TPM 111 | Spotify Algorithm

 

Spotify’s algorithm is about mastering the art of music marketing while staying true to your creative soul. It’s the harmony of data and passion that makes your song truly resonate. In this episode, Ryan Waczek of Indie Music Academy takes us into a deep discussion about music marketing, algorithmic playlists, and the art of building a devoted fanbase. Ryan gives a backstage pass to decoding playlist placement and other algorithm secrets— and reveals how it’s not all about numbers and data. He discusses the power of algorithmic playlists, how to leverage them to the artist’s advantage, and more. Throughout the episode, Ryan gives an emphasis on the enduring importance of making music that resonates. Through all the noise and numbers and strategies, what still matters most is making a connection with a listener. If you’re an aspiring musician, music marketer, or just plain curious about Spotify’s algorithm, Ryan’s insights today are sure to hit the right note. Tune in now!

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Striking A Chord: How To Harness The Power Of The Spotify Algorithm With Ryan Waczek

My guest is Ryan Waczek. He is the Founder of Indie Music Academy. He is very well experienced in marketing, Spotify, paid ads, and all the stuff that I know our audience wants to learn about. I’m excited to talk to him. First, I want him to start out with his story. I always love to start out with where people came from, especially when they are musicians like Ryan. If you could let us know your background, Ryan, and how you ended up digging into all this marketing knowledge too.

Thanks so much for having me. It’s weird because I started out as a musician. I grew up in a musical family. My dad is an elementary school music teacher, but then I found myself in this world of marketing, and it was not a pretty journey. I’ll cover the highlights briefly, but I grew up as a band kid. I did the band orchestra program. I ended up going to college to study music. I got my BA in classical music with an emphasis on audio recording and sound design.

I wanted to become Hans Zimmer. I wanted to be a film composer. After class was over, I came back home and I wrote and recorded songs, played guitar, and learned pro tools through school. I used that to record my own music. When I graduated, I pretty much faced the reality that while my degree had prepared me musically, it hardly prepared me for business. I had no clue how to market myself, how to get clients, and how to grow a following as a songwriter. This is pretty classic. I was frustrated and I had to get out.

That’s my exact story. They made me such a great musician, but I had no clue what to do with it.

I had every interval memorized. I used to be able to tell you the difference between all the Neapolitan chords. That knowledge has left me.

What about the church modes? The things that we learned and I could analyze a piece of music like crazy, but I didn’t know how to then do any kind of marketing.

It’s like how high school doesn’t teach you how to do your taxes. That’s pretty much what my music degree did. I ended up having to find a job outside of my degree, which I’m sure a lot of musicians can relate to. I ended up getting a job as a barista at Starbucks, which was great.

I think a lot can relate to being a barista at Starbucks. I know a lot of musicians that do that.

I loved the job. I love people. I was enjoying that. I then had a second job after my shift. I was selling lattes in the morning, then I’d drive across town where I was a video editor at a surgery center. Very random and very gruesome. In those years, I barely made music, even though I got my degree in it. It was my main mission, months prior. I took a break from music for multiple years. I ended up taking my releases down from Spotify. I closed up shop because it was something that I quit focusing on.

I’m curious, why did you take your releases down? Why didn’t you just leave them there?

I was thinking that I would come back later and I would rebrand. It was a hard stop where all the momentum had died out because I wasn’t marketing. That’s what I figured out later. I didn’t have any strategy. I was just making music, uploading, and then tinkering on a website that nobody visited. That was what I was doing.

It’s such a common story.

If I just update my website, people will know.

It’s all about my logo if I have the right logo.”

I was working at Starbucks, editing surgery videos, and I eventually found a job that was in music. I became a worship director at a church. I would sing on Sunday and lead the band. That got me back into playing. Someone at the church was starting a startup business. They needed someone who knew a little bit of Squarespace, design, and editing. They approached me, and this was pure luck because I was working as a video editor at the surgery center and I had made a few websites for my music in the past. They were like, “I feel you could help get us going.” He was a business guy. He wanted to focus on the mission of the business.

I was like, “This is awesome. It’s a good opportunity to make more money.” It allowed me to quit Starbucks, so I could do worship leading on the weekends, and then have this marketing job. It seemed flexible and it seemed a great idea. It turned out to be life-changing because I learned so much in this position. It was a small team of only four people. It wasn’t the plan, but they all looked to me to fix all of the digital problems. I ended up doing all the social media. I ended up writing the copy on the website. We’re like, “We need to rank on Google.” The founder bought me an SEO course, so I learned search engine optimization, Facebook ads, and the list goes on. I was the go-to guy for everything marketing, and I had to learn it on the spot.

They paid for you to learn these skills that you could then use later, which is amazing.

That’s the journey from classical musician to marketer. At the time, when I got this job at the startup, things started firing off and clicking. I didn’t have a structure in my brain for traffic to a website. I was like, “If it’s there, people will see it.” I learned that you have to drive traffic and there are levels of relationships online and you want to have your customers and fans go through a journey. All of this was starting to click as I was marketing the shoe company. It was a shoe company. I think I failed to mention that, but it was a shoe startup. In the eCommerce world, traffic is very important. It’s important across the board, honestly.

In any e-commerce world, traffic is very important. It's important to cross the board. Click To Tweet

I started taking everything I was learning and started writing blogs about it for musicians. I felt like I was going to forget the stuff if I didn’t document it for myself. It was a little bit therapeutic. I was trying to make up for all the lack of knowledge that I had before. I was writing on my website and I started uploading videos to YouTube. Eventually, those videos started to get views. I started getting more questions there. I saw the need for musicians to learn what I was currently learning at the time. The blog and the YouTube channel turned into me pouring out what I was getting poured into from the startup. A big thing that lent to the success was I found a way to contextualize everything I was learning for the creative person, for the musician.

Whenever musicians take marketing courses, a lot of times they’re thinking, “That’s cool, but I don’t understand how that fits for me because I’m dealing with fans or music is not the same as eCommerce. It’s not a product, but it’s not a service.” Musicians need those dots to be connected. They get frustrated when they try to take regular marketing courses.

It is not an exact match. I’ve spent a lot of time processing and thinking like, “This is what we’re doing for shoes, but what is the equivalent in the musician’s world?” It does take a lot of trial and error. At least that’s how it was at the time for me. What I ended up doing in San Diego, where I lived at the time, is I started gathering some musicians that I knew. I started a mini-label. I call it a farm label because I wasn’t signing artists that were popular or known or anything like that. I started an artist development company and I did all of the recording for them like a label would. It was crazy.

I would take these artists and try out all of the marketing strategies that I was learning. I would also record their music. We ended up getting over a million minutes streamed on Spotify in 2018. That was from triggering algorithms. That was from keeping a consistent release schedule and doing content in a semi-right way. There’s no right way, as long as it’s authentic, but has some kind of direction and purpose with the content. That was encouraging and that was going on at the same time as the YouTube channel. It turned into this thing where I needed to explain what I was doing to more artists.

I started the Indie Music Academy, opened up the website, started blogging more, and opened up the Spotify service that we still run, which since then has gotten over 100 million streams for artists on Spotify. It’s been crazy after that. That’s what led to the Spotify Growth Formula course where I covered everything that I’ve learned in digital marketing and advertising, specifically contextualized for Spotify. That pretty much brings us to where we are now in the current state of my life in the Indie Music Academy.

The number, when I saw it on your bio, is crazy. The 100 million streams for artists that you’ve worked with are insane. You’ve worked a lot to try to understand the Spotify algorithm. I think musicians feel like it’s very nebulous. How can we know? They’re frustrated because they feel it’s changing. A lot of the social media algorithms change a lot. Can you give us some insight into things you’ve learned about the algorithm?

The first thing that I always like to share when talking about an algorithm on Instagram, YouTube, or Spotify is you can take “algorithm” and swap that word with “audience” or “people.” All of the algorithms are based on people’s interactions with you. Beyond that, the rest of the algorithm is how we can take people’s actions and all of the people’s data, and turn it into some kind of event on the platform. The events that we have on Spotify are getting on an algorithmic playlist. That’s what we’re all trying to go for when we trigger the algorithm on Spotify or get on Discover Weekly or the radio algorithm. Some sort of boost and visibility is the end goal.

The way that Spotify works it all out is that the musicians with more listeners and more data points create a clearer vision for Spotify as to whom they can recommend the music to. It comes down to data. If your song isn’t streamed very much or if you’re only sitting at 100 or 200 streams, that’s not enough data for Spotify to truly know who you are as an artist. It then begs the question, “Where are these streams coming from? How are we going to provide the data for the Spotify algorithm to chew on and come to some conclusions as to who the right listener is?” That’s where marketing comes in. You can think of it from a purely technical term.

We need to drive traffic to give Spotify the right data so that it can make the right recommendation. That’s all fine, but there’s also the human side of it. We need to attract the right people so that the right people are listening to our music for a long time, which will then signal to Spotify that these are the right people and we need to mirror that in our recommendations. The two ways of thinking of it are one and the same. It comes down to great music with a great marketing strategy, and getting a lot of data for Spotify to understand in order to eventually make its recommendation.

It’s our job to train the algorithm because it can’t know what to do if it doesn’t have enough data. The problem happens if you train the algorithm wrong. If you send the wrong people there, then it’s going to going to think these are the people that like it and they’re going to go out and get more of those. If they’re the wrong ones, that’s not good. It is so important to make sure that you’re bringing in the right audience from the beginning so the algorithm knows to find more people like them.

Not just that. If you bring in the wrong people, they’re going to stream your music a lot shorter. A stream on Spotify needs to pass 30 seconds of listening time, otherwise, you don’t even get the royalty. It does matter. That also opens up the door to the world of bots because that’s a huge temptation that artists have to get the number up and to look more popular.

It’s like, “Maybe I’ll pay for a bot service to run the number up on Spotify so that I can give the appearance of having a lot of streams to whomever.” Maybe for labels, or maybe to try to land a gig or a booking manager.” Fake it until you make it. In terms of the algorithm, that’s feeding the wrong data to the algorithm. Maybe you might accomplish some short-term impression on the right person, but that’s going to tank your hopes of feeding the right data to Spotify.

Another thing that comes up around the algorithm is people are always wondering, “How often do I need to feed it? Should I be releasing every month, every six weeks, every two months? What is going to be the most optimal? Have you found anything in there?

I feel that this answer is going to be different for every person. Take me for example. I don’t release music very often. In fact, all year, I haven’t released a song yet. It’s my goal to release at least one song this year. I’ve been so busy teaching other artists and working with my clients, but it is my personal goal to release a song this year. However, my past two releases are still on the Spotify radio algorithm and they have been all year long.

We can only look at the data and try to interpret what is happening behind the data. My theory is that I’m still on the algorithm because the right people are listening and I’m still getting great engagement. If there was some kind of mismatch, then it would’ve tanked by now. I’m a case for not releasing very often, however, the right people are finding my songs. That’s bucket number one. However, there’s absolutely a good case for releasing often because a lot of the Spotify algorithms and a lot of the data entry points come from new releases. If you’re releasing a new song every month, there’s the opportunity to get on Release Radar or New Music Friday.

Every new song is an opportunity to promote outside of Spotify as well because you’re creating an event in your musical life. It’s an event in your business. You can promote, build hype, and drive traffic from all those other sources. Social media would be a big one. Your mailing list, if you have one. Even word-of-mouth playing on shows. All of these are external sources that can drive traffic to Spotify and help with your growth on that platform.

TPM 111 | Spotify Algorithm

Spotify Algorithm: Every new song is an opportunity to promote outside of Spotify because you’re creating an event in your musical life.

 

Releasing often is an opportunity for that to happen a lot. It’s a good thing to release music in terms of driving traffic. I would say that the asterisk to that is if the release is rushed, if it’s not a great representation of what you can do as an artist, then we’re going to fall into some problems because it’s not going to get the engagement that you would want to signal the algorithm that, “I’m still at the top of my game. I still worthy of this bump.” All Spotify is doing is looking for signals.

If your release is going to be a poor signal, then it’s okay not to release. Take that time. Maybe that song isn’t one to release because I know there’s a temptation as a songwriter to release every song you write. I think it’s okay to write those B songs and shove them in a drawer because maybe they’re not the one. That’s the creative exercise. Waiting for the right song is a good thing.

Do you think there are those “B songs” that become an album track or a track on your EP that you’re not necessarily releasing as a single still these days?

I think so. I talk about this in the blog a lot. I put songs in two categories. There are the gathering songs, the ones that are going to be the singles. The ones that are going to do well in a Spotify playlist promotion campaign or on organic content where it’s very grabby. Those songs have requirements. They’re usually up-tempo. They have a great chorus and a great hook. They have lyrics that draw you in and probably a great beat too.

That’s one type of song. There are so many other ways to be creative that even if it’s a great song musically and artistically, it might not work in a marketing scenario. That’s the fact of the matter. Maybe a great ballad that is heartfelt is going to connect deeply with the audience, but that might not do so well in a playlist situation because it doesn’t stand out. There are also fewer playlist opportunities for ballads in general.

When I say B song, I’m referring to a song that isn’t quite your best work. If that can be reworked later and maybe turned into something that is a great song, then I think throwing that on the album is fine. Maybe I’m just speaking out of my own creativity. I know as a songwriter, not every song I write is going to be releasable. That’s how I feel. That’s how it was in college. I would have bad ideas sometimes. I’m not shooting 10 for 10 personally as a creative person. I need to be okay with that because that’s where writer’s block comes in where we self-assess. We’re too self-critical and we’re like, “Why am I not as good as what I’m listening to on Spotify?”

We need to remember that everything on Spotify that’s released by the artists that we look up to is a finished release and it has made the cut. We’re not seeing the songs that were filed away, unfinished or the demo that will never be released. That’s my belief anyway where I’m okay with writing the 30 songs just to get the 10.

It’s hard sometimes because as songwriters often say, they are like babies. We don’t want to say that some are better than others, but they are, let’s be honest. With the algorithm, I’ve heard it said on occasion that there are some playlists that you don’t want to get on. They can hurt you. Do you have an opinion about that?

Yes, definitely. There are a few types of playlists. There are the ones that are very personal to the listener. They love your song and they drag it to their own playlist. What that is going to do is it’s going to generate a very specific type of stream. It’s going to be called a user-owned playlist stream. It’s my own playlist and I’m streaming on my own playlist. That’s fine and you can have those all day long. That’s the equivalent of someone clicking the heart button on Spotify. Actually, they changed the icon. It’s not heart anymore. That’s the equivalent to a like on Spotify.

There is the type of stream where a user listens to a playlist that someone else made or a third-party playlister. This is probably the biggest category other than the Spotify-owned playlist because this is where influencer marketing campaigns come in and paid placements, where you pitch your song to a curator. This is something that our agency does at the Indie Music Academy. You’ve probably heard of SubmitHub or Playlist Push. They also do the same thing where you’re pitching your song to curators who have these third-party lists, not owned by Spotify. They’re managed by independent people.

That category of stream is very important because there’s a lot more volume. You’re going to get a lot more people listening to your music. That’s where we have to be careful because it’s a lot of data signaling. If it’s the wrong data, then we could throw our Spotify in for a loop a bit. I would say an obvious mismatch would be being on a playlist that is clearly not your genre. If you do acoustic, rock-driven music, or whatever it is, and you’re on something like EDM, it’s not going to be the right listener.

However, if you’re on a list that is generally in the right style, it’s getting good engagement, and you’re seeing that there are a lot of great artists on the list, then that’s a pretty great place to be. If you see that every single musician on the list is an obscure artist and you’ve never heard of any single one of them, then you’re probably on a bot list because that’s the scam, just to be blunt. It’s like, “Let’s lure artists in, promise them streams, and then throw them on some kind of list that is never going to see the light of day for real listeners.” There’ll be chockfull of independent artists and somehow, their streams are going up and it turns out it’s bots.

We always like to identify playlists that are organically ranking in the Spotify search results. That means if you can type in a keyword and that playlist is one of the top five results, it’s guaranteed to be getting real human traffic from Spotify users. That’s a good sign. Also, the artists in the list, if you’re seeing top-tier A-list artists, that means that people are consuming the music in their regular day-to-day lives. There’s a very small percentage of people who are always listening to obscure independent artists.

I’m not saying they’re not out there, but let’s be real. If you’re driving in the car or going to the gym, you’re popping your earbuds on and you’re going to listen to music from artists that you know. That’s where playlists thrive. Playlists with A-list artists are going to rank at the top of the search. Playlist with obscure artists where there’s no Post Malone, there’s no Olivia Rodrigo, there’s no Taylor Swift, those are going to fall to the bottom of the rankings because it’s a popularity thing.

If you can get placed on a real list that is ranking and has real artists on it, then that is a real influencer marketing campaign because the influence is real. That’s the holistic view of what’s dangerous, what is desirable, and what’s undesirable. Genre is one part of it. The quality of the list in my mind is the most important thing because there’s so much audience overlap in the user patterns on Spotify.

TPM 111 | Spotify Algorithm

Spotify Algorithm: The quality of the list is the most important thing because there’s so much audience overlap in the user patterns on Spotify.

 

By audience overlap, I mean someone who listens to hip-hop and who also listens to pop. Someone who listens to pop might also listen to folk. That’s because we as music consumers have multiple taste categories. That’s normal. It’s as long as you’re getting a good data signal if we’re going to focus on the algorithm. If we’re going to focus on whether it’s real or not, you need to make sure that the playlist is legit, ranking, visible, and getting real organic listeners. Those are my main litmus test for playlist quality.

Those make a lot of sense. What about the coveted Spotify-curated playlists? We don’t have a lot of control over getting on those for sure. Are those always a good thing or are those sometimes not a good thing?

They’re usually a good thing. The Spotify-curated playlists are very similar in the sense that a human picks the songs. That’s the same as a third-party playlist. The only difference is that it’s someone who gets their paycheck from Spotify. It’s someone on the Spotify staff choosing and curating. Obviously, they do have their finger on the pulse with music they know and what artists are liked right now. If you are added, usually, it would be a niche editorial, so something within one of your sub-genres. That can be a good thing. The funny thing is that usually, editorial playlists get a little less engagement compared to algorithmic playlists. That’s because the algorithm is customized to you as a specific listener.

An editorial playlist can be a huge bump in streams and it feels good. From a data standpoint, it’s not that different than a third-party placement. It’s slightly below triggering an algorithm. It’s a good thing for sure. I don’t want to make it sound like you need to avoid it, but it’s a good thing. It’s just funny how customized content truly is a good thing. We all experience that with YouTube every single day. The YouTube homepage is customized to us. It’s a good thing when your Spotify playlists are customized to you as well. Triggering the algorithm is a fantastic way to get more visibility on Spotify. It comes with a great engagement rate along with it.

Triggering the algorithm is just a fantastic way to get more visibility on Spotify. It comes with a great engagement rate along with it. Click To Tweet

I do feel like maybe the playlists that Spotify creates are not as popular as they used to be just because the algorithmic playlists are so good. It’s like they know us. If we’ve been on Spotify for a long time as a listener, it knows what I like. I’m almost always happier with listening to those versus listening to anything that Spotify created around a genre or the New Music Friday or any of those because it’s going to be a lot of the most popular things that generally are not my style anyway.

The best thing about an editorial placement is new discovery and new listeners, especially using the Spotify search bar. If they’re typing keywords into the search bar, Spotify loves to rank its own stuff high. Just a few minutes ago, we talked about third-party lists ranking high, but that’s all mixed in with Spotify editorials as well. Depending on what you type in, it could be relaxing music, Christmas songs, or barbecue music. Whatever is happening in your life, you want to find a playlist to match it. Sometimes a Spotify editorial is the first result, but a lot of times it’s not. It could be a third-party list that’s the first result. It depends but that’s why editorials are so great because in general, the Spotify editorial lists are ranked pretty high.

Do you find that people do gain new long-term listeners from that? Their streams are bumped for a while, and then you fall off that playlist, and then they go back down?

It is very turbulent. The whole playlist side of traffic generation is very much an injection that is temporary. This is true for editorials. This is true for influencer marketing campaigns or paid placements. It’s very turbulent. It’s good to get that visibility. You’re getting more data. If you get on editorial, that’s great because that means someone on the Spotify staff hand-selected you. I would clarify for everyone listening that it is usually for sure temporary. That doesn’t mean there are no benefits though because it is traffic. While you’re on that editorial placement or while you’re on that third-party placement, your followers should go up, your stream should go up, and your likes should go up, and that’s all good.

Even playlist ads should go up because one of the most popular ways to save a song is not by clicking the save button. It’s actually by dragging it to a playlist that you already have as a user. Getting on a playlist is a great way to get user engagement drags. It drags onto people’s personal playlists. That’s great because if you are dragged to someone’s personal playlist, just an example, maybe someone resonated with your song during a breakup and they’re already building their breakup playlist that they listen to every night when they’re sad.

That’s a great connection with a song. Not great about the breakup, but it’s a great connection with the artist. Getting dragged into a playlist is a great engagement. It’s one of my favorite engagement metrics to keep track of whenever I’m marketing an artist or keeping a month-to-month view of what’s happening because it’s a very intentional move. It’s like, “I like this song enough to make this a part of my library.”

TPM 111 | Spotify Algorithm

Spotify Algorithm: Getting your song dragged into a playlist is a really great engagement because it’s a very intentional move.

 

That’s exactly how I interact with Spotify. I don’t ever save a song. I always put it on a playlist because I’m afraid I’m going to lose track of it. I’m a categorizing person. I want to categorize it so I can have things together. I have a lot of personal playlists so that makes a lot of sense to me. Let’s hit this from the other side, the driving traffic side. What are you driving traffic to to get these streams on Spotify?

Are you driving traffic to a specific track, like a single? Are you driving traffic to an album? Are you driving traffic to a personalized playlist that you’ve made as an artist? I’ve started doing that for myself too because I have different genres that I do. One is Christian, one is classical, and one is pop for my own music. I’ve started creating different playlists there. I thought it makes more sense to drive traffic to a playlist than to just one song because then they’ll listen to more.

The beauty of it is that you can do all of it. You can do whatever you want. You can change it at any time. You can switch up your strategy, depending on what’s happening in your career. Maybe the evergreen version would be either a playlist or just the artist’s profile. If you want to narrow down and funnel that traffic towards a single, the way that I recommend doing it is by using a platform called ToneDen. It’s a smart link platform that I love.

You can swap out those Spotify links at any time and change the destination to whatever suits you. The magic happens one step before they get to Spotify. For anyone who’s starting out in this world of direct marketing, we’re talking about Instagram and Facebook ads, and using Meta Business Manager. There’s a great suite of tools where you can create posts that are paid ads and you can track everything.

There’s something called the Facebook Pixel. One of the things it does, and this is how we use it in the Spotify growth formula, is we keep track of everyone that clicks over to Spotify with the Facebook Pixel and we create a custom audience for those people. It’s called the Conversion Event in Meta Business Manager. We have this conversion event that whether they’re going to an album or whether they’re going to a playlist, or the artist profile, or a single. No matter where the end destination is, that conversion event fires. It’s a signal to Facebook that we found one of the good ones or one of the people who actually made it over there.

Facebook ads or Meta Business Manager is a great learning tool for discovering your unique fingerprint or your unique artist or audience fingerprint for your music based off of those clicks. That’s what it looks like. One step before clicking over to Spotify, what I encourage artists to do is to create some content in a video format. Create some sort of video content that demonstrates their talent and their song in an organic way or in an engaging way.

I find that the best way to do that is not necessarily to hire a cinematographer. It’s not to do the classic music video where there’s lots of budget and lots of lights. Honestly, the best thing to do is to make videos that look like regular posts on the app. If you’re advertising on Instagram, just make regular Instagram posts, but try to make them inspiring or good, demonstrating your talent and demonstrating what is that cool thing about you as an artist, and see if we can capture that on video.

I show them a cool technique to A/B test 3 or 4 videos. We can find the winner. It all works together pretty much in the background once you set it up to share your best content to brand new people, track them properly so we know if we find one of the good ones, and then they end up on Spotify where they can experience your music.

That’s all very similar to what I do for my business and what I encourage musicians to do. Are you capturing email addresses along the way?

There’s a retargeting plan that I show my students. We retarget those event fires and I show them how to create a cool offer that is bigger than the music. It’s better than just the song. I tell them, “Put something together and invent something.” Invent some kind of experience, package, or fan starter kit. Whatever you think of, it has to be on brand for you. There’s no wrong answer but think of something that you want to deliver to your fans that’s meaningful. Make that the bonus for anyone who signs up for your mailing list. That’s the simplified version anyway. I place a lot of value on mailing list growth. It’s one of the most important things an artist can do. I know we’ve been talking a lot about Spotify, but Spotify is the brand awareness that leads to your list growth, for sure.

TPM 111 | Spotify Algorithm

Spotify Algorithm: There’s a lot of value in mailing list growth. It’s one of the most important things an artist can do, but Spotify is the brand awareness that leads to your list growth.

 

I like that you’re doing that on the backend or as the second step of that fan journey. The first thing is to hook them into you on Spotify so they keep your song, and then they keep hearing it. When they see these retargeting ads and they’re sitting at their desk and they’re listening to their playlist and your song comes on, and then you retarget, “Maybe I do want to get more from this artist.” That makes a lot more sense. I see people oftentimes trying to turn someone into a fan immediately from an ad and try to get them to join an email list to get something for free, but they don’t have enough desire yet to get something from this person because they don’t know them well enough yet.

It all comes down to touch points and creating that desire. I love to use Spotify as what would be the content and a traditional business lead gen strategy. The business shares valuable blog posts or valuable insights on its page. What’s the equivalent for the musician? What’s the valuable experience? What’s the valuable insight that we can bring as musicians? It’s the experience of the song and it’s the experience of the artistry. That’s why I think Spotify is a great brand awareness strategy that then drives the rest of the growth for your music business. That’s one of the best ways to get those touch points to build the demand for your artistry. It has to happen on Spotify.

That’s so good. That brings us back to what we were talking about near the beginning about how musicians take marketing courses. It doesn’t quite translate because they’re always you have to provide value. Musicians don’t think that their music is the value. They think, “I have to come up with some PDF.” Even in the old days when it was like, “Here’s a free download,people don’t want that now because they’re not consuming music that way. Here is a link to this song on Spotify that will be perfect for what they’re interested in. That is the value. Would you agree?

I absolutely agree. That free download idea, wouldn’t that be so much more desirable after they’ve listened to 3 or 4 tracks, and then you offer a song that isn’t on Spotify because this is a studio demo from when we collaborated with so and so artist or it’s a B side. It is never going to be released. It’s for subscribers only. It’s in some kind of bundle or some kind of fan starter kit. It’s the word I always try to use to get people’s wheels turning. What can you do that’s an upgrade from Spotify? Music is already available. That’s the world that we’re in. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing if you’re trying to make money off of royalties. It’s not ideal, but in terms of our music being more accessible than ever, that’s a good thing.

When you’re starting out and you’re trying to grow in reach and trying to grow an audience, you do want communication channels and broadcasting channels to be as easy as possible. If you remember back to the old days when you had to get on the radio or you had to get in that tour van in order to get brand awareness, it’s a lot easier now even with the downsides of streaming. That means we might need to rethink where the money comes from. I am a huge proponent of getting paid more out of streams. That would be a huge step forward. However, I don’t think streaming is going to reverse.

I don’t want to hang my hat on a pipe dream where it’s like, “We need to get back to downloads or physical.” It’s like Blu-Ray freaking out over Netflix. “Are you telling me we can’t charge $39 for a Blu-Ray at Target anymore? What are we going to do?” The cat is out of the bag, so you’re going to have to figure it out. It’s also a great thing for the fact that people are watching movies more than ever now. It’s a new puzzle to solve. The movie business is a great analogy. I’m not a director by any means, but it’s a similar thing with streaming. It’s a new problem to solve and it does have its pros and cons. We could be honest about the pros and the cons at the same time.

I’m always pushing the discoverability aspect that we have now that we never had in the past. I still see artists who want to live in the past. They’re still so angry about streaming and they’re like, “I’m going to hoard all my music on my website. People can only get it there.” Your five fans are going to get it there and you’re going to get this many dollars for it, but you’re not going to ever find new fans that way.

It’s a broken mindset around investment because all investment is delayed gratification, even with finances. I’m not going to spend the money now. I’m going to put it into a place where I can’t access it because there’s going to be a benefit years down the line. The same is true with streaming. It’s like, “Sure, I can try to hoard my catalog. I can try to put it behind a paywall or make it for patrons only or whatever it is. It’s thinking about the dollar now, not the dollar later. I guarantee that there are going to be more monetization opportunities once your audience is larger compared to whatever size it is now. If you can 10x your audience by delaying gratification, I think you’re going to make a lot more than 10x your money.

Investment is delayed gratification. The same is true with streaming. Click To Tweet

I like that analogy of the investment. I always talk about your audience or your email list being an asset that you can rely on for years to come. That’s similar to what you said, so I’m all for that. This has been super helpful and enlightening. I appreciate getting your clarification on a lot of things, especially in relation to Spotify. Is there anything else that you wanted to tell indie artists out there that we haven’t covered? That was a very open-ended question.

In conclusion, we did talk a lot about algorithms, marketing, and ads. It all comes down to two things that have to happen at the same time while you’re marketing and while all of this craziness is going on. Your songs have to be good and you have to move with confidence. That’s part of your brand. Confidence is part of your artist brand. Sometimes as musicians, we’re afraid of technology. Maybe we’re afraid of the algorithm. Maybe we’re afraid of even learning about a social media platform, how to do ads, or how to graduate into this new music business and figure out how it works. It’s all very scary. Rest assured, the biggest factor still is making sure that the music is absolutely wonderful for people to connect with.

It all starts with how well you are feeding your artistic soul, and how well are you being honest with yourself about how good you are. As I said earlier, I’m not always feeling like my stuff is good. Some songs are not going to make it out, and that’s okay. It can be a real temptation to put the blinders on and think, “Everything I touch turns to gold. I don’t understand why people aren’t listening to my music. Something is wrong with them.” Let’s take it back to a level. My encouragement would be the war of art is a struggle. Not every song is going to be a good song. What truly brings success is consistency over time.

If you can walk the walk, stay the course, be consistent, and be honest with yourself, “Is this something that I should release or is this going to be an exercise in creativity?” There’s satisfying your creative self, but there’s also making the right business decisions. Those are sometimes at odds with each other. It’s like, “I love this song. This is my baby. I wrote it for so-and-so. It means so much to me.” That is wonderful. You should record those songs and you should pursue those creative ideas.

That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a winning ad. It doesn’t mean it’s going to get accepted by curators. There’s no guarantee that all creativity is going to resonate. It’s understanding that artistry is up and down. Artistry is, “I feel good and I just don’t feel so good today.” Understanding that consistency through all of that is what makes for a successful musician. If we can meditate on that and keep that mindset in every other thing that we do, whether it’s ads, pitching to playlist listers, figuring out the algorithm, launching our Patreon, or whatever it is, make sure you approach it with that heart and I think you’ll be fine.

You’re speaking my language. That’s a mic-drop moment right there. Thank you for that passionate reminder for artists why we’re here and what we’re doing. Sometimes we can get a little lost in the data and stuff. Some artists don’t learn the data and don’t learn the marketing. They’re too much on the creative side. Sometimes we can get too lost on the analytical side and forget that we are artists, we are creating art, and we need to feed that creative soul. Thank you for bringing it back around to that. How can people get in touch with you and connect with you on social media, your website, and all of that?

Once again, my name is Ryan Waczek. If that’s too hard to type in, just type Indie Music Academy. That’s the name of the website and all of the socials, IndieMusicAcademy.com. For anyone who wants to hear more about my thoughts, and learn more about Spotify, and how the algorithm works, I do have a free workshop. That’s at IndieMusicAcademy.com/workshop. You can access that at any time. It’s an on-demand video. Everyone is welcome and it gets delivered instantly. Also, anyone who wants to email me can email me. I also have a mailing list where I send out marketing insights and music industry tips.

Right now, I’m working on a video talking about all the different types of music royalties and how to collect all of them. That’s going to go out soon on the mailing list. There’s a lot of value there as well. If anyone wants to start formally learning a marketing strategy to grow their music, they should jump into the Spotify Growth Formula, or at least check it out. I’m always available to answer any questions that anyone has about marketing or the music industry. I’m an open book and I’m looking forward to connecting with any of the audience who liked what I had to say.

I love that you shared very specifically as I asked very specific questions. I appreciate you doing that on the show. I know it’s going to be helpful to people. It’s going to get them excited to learn more. Go out and check out the websites that he mentioned and connect with Ryan. Thanks so much, Ryan, for all of your insights on the show.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

 

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About Ryan Waczek

TPM 111 | Spotify AlgorithmRyan Waczek is a classically trained musician, digital marketer, and the founder of the Indie Music Academy. Our guest has a deep understanding of the Spotify algorithm and has helped his artists rack up over one hundred million streams on Spotify through Facebook and Instagram marketing strategies, and successful playlist pitching. Ryan’s approachable and hands-on teaching style empowers indie artists to market their music effectively and build a music income by leveraging their creativity.

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