playlists submission tools as well. They're relatively easy to find - they're on their websites, usually. A lot of these curators and these platforms are, there to help independent artists at the early stages of their careers. So absolutely, I would recommend reaching out directly.
Why is it hard to re-pitch a single? (21:54)
Well, I think the answer to that question really is on the first part of a release, There is a lot of music being uploaded to streaming services every week, and therefore what happens is the services tend to listen and go through new music on a week by week basis. It tends to be in the first couple of weeks where most of the decisions are made. Therefore getting your release ready, making sure the pitch information is there, on week one, week two, week three of release is the most important thing. Obviously, as weeks pass releases go on and we can of course Update Services of what's happening but really you want to make sure that in those first couple of weeks, you are absolutely ready for the release to have as much success as possible.