Traditionally, radio was the most important way for fans to discover music and new artists. While it is still a highly relevant medium in today’s transitional phase of the music business, another discovery tool’s relevance is increasing rapidly: the playlist. The two largest streaming services, Spotify and Apple Music, both make heavy use of curated and/or algorithmically created playlists which help their users to discover new music.
And those playlists can be highly influential. Spotify’s famous hip-hop playlist RapCaviar, which Vulture once called “the most influential playlist in music”, for instance has almost 10 million followers as of writing this (for comparison’s sake: Dancehall Official, Spotify’s biggest dancehall playlist has just above 500,000 followers). A song that ends it way onto it can easily blow up, as happened last year with rapper Lil UziVert’s XOTour Llif3.The track was voted “Song of the Summer” at the 2017 VMAs and peaked at #10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts – all without any significant airplay on radio.
So, artists that want to build a career in the streaming age need to master new challenges. First, they need to establish relationships with the relevant curators who can drive listens and break artists. Moreover, they need to develop tactics to engage their fans and turn them into regular streamers.This might start with the music itself, include innovative release strategies, and also the use of social media to drive repeat listens. As the rules of the game change, so do the moves that win big. And it doesn’t necessarily require major label power behind it. If you search the web for success stories of DIY artists or those signed at independent labels, you will find that innovative, clever teams have a real opportunity.
The key, however, is to not solely rely on streaming revenues but to make it part of a broader strategy. Due to the way streaming revenues are distributed among rights owners, the biggest artists in terms of overall plays make the most money. For smaller acts, it can be a challenging environment. Thus, artists in a niche genre like reggae might find it even harder to create revenue from streams than from sales. Still, streaming presents an opportunity even to them. One key benefit that comes with streaming music is very good data about the audience. Clever teams, for instance, use insights like the cities in which an act is most popular to plan successful tours.
The precise structure of the optimal business varies from artist to artist but the streaming economy makes controlling all parts of it in an integrated manner more desirable than ever, especially in a “global niche” like reggae.