The Discovery Dead End

Spotify and Apple Music still haven’t figured out how to direct listeners to follow, engage with, and support new artists

I’ll admit to being in a little bit of a new-music rut lately — I haven’t had a ton of time to stay on top of the usual blogs and playlists, and traveling frequently means I miss lots of shows and festivals. A few weeks ago, I decided to remedy that situation and find some great new artists to listen to and support, and jumped back on the two streaming services I use (Spotify and Apple Music) itching to become a fan again.

Oh, if only it were that easy. On my first attempt, I subscribed to Apple Music’s “The A-List: Indie” playlist and was served a song by a new (to me, at least) band called Teen Daze. I loved it and wanted to engage more, and that’s when I ran straight into a brick wall. When I opened the song up to full screen, the only options I got were “Add to My Music,” “Show in iTunes Store,” “Share Playlist,” “Share Song,” and “Add to Playlist.” No way to get more songs from the band. No way to get more information about the band, or follow them on socials, or even follow them on Apple’s own Connect platform. When I clicked over to Connect to see if they were at least suggested, I was confronted with the same recommended list I got when I signed up — Maroon 5, One Direction, and Pitbull, artists I have never listened to. Finally I just plugged the band’s name into Google and manually followed them on socials, because I had no other option.

Spotify wasn’t any better. I fired up my personalized playlist and got a track from the Tallest Man on Earth, which I quite liked. At least Spotify gave me an easy link to other tracks and a bio — but no links to socials, concert tickets, or merch. I could also easily follow him in Spotify — but that would only serve when I was in Spotify, and not on any other social platforms. And in this case I was listening on my laptop and had time to poke around — if I’d been listening on mobile and jogging or driving, and unable to click around, the song would have just passed me by.

“Discovery” has certainly been the buzzword for the last few years, but the problem is that we still haven’t figured out the next steps after someone hears a song. I listen to music all day long but not much of it sticks with me, just because I get no direction from streaming platforms. I have to manually search for artists I like when I’m listening at home, and I have to actually remember to go back through a playlist and search for an artist if I hear something I like when I’m out. And I’m someone who cares about music more than most people.

There are a couple of possible remedies for this. One, streaming services could offer more links out to follow artists on other platforms. Spotify and Apple Music both have their own internal platforms, so I certainly understand why they want to keep people in the services — the problem is that both these internal platforms kinda stink. The artists I follow on Apple Connect put up maybe a video a month, something that I could get on pretty much any other platform, so I have zero reason to engage there. And following artists on Spotify only means I get notified in Spotify when they post something — not great if I’m not always using Spotify. I know you all want your own shiny social networks to keep people engaged, but either make them a whole lot better or kill them altogether.

Artists have their own role to play in this as well, and it usually means offering fans many paths to connection. A buddy of mine recently found a song he loved on Spotify and went off to search for the artist, only to find Facebook and Twitter accounts that hadn’t been updated in months and a website that didn’t even exist. He didn’t want to buy an mp3 or t-shirt and the artist wasn’t touring, so had no way to support someone whose music he liked in a meaningful way. Even if you live in a major market, artists only tour through a handful of times every year, and at a certain age wearing your favorite band’s shirt ceases to be cool. There need to be options in between.

I wrote about Twitch last week and still think any artist with a PlayStation and some free time should be using it, if only to monetize otherwise wasted hours. But there are also some great virtual tipping services (Huzza, Streamium) that also deserve a look, and any number of ways to sell small things that aren’t traditional merch, or launch some sort of affiliate relationships that’ll allow fans to shop and support you.

In the end, just being “discovered” on a playlist doesn’t mean much to an artist. If services truly want to help artists monetize and build careers, the least they can do is direct listeners to other opportunities to follow, engage with, and support the artist. But artists also have a role to play, by making sure that their content is worth engaging with. If both sides play their parts, it’ll be better for them — and for the fans.

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