Business News Digital Labels & Publishers The Great Escape 2015

Pitching tracks to playlist owners is the secret to driving streams

By | Published on Wednesday 20 May 2015

Aileen Crowley

In Will Hope from Spotify’s keynote and the subsequent ‘Re-inventing Music Marketing For The Streaming Age’ panel at CMU Insights @ The Great Escape last week, we learned that playlists – both user-generated and service-curated – are increasingly important in promoting new music at all levels, especially in the early stages of a campaign. And during the third session of the CMU@TGE marketing strand – titled ‘Who Leads On Artist Marketing?’ – the topic of PRing tracks to online playlist owners came up.

“Pitching to playlists is becoming one of the top priorities in our campaigns”, said Evil Genius Media CEO Mark Muggeridge. “Almost to the point where the return on investment we’re seeing from what is traditionally thought of as ‘online media’ is dwindling, and we’re taking all of that budget out of online and putting it into agencies that pitch to playlists. And we are seeing the needle move from playlist pitching more than almost any other, particularly with new artists”.

“It is so important”, added Cooking Vinyl’s Head Of Digital Sammy Andrews. “Curation is the new king. It can launch a track, if it gets dropped into the right playlist it can propel a track from nowhere, and there are lots of examples of that happening”.

Later in the day, the CMU@TGE audience got a more in depth look at how playlist pitching is growing from Aileen Crowley at DigMark, a Nashville-based marketing agency that is already pitching tracks to key user-generated playlists on Spotify, and who discussed that activity with Spintune’s Brittney Bean.

The company grew out of the DigSin record label, Crowley explained, after they noticed that streams of a track by one of their artists, Bronze Radio Return, doubled overnight after it was added to a playlist with over 15,000 followers.

“Then we said, ‘OK there’s something here'”, she recalled. “Let’s figure out how we replicate this for our own artists, and then figure out how we take that and expand it for other clients that we do marketing for. That was over a year ago, and now we’re working with over 75 tracks per week from self-releasing artists, those whose marketing is led by managers, and from major and indie labels, as well as our own releases”.

“We started the business a little over a year ago with one part-time person, just seeing what they got from pitching to playlisters”, she continued. “Now we have three full time people, and we’re looking to hire a fourth. And we’re being hired by pretty much everyone. We promote tracks from all different labels from all different countries. We work with artists and labels in Sweden, UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. So we work internationally. It’s just been exponential growth over the last year”.

Through a variety of means, the company tracks key playlists via a proprietary database it has built. “We’re able to monitor every track we’re working, as well as over 1500 playlists that we work with – Spotify playlists, users playlists, label playlists. We know how many followers are on each playlist. Earlier today someone said, ‘If Spotify would let us know they’d added a song to a playlist that would be great, we had no idea’. Our system takes that out of the equation. We can see exactly what tracks have been added when and when they’re been dropped. We do weekly add/drop reporting to all of our clients, so they know what playlists they’re on, how many followers there are, and how many plays they’re getting”.

New playlists are sought out based on both popularity and also genres and ‘moods’ which are relevant to DigMark clients. Initially contact is made with playlist owners through Spotify’s messaging system or Facebook, but now the company has built up a mailing list of curators that it is in weekly contact with.

“We now have a relationship with probably over 400 playlisters worldwide and we have an ongoing email relationship with those folks. So when it comes to pitching our tracks, we’re creating a newsletter and emailing them every Monday morning”. In terms of how they approach playlist owners, she continued: “It’s just talking to them like a music lover. They just have a playlist that they love to curate, it’s not their job. You become a trusted source for music”.

Muggeridge having already raised the point of return on investment, Bean asked what returns DigMark’s clients had been seeing. “In terms of our own label, we’ve seen from third quarter to fourth quarter last year a 100%+ increase in revenue from Spotify, just from reaching out to playlists”, Crowley revealed.

“In terms of a million streams, what does that equal? As a label, from that, we’re seeing about $6000 from streams. So that’s the equation we use. It’s different for everyone, depending on what percentage your distributor takes and if you’re the sound recording copyright holder or you’re the publisher. But we will pay for ourselves within a couple of months”.

Though as this new strand of music PR emerges, Andrews raised a problem in the earlier discussion, saying: “It is amazing. But people are also being dicks about it and asking for money for placement on playlists, meaning payola has already reared its head. So that’s an issue that we have to deal with to some degree. But it’s a whole new emerging market”.

“But for the right playlist, I would happily pay”, countered Muggeridge.

“It’s a dangerous thing to start though”, continued Andrews. “It sets a precedent, if people are used to getting money, then it puts it back in the hands of the majors, if the people that have all the money are the people that get on all the playlists. That’s a fact if you’re an indie. It’s totally where it’s going, but I don’t think we should be encouraging it. Just because it’s there, let’s not fuel that fire”.

Picking up on this point, an audience member later asked if DigMark had ever paid for placement on a playlist. “Some of them do ask to be paid sometimes, yes”, said Crowley, admitting that this was a request her company had agreed to at times. Pushed to put a figure on how much a playlister might be paid, she added: “It’s under $100. Way under”.

Payola for playlists is likely an issue that will come up again and again as this sector grows – because, as well as ethical concerns, if money rather than quality becomes the marker for a track being added to a playlist, well that’s arguably bad for all involved.

As for the future of the rapidly expanding DigMark, Crowley said: “We’ll just keep growing. We’re primarily working on Spotify right now, but Apple’s streaming service will change that. We could be hiring three new people to just work on Apple playlists. It’s exciting”.

And as for the other streaming services, she added: “It’s all an option, it’s just how much time do you have in the day and what the platform is. There aren’t enough users on some platforms for it to be worth our time”.