Independent Artists Vs Playlist Power

In 2015, Spotify alone saw 75 million listeners enjoy over 20 billion hours of music and 2 billion playlists created. Considering this does not account for Apple music, Amazon Prime, Tidal and equivalent, that is a lot of consumption.

Typically a massive 80% of Spotify listeners consume music through a playlist, notably Discover Weekly. Almost half of Discover Weekly listeners love the suggestion so much they’ll save a song from the playlist to their personal collection.

That means they do not search for album titles, or an artist or a particular song, they log in to their account, select a playlist and lean back, chauffeur driven to boom town. One could argue what’s the difference between yesteryears radio and today’s playlist; our grandparents experienced a similar journey when tuning in to a FM radio station, now a curated playlist is our vessel.

However, if music playlists are today’s gateway to discovering new music, are independent acts destined to only go so far?

Our grandparents had friends. Our grandparents went outside. They received mixtapes from lovers, and replayed the same songs until another lover came around and brought another mixtape. The alpha and omega to our entire musical discovery today lies in the gospel of the algorithm.

The songs on a curated playlist are grouped together to appeal to specific audiences — that means more listens, more shares, more revenue for rights holders, and the chance of getting your music into the ears of new audiences, potentially globally. Maybe even more importantly to the ears of corporate music supervisors. Many of who listen to playlists to discover artists to work with, music for TV and film productions and sync opportunities.

Able to suggest artists and songs parallel to our current favourites, the algorithm coupled with the playlist has potentially eroded our need for self discovery. Fantastic for some, definitely not for all.

With 80% directed to music through a playlist, it’s easy to see why labels PAY cold hard cash to secure places on prominent playlists – apparently anywhere from £2k to £10k.

With a lack of distribution tools and financial muscle, maybe the flexibility of the independent model is not as successful as we’re lead to believe. With over 20 million subscribers on Spotify alone, a place on one (or many) playlist is a huge plug, especially for independent artists who typically rely heavily on referrals to attract new audience.

It is, of course, the labels job and in the labels interest to ensure they cast their net as wide as possible even if it takes a few coins. Not only does this immediately price the independent artist out but it also robs the curious and unaware listener from discovering their next favourite band.

To this end maybe the proud independent artists must concede to the industry mechanism to some degree.

If you’re an independent act, no label, no marketing, no distribution arm how does one attract new audiences? Sure social media is magnetic, but good marketing is stealth, resulting in mass unconscious humming. Undoubtedly, there is a mid-forty’s Spotify addict somewhere on this planet who absolutely adores Krept & Konan and by the math of an algorithm would highly appreciate [insert unknown grime act/song] who is not on Spotify, however due to his or her lack of disposable social media scrolling time, has missed the opportunity to ‘stumble upon’ [insert unknown grime act/song].

In this instance, an opportunity to attract a new fan has been missed.

Maybe 100% independent route is not as beneficial as first thought, maybe relying on touring and merchandise is too vertical for a multifaceted industry.

But on second thought, who except the acts on YouTube are even 100% independent? Even the benefactor has a benefactor…

So forget all of the above.