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Playola: Reckoning with ​Music's Newest Kingmaker

Playola: Reckoning with Music's Newest Kingmaker

Our very own Jarred Goldner, Director of Artist Relations, participated in a panel discussion at SXSW in Austin, Texas this year titled, “Playola: Reckoning with Music's Newest Kingmaker.”

Jarred shared the stage with Erik Beijnoff, a strategist for publishing rights and former Spotify employee; Jonny Dawson, Artist Manager with ATC Management; and Beatie Wolfe, independent singer-songwriter and innovator. George Howard, Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music and co-founder of Music Audience Exchange, moderated the panel.

Payola Turned Playola

The panelists discussed how music fans are increasingly tuning into playlists for music discovery, a trend brought on by the streaming era. Try any of the major music streaming services today and you’ll find yourself with millions of playlists to choose from. This trend has made premium playlist placement an increasingly popular marketing strategy for artists and their managers.

The title of this panel comes from the revelation that record labels were paying for placement on popular playlists, a practice that was dubbed “playola” in a Billboard article in 2015. Playola is a play on words that comes from the term payola, the illegal practice of paying radio stations to play specific songs without disclosing that it is a paid advertisement. Payola rules apply to broadcast radio and television stations but what about streaming services?

Meeting The Newest Kingmaker

Historically, the radio was (and still is) the thing that can break a new artist; however, streaming services are quickly becoming the go-to for fans looking to discover new music. George joked, “What we’ve done is create a new kingmaker, as the title of the panel suggests.”

If music streaming services are the new kingmakers, then what is the game to be played? Jonny’s take on playola as a strategy helped to put things in perspective. He pointed out that “the number of domestic playlists only make up 20%. If playola is happening, I question how effective it really is. Those playlists in their entirety cannot game the system.”

Playlist Popularity: Challenge or Opportunity?

There are now more than 2 billion playlists on Spotify. Like social media, playlists are viral in nature with some popular playlists, like RapCaviar, reaching more than 9 million followers. When a song gets added to these influential playlists, the song will see a huge spike in streams, creating the opportunity for it to become the next viral hit.

Real people are replacing the taste-predicting algorithms that once created playlists. Streaming services have hired teams of people dedicated to playlist curation, and their job is to create the next notable playlist. Their magic number of songs is 40 - generally between 2 and 2.5 hours of listening. Whether it’s for your next workout session, daily work grind, dinner party, or football tailgate - these playlist curators aim to always have you covered.

The challenge for managers and artists is how to get their music featured on these influential playlists. With an estimated 30,000 new songs added to Spotify every day, the odds of a new song by a relatively unknown artist making it onto one of the top playlists are not great. So how do artists increase their chances of being included?

Curate Your Strategy

A recording artist in the audience asked, “Do you know a way to format for Spotify that increases your chances of the algorithms finding you? Do they scan songs for length or the quality of mastering?” Beatie offered insightful advice to him and other artists in the room saying, “The landscape is changing all the time - we have to look beyond what is getting everyone hot right now and think about creating and curating the best art possible.”

There is no formal submission process for playlists; curators are using a combination of personal taste, trends, data, and research to build the perfect playlist. Breakthrough artists need to look beyond the viral playlists and focus on getting their music heard by those fans most who are most likely to enjoy their music. According to Spotify, “If your music is breaking, we’ll find it.” While this is promising, it’s not very helpful - getting your music heard requires a bit more work.

Artists need to make their music as visible as possible and maintain an active presence across all platforms (including streaming and social channels), reaching out to fans and asking them to stream, share, and save their songs. When artists or their management go to these music streaming services to pitch a song they need to have more than just a recording. They need to have data and analytics to back their music up, they need to have an established fan base and tour dates, and more importantly, they need to have a story.  

Maximize Your Story

Music Audience Exchange plays a supporting role in breakthrough artist’s stories by using data and analytics to build authentic brand partnerships. Jarred explained, “What makes this unique and the reason I am sitting on the panel is that our entire focus is on artist promotion. We look at things differently in terms of how artists should get promoted and how they can use the tools that we have to [help them] get on these playlists and work with these playlisters.”

Once we create a match between the artist and a brand, we build out custom content for the campaign and promote it across all platforms. As our Director of Artist Relations, it’s no surprise that Jarred takes pride in the artists we work with. He says, “I like to think our job is music promotion, to arm the artists and managers with as much content and collateral as we can.”

Our campaigns help artists to build their story so that when their management walks into streaming services like Apple Music, Pandora, or Spotify, they can say, "look at this brand we’re working with." They can present the campaign alongside their music and say, "look at the engagement we got across these social platforms, look at the attendance we had at these live events, and look at the fan base we’ve grown."

Music Audience Exchange worked with Ennay, an independent label reggaeton artist, on the Coors Light “My Music. My Climb.” campaign. Ennay’s management took the content for his campaign with Coors Light and presented it to the streaming services in support of his new single. His song got placed on three different Urban Latin playlists and Pandora gave him his own channel. Ennay is the perfect example of how artists can use their story and the content they create to support their songs and stand out from the crowd.

About MAX

Music Audience Exchange (MAX) was founded in 2014 with a mission to champion incredible music and the artists who make it through strategic, data-driven partnerships with brands. MAX brings brands into the music promotional space in a way that puts engaging content into the world through a value-exchange model that drives the brand's objectives and elevates breakthrough bands along the way. If you'd like to learn more about Music Audience Exchange and what a music promotion program would look like for your brand, send us a note.


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