Breaking Through On Spotify — An Overview

Noah Weidner
Dec 26, 2019 · 7 min read

This article is part two of (???) on our definitive digital music marketing guide. This first part provides an overview of potential avenues to grow your Spotify presence. For updates, make sure to follow us on Twitter or sign up for our mailing list.

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If you had to ask an artist where they’d prefer their audience growth to come from, they’d probably say something like Apple Music, Deezer, or Spotify. These aforementioned services don’t boast the impressive community-oriented features of their competitors like YouTube and Soundcloud, but they represent the largest set of paying streaming users. As such, they also represent the most meaningful and consistent lines of music streaming revenue.

Your growth on Spotify can be calculated — and even relatively straight-forward— if you have a unique sound, an attractive brand, and a track record of success with your releases.

However, artists often find a major headwind in services like Spotify and Apple Music. They lack mechanisms to engage fans, connect with other users, and market your music. As such, these services necessitate an inherently different approach than we’ll take in our YouTube curator and community strategies guides. That said, Spotify’s weak point is also a strong point in the sense that its distinct lack of centralized community means that the platform is free from noise. Your growth on Spotify can be calculated — and even relatively straight-forward— if you have a unique sound, an attractive brand, and a track record of success with your releases.

The former points — having a unique sound and an attractive brand — are things we will hit on in another post. This post is not a formula for finding success on Spotify, as you’ll need to scan the environment for your genre/style of music and think critically about how to apply these techniques. However, this post speaks to some resources and tools which might help you tap into the world of Spotify.

An Overview of Growth on Spotify

As mentioned before, Spotify has a distinct lack of centralized community. There are no message boards, no chat or DM systems, or anything of the sort. For that reason, you have two major avenues to gaining momentum on the platform:

  • Organic traffic: Includes, but is not limited to: paid advertising, word of mouth, your own mailing lists, sharing with your fans on other platforms.


  • Referral traffic: Includes, but is not limited to: Spotify’s algorithmic playlists, editorial playlists, blog posts, user-created curator playlists, Instagram stories, or other third-party traffic directed toward your page.

For many independent artists, having a critical mass of organic traffic — especially as a new artist — is hard to come by. The exception to this rule is if you happen to be an established artist, creator, YouTuber, “influencer”, or something else which has established your digital reputation. However, we’ll proceed under the assumption that most of you reading this are NOT Logan Paul or Keemstar.

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In Spotify for Artists, you can see the source of streams for a selected period of time. This data set can provide meaningful insights into how your audience is interacting with your music.

You might be able to gain a meaningful share of followers and listeners from organic traffic alone. However, after awhile, referral traffic will be the mechanic that turns your hundreds of followers into thousands. If you have a track record of successful releases and a high level of engagement, you’ll gradually see your organic traffic give way to a high volume of referral traffic. This is because Spotify has a high-value feature set that accommodates both users and creators in finding the things they want. One of the critical elements of this feature set are Spotify’s algorithmic playlists, which analyze the performance of releases, artists, and their underlying engagement. They use this ‘big data’ to inform serving millions of users with relevant content.

Spotify’s algorithms are not much different than other content websites (i.e: YouTube). The idea is simple — they want you to stay on their platform, so they will use data about you and other users to try and figure out what content to serve you. This requires these platforms to analyze user behaviour so that they can recommend relevant content, which in turn sees that you continue to engage with their platform in a meaningful way. It might sound a bit ‘big brother-ish’, but in all fairness, this can be a win-win for both users and creators. Users benefit from algorithms as they are served relevant and pointed content. Creators stand to benefit from increased viewership, more royalties, and potentially new followers.

That said, nobody (except for Spotify’s engineers) really knows the specific content or technical elements which constitute these algorithms, though a handful of folks have tried their hand at ‘decoding’ how it works. Based on the variety of literature on the subject, it is generally accepted knowledge that Spotify’s algorithmic playlists look at four important criteria:

Relevance — What other songs or artists are your listeners listening to? What are songs or artists which are “similar” to your style?
Play Counts — How many times is your track played?
Engagement — How long is your track played for? How many times is it played, on average, per listener?
Comparative Growth — How well is your track performing (in listeners, streams, engagement) compared to other periods of time (in the last week, the month, etc)?

Of these criteria, you likely cannot help the relevance part. After all, this part is synthesized from user behaviours. The other three parts, however, are pieces which go into your relevance criteria. If your track is not being engaged with, not being played, not being saved, and not seeing growth, then why would Spotify want to recommend it to others?

Now that we’ve established how the algorithm works and how traffic and user behaviour informs that algorithm, we can wrap up loose ends with a brief ‘playbook’ on how to reap the benefits of Spotify’s algorithms.

Putting this Information to Use

All things considered, traffic is the name of the game on Spotify. The best way to acquire traffic is through talent and authenticity. Make no mistake — organic growth is one of the only paths to successfully capturing and maintaining your audience. If your content is of a quality where people will listen and engage with it, then you could stand to benefit from following these tips:

Compose a Release Plan

We’ll cover this in a future installment of this guide, but having all your dots in a row is incredibly important to having a successful release. That said, the biggest mistake you can make is dropping a single as soon as you release it. Schedule weeks in advance; make sure you compose quality assets, finish your track, and then push your release and send it to stakeholders or prospective curators. Allow yourself time to make all the pieces come together. The performance of your track in the first weeks is critical to the algorithmic playlists.

Seriously Invest in Your Spotify Game

With all of the drama about Soundcloud over the last year, the biggest mistake that artists are making is continuing to post their music exclusively on Soundcloud. Many artists see Spotify and Apple Music as an ‘afterthought’, which is understandable. It’s easy to be dismissive when you feel that you are getting no real traffic from these platforms. It would be wise to frame the lack of traffic as an opportunity. With just a little bit of added effort, major DSPs could offer a lucrative line of exposure and revenues. To invest in Spotify, you need to spend more time promoting your track on Spotify. Make it your preferred streaming platform. Put together fanlinks and put these high-quality DSPs at the top. You don’t have to stop posting to Soundcloud, but do yourself a favour and expand your artist presence to places where it really counts.

Engage Curator Playlists

Connecting with curators and sending your content can be relatively time-consuming, especially since you’ll often have to do your research to identify curators relevant to your style.

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This growth chart shows the stark impact that one curator feature can have on your track. Pictured on the far left is a spike which constitutes 3,000 streams in a single day. This feature increased underlying algorithmic playlist features two-fold and established a new baseline for viewership on the track. (~125 streams/day before the feature, ~280 streams/day after the feature).

However, successfully receiving placements on even a few playlists could be potentially game-changing. The added traffic from curator playlists might be a factor which affects the propagation of your track on algorithmic playlists.

This has a second order of effect: when the algorithm is increasing the number of people it’s showing your track to every week, it also means that you’re gaining exposure to prospective fans. As a result, you’re increasing the likelihood of making new fans, getting new followers, and seeing your content added to their library. This creates a sort of ‘feedback loop’ where a set of features at release can provide the kind of demand that provides sustained growth of your viewership. This has positive financial & brand effects.

Final Observations

Spotify is not a one-and-done. It takes time to grow a critical mass on these platforms. They have an intentional mystique. To grow on these platforms means being consistently consistent. In the future, we might examine more ‘guaranteed’ ways of promoting your content on Spotify — like creating your own playlists, finding novel ways to promote your content, and the like. However, for now, this overview should be sufficient coverage of how to kickstart your energy on Spotify.

Thanks for reading this part of “The Independent Artist’s Music Marketing Guide.” This portion of the guide was written by Noah Weidner and edited by Kian Moretz. It was published December 26, 2019 on the waveblog! For more pieces of the guide, you can view our directory of posts below. For updates on the development of the guide, make sure to follow us on Twitter and sign up for our mailing list.

The Independent Artist’s Music Marketing Guide

Breaking Through On Spotify — An Overview [you are here]

Coming Soon (subscribe to our mailing list for updates):
Growing Your Spotify Presence (With 5 Free Services & Resources)
Pitching YouTube Curators
Perfecting Your Pitch — a process for dotting your Is and crossing your Ts


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