Musical Artist Questions for the “DSP”’s (aka Streaming Music Services)

Music Business Association’s Annual Artist Workshops begin Sunday 5/5 at the MusicBiz 2019 Conference. But many of these music services seem to be lacking “artist services” for the independents — and we have questions about that.

To jump to the specific questions list and skip the backgrounder, click here.

After attending these same panels at the conference in 2018, I wrote about how difficult it can be to manage an artist presence on multiple streaming services. I produce music with my group Funk Style Quality aka FSQ and so I’m interacting quite a bit with these digital music platforms and their artist service offerings.

One of the major reasons for the headaches is independent artists are using a much more limited set of tools to manage these presences, versus the record labels, distributors and major artist management firms who have direct access into the platforms and much bigger arsenal of B2B tech to manage the artists digital music catalog.

Another primary reason is that independent artists have to learn the business rules and logic of each platform. I’m planning to map out such differences in matrix which is going to take some time considering the variance in artist service features across Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer, Tidal, Amazon Music, SoundCloud and the list continues.

What are some of the differences for artists on various streaming music services? It’s various stuff like: “on Spotify you manage your artist playlists by creating user playlists and then posting them on your artist profile.”. So how do you make a user playlist appear as if it’s really an artist playlist? This question I know the answer to: you change your Spotify user name to be exactly the same as your Spotify artist name. It’s not the best solution; it’s a work around.

Or how about YouTube: which presents your officially distributed music in a YouTube channel known as “Artist Name — Topic” ; yet this is a channel an artist can not control. And does any music fan really understand what “Artist Name — Topic” means? There should be some clarification for fans because it’s an important designation. It means the audio content is official, delivered by a music distributor and the metadata and cover art for your song is presented as it would on any other music service. Example:

Official audio for my music group FSQ appears on a YouTube channel called “FSQ — Topic” that we have no control over — it’s an auto generated YouTube channel made when an artist delivers music to YouTube via a distributor

But meanwhile you can ONLY get an “official artist channel” on YouTube if you “have 3 official music videos on YouTube delivered from a music distribution partner”.

But yet YouTube is both a music service AND video service so why can’t musical artists get artist tools by having either piece of content on the platform?

There are many more questions like this we have for the many digital music services. If you’re an artist and have a good record label and corresponding distributor in your corner, you can probably get in the places you want to be with the DSPs and skirt such questions, but there are still limitations with the business logic / rules.

In the following post, I look at which digital music services are presenting their artist focused offerings at MusicBiz 2019 Conference and align my questions with their sessions.

We should note that Pandora (and their offerings Pandora AMP / Next Big Sound) are not returning to MusicBiz this year to give overview of their various artist services. Tidal has not previously participated from what I remember, I could be wrong, but at least not last year. Deezer is not focusing on American artists its seems by skipping this too.

SoundCloud

For several years now, if not almost a decade, musicians could access SoundCloud Pro Unlimited, a subscription service for musicians looking to better promote and offer their music on the platform. Some would say why would you pay for the ability to better present and promote your music? Shouldn’t this be standard for artists on a streaming platform? Maybe. Honestly if Spotify for Artists started charging for access, I would pay for that. The Spotify for Artists platform is just too important to independent artists because of both the presentation aspects (designing your profile, add tour dates, artist imagery / bios, artist spotlight area) and for the detailed consumption and audience data.

My account for FSQ says I’ve been paying for this service since 2013. SoundCloud Pro Unlimited allows you to customize your artist page, have a “music spotlight” section to feature your best tracks, upload as much music as you want, and receive detailed analytics. It doesn’t feel like there are limitations in terms of how you’re able to present your music and interact with SoundCloud as an artist.

So my questions are few for SoundCloud — the platform has the right artist service features, a robust package of them that have been consistent and stable for years. When I say “stable” it’s pretty common for artist service platforms to switch their whole feature set in one single update. Recently Spotify for Artists that introduced a feature that allowed you to see how many were listening to your artist in real time — super cool! Yet this feature was also just recently removed. Meanwhile SoundCloud Pro Unlimited hasn’t been growing its feature set, but the core set of artist tools has remained steady on the platform.

Questions for SoundCloud at the MusicBiz DSP Day:

I am interested in what the best practices are for getting your music included in the “SoundCloud Go” music subscription service and tying that in with your artist account?

While the music made by my music group FSQ is spread across various record labels and distributors, I see not a FSQ single song delivered to “SoundCloud Go”. Our main record label, Soul Clap Records, offers our music on SoundCloud (free), and many media partners (Mixmag, DJMag, Vice, Discobelle) use SoundCloud to premiere our FSQ music. So we do have a pretty good catalog available on SoundCloud via those partners. But we signed up for SoundCloud Go+ and we see FSQ has no presence on it — but we aren’t sure why — it’s really likely a record label and distributor decision.

FSQ has no presence on SoundCloud Go+ but we aren’t sure why — it’s really likely a distributor decision

We also want to know about the size of the catalog of music on SoundCloud Go+ ??

Are longer tail artists like myself who have a lot of music on SoundCloud Free also making sure their music is available on SoundCloud GO+ ??

Or more specifically — what’s the percentage of SoundCloud Unlimited Pro users that also make sure their music is available on SoundCloud Go+ ??

Last question is to my earlier point — it seems like its been a long time since SoundCloud Unlimited Pro has delivered any new features. Does SoundCloud plan to further develop the platform ??


Amazon Prime Music f/k/a Amazon mp3

The now defunct Amazon Artist Central

At one point there was a website called https://artistcentral.amazon.com/ that allowed independent artists to take control of their artist page on the mp3 download store / streaming service known as Amazon Music.

With the launch of Amazon Prime Music — a streaming service that’s bundled with Amazon Prime — Amazon has killed the ability for artists to control their presence on Amazon Music.

So that’s the BIG and primary question for Amazon Prime Music at MusicBiz 2019: Where on their product development roadmap is the ability for independent artists to access their artist profile on Amazon Prime Music ??

Today here is our Amazon Prime Music artist profile for FSQ:

The Amazon Prime Music profile for FSQ does a good job at presenting the main catalog of FSQ but is lacking in some important areas

The Amazon Prime Music profile for FSQ does a good job at presenting the main catalog of FSQ but is lacking in some important areas. There is no artist photo, there is no ability to post a biography if you’re an independent artist on Amazon Prime Music. Those features are standard stuff for Spotify for Artists and really should be “don’t make me type all caps” — THE ABILITY TO PRESENT YOUR OWN CATALOG — WITH ARTIST PHOTO / LOGO AND BIO SHOULD BE STANDARD STUFF ON A DIGITAL MUSIC SERVICE.

Yet it looks like no biographies for any artists — large or small — on Amazon Prime Music which makes the service seem really light on user experience. Tier 1 popular artists at least get to have playlists on their page, and an artist photo known as a “hero image”.

Khalid’s Amazon Prime Music Page features a large artist image, but there are no bios anywhere on Amazon Prime Music!

So, when will artists be able to add their own hero artist image and add in bios on Amazon Prime Music ??

One more issue here: for producers like us, well, FSQ we produce many remixes for other artists. In this case we are listed as what’s known as “a featured artist” on the remix. This metadata field is important because it can be used to help fans discover your collaborations with other artists, and other production work. For instance, Spotify surfaces “featured artist” appearances by having an area on an artist profile page that says “Appears On”. The following is our FSQ artist profile “Appears On” section on our Spotify artist page featuring all of our collaborations and remix productions with other artists.

The Spotify “Appears On” areas on an artist profile allows fans to see a musician’s work with other artists

So the next question for Amazon is: how do you plan to handle “featured artist” content display on an artist profile ??


YouTube and YouTube Music (these are two different platforms!!)

I asked some questions earlier in this post about YouTube — the video platform — and how musical artists can present themselves, interact with the platform, and show off their music catalog.

Let me reiterate these, again, these are mainly pertinent to the YouTube VIDEO platform, which also carries officially licensed audio from music distributors. Confused yet? If you are comment here etc I’ll try to explain more, but I think most of you get it.

So the follow up questions for YouTube at MusicBiz 2019:

Do you think fans know what “Artist Name — Topic” really means on YouTube ??

What have you done in the marketplace to explain to consumers what the “Topic” term means in relation to official music on YouTube ??

Do you have any vision for allowing artists to control these “Topic” channels or at least the information about the artist on the “Topic” channel pages ??

For instance the “FSQ — Topic” channel page’s “About” section is completely devoid of any information about us as an artist.

The FSQ — Topic Page on YouTube (video) actually looks very much how our music catalog is presented on any other streaming service, like Amazon Prime Music or Spotify. It’s not that bad. Apple Music’s catalog presentation seems to be the worst of all the music services — at least my take as an artist. More on that in a bit.

FSQ — Topic YouTube Autogenerated Artist Page
The related artist recommendations for other YouTube “Artist Name — Topic” are actually very precise and great!

Still the burning question for me is — how does YouTube (video) view “Artist Name — Topic” channels — aren’t they somewhat in competition with either Official Artist Channels — or artist run user channels** ??

** ( a work around for those musicians who don’t have a YouTube Official Artist Channel is for them to manage / operate their own user channel with the artist name as the YouTube user name )

In the future do you envision figuring out a way to merge “Topic” channels with “Official Artist Channels” ??

Why does a musician need to have distributed, produced music videos to get access to their “Official Artist Channel” when there is a lot of audio only content that’s officially licensed to YouTube by distributors ??

YouTube is responsible for 47% of music streaming globally according to the IFPI in 2018. Yet when you search for the “music” of longer tail artists, or legacy artists on YouTube VIDEO in most cases you don’t return the “Artist Name — Topic” officially licensed music content. Therefore are there any plans to make it more clear what’s officially licensed music when users make a music search on YouTube VIDEO (the primary way people access music!!) ??


Ok, YouTube Music

Now those are only questions for YouTube VIDEO. The 2018 launched YouTube Music platform at — music.youtube.com — and corresponding mobile apppresents music and music related content in a totally different way, with a unique Ux different from YouTube.com.

It’s more of a Spotify like experience than the traditional video focused YouTube.

Tier 1 artists get great artist profile pages on YouTube Music. For example, here’s The Beatles page on YouTube Music, it’s pretty immersive :

The Beatles artist page on Music.YouTube.com

So the big question here is — when do independent artists get access to their own YouTube Music artist profile page ?? … so that they can add bio information, hero artist images, and potentially in the future more stuff like Spotify has: tour dates, artist’s pick aka artist spotlight, featured artist playlists, and appropriate related music videos — are these features on the roadmap ??

My FSQ Artist Profile page on YouTube Music automatically pulls an artist image from cover art of our latest release. However, we would prefer to choose our own artist image. Also we have band interview videos that currently live on YouTube VIDEO that should appear in the videos section on YouTube MUSIC, but we can’t customize this section. Finally, there is a YouTube Music “Artist Radio” featured but nowhere for us to present our own curated “artist playlists”.

Artist Profile page (top part) for FSQ on Music.YouTube.com

The Artist Profile pages on YouTube Music include the following sections — “Songs”, “Albums”, “Singles” and the pages automatically pull “related videos” to the artist into a “Videos” section.

You can see how YouTube Music organizes these sections for FSQ in the following screenshot.

Note — YouTube has automatically pulled in a fan upload of a remix we produced — see the cover art following bottom of graphic — it’s the woman with the afro. We could use the YouTube content management system I suppose to pull that down, but that’s not what we want to do. We just don’t want that piece of content in our “Videos” section on our Artist Page on YouTube Music. Overall, we need to be able to customize our Artist Page on YouTube Music.

Also note — the album circled in red in the graphic belongs to another artist named FSQ — aka an example of “Artist name disambiguation” — where YouTube automatically pulls in another artist to our page because of the identical name.

Artist Profile Page for FSQ on Music.YouTube.com — bottom part. Note album circled belongs to another artist named FSQ — aka an example of “Artist name disambiguation”

YouTube VIDEO and YouTube MUSIC are confusing messes for independent artists today.


Apple Music

Artists.Apple.com or “Apple Music for Artists program” has been in beta for a year now and I have been a user since the beginning. Most of the questions I have for Apple about the platform echo the same questions asked of other platforms mentioned in this blog post.

First let’s start with the Artist Profile customization questions:

When will artists be able to add bios and tour dates their Apple Music profiles ??

Most importantly “Artist Playlists” — how can independent artists create them and add them to their profile — is this on the Apple Music roadmap??

Tier 1 Apple Music artist aka Billboard top hit makers get their own array of artist driven music and video playlists today

Bad Bunny has an immersive playlist section on his Apple Music Artist Page

How do you plan to handle “featured artist” content display on an artist profile on Apple Music ??

For example, today none of the FSQ “featured artist” appearances from our catalog appear on Apple Music. Our page on Apple Music lacks 30 songs from our catalog because we aren’t the primary artist on those songs.

Our FSQ Artist Page on Apple Music lacks 30 songs from our catalog because we aren’t the primary artist on those songs.

Regarding marketing — Spotify added a “submit your music to Spotify Editorial playlists” program. Are you considering anything similar given how powerful the editorial voices of Apple Music and Beats Radio are ??

I think that’s about the extent of questions for Apple Music until we hear more about customizing the artist page, adding artist information content and artist driven playlists. Because without those features there’s not much else us independent artists can do on Apple Music for Artists other than check our streaming consumption stats and what curated playlists, if any, we appear on as the primary artist.

One big question that won’t probably ever get answered is what happened to the “Artist Services” features from companies Apple Music bought like Shazam and TopSpin (part of Beats Music at time of acquisition).

Spotify

As I mentioned Spotify have the most immersive, rich and detailed profile pages for independent musical artists. And their Spotify for Artists platform also offers a detailed suite of analytics and streaming consumption data. This platform is FREE for artists unlike SoundCloud’s Unlimited Pro Plan.

Our FSQ profile on Spotify has tour dates, detailed bio that we wrote and posted ourselves, official social profile links, and a review of popular playlists that feature FSQ music.

Awesome! Spotify artist pages pull in your concerts / tour dates from Songkick
Amazing — Spotify for Artists allows you to add your artist bio and social profile links. Plus it shows fans where your music is most discovered — what playlists are popular that are featuring you as an artists

So my questions for Spotify are pretty limited. One that remains from 2018 which I asked about then is :

When will Spotify let independent artists make “official artist playlists” ??

Currently artists make “user playlists” and then post them to their Spotify “artist profile” This method is a weird work around, but hey, considering Amazon Prime and Apple still lack playlists created by independent artists, we will take how Spotify has the artist playlist situation set up — it’s better than nothing.

A few more that are pretty specific to their platform:

In order to appear in a Spotify user’s weekly “Release Radar” playlist of new music, this user needs to “follow” your Spotify artist profile. But yet it’s hard to get Spotify users to “follow” artist profiles — it’s not behavior that’s trained or baked in. Will Spotify do anything to explain the “follow” feature better to listeners and market why the “follow” button is a great feature on Spotify??

The “Spotify pre-release submit your music to our editorial playlists” program is great — but it would be nice if you sent an email to an independent artist saying a track has NOT been selected after review. Especially since the artists fill in a lot of descriptive metadata about their music to Spotify in order to participate in this marketing program. We independent artists are feeding metadata to the Spotify platform which helps improve your machines, so something back in return if we don’t get placed on an editorial playlist would be considerate — just a brief “no” email.

Will Spotify show specific release dates on the desktop app ever?? Because today you can see specific release date on Spotify mobile app but not desktop ??