There are hundreds of articles out there that advise you to, “build audience engagement” and “get on Spotify playlists”. The problem is, they don’t tell you how to do it.
I’ve condensed the insights gained from working with hundreds of artists into an actionable, step-by-step guide for growing your Spotify streams and followers — even if you have ZERO social media presence to start with.
Quick Recap on Growing Spotify Followers
Before doing a deep dive, here’s a recap of some of the pieces of advice you might have come across before, which probably left you asking, “Yeah, but HOW?”
|Promote music organically through social media
|- Requires an existing follower base to be effective.- Interactive experiences and promotions demand resources and creativity.- Limited reach without a marketing budget for ads.
|Engage with audiences and build community
|- Assumes an audience is already there to engage.- Community building can take months or years.
|Attract attention through superior production quality
|- High-end production can be expensive- Competing with established artists on presentation is challenging.
|Leverage curated and algorithmic playlists
|- Highly competitive with no guarantee of inclusion.- Difficult to get noticed if you don’t already have followers or connections in the first place.
You see the common problem here: how do you grow as an artist when you don’t have any social media following to start with?
Step 1: Figure out distribution
Think of the most popular artists in the world from any era, and you’ll always find people who hate their music. The Beatles, Beyonce, the Rolling Stones — doesn’t matter which artist you name, there are thousands of folks out there who don’t like their music.
The point is: audience growth is a numbers game.
It doesn’t matter how good your music is if you can’t figure out how to get it in front of a huge number of people.
Here are the best ways to do that for free.
1. Video chat platforms
For an early-career, indie artist with limited means, live video chatting is a great way of gaining access to a potentially infinite audience. Here’s how to make the most of live chats for video content.
Identify the platform best suited to your goals and priorities
Video chat services vary widely in typical user profiles, popular chat topics as well as favored interaction styles. While choosing a service, align your priorities with the features offered by the service:
- Maximal outreach – choose a service with a large user base, such as Ome.TV
- Music-centric groups – select a service which has multiple hobby and interest groups, such as Emerald Chat
- User safety – pick a service that strictly enforces policies around objectionable content, such as Bazoocam
Before embarking on performances for your chat partners, make sure platform policy permits recording of chat sessions. For every chat session, be sure to obtain consent from your chat partner(s) for making video recordings of your interactions with them
Through 2019, Toronto-based alt-pop duo Rafaele Massarelli (aka Crash) and Vince Sasso (aka Adams) released a series of video clips on TikTok. The artists used signature spiffy suits and an enormous red velvet sofa as the backdrop for showcasing their lighthearted, ‘feel good’ music.
The great popularity of these videos catapulted Crash Adams’ 2022 song, “Give Me A Kiss” to superhit status. Maintaining that momentum, the artists continued to build their social media following through regular short video releases.
In their YouTube Shorts videos, Crash Adams ran a variety of challenges, such as inviting passersby to perform with them to beat previous video view records, or to win prizes by guessing the songs they played. These videos further pushed up the duo’s fan following into the millions.
Building visibility and brand recognition through busking
As the above case study illustrates, the modern day adaptation of busking lets you achieve multiple objectives, including:
- capturing high quality audience engagement on video
- building a distinctive brand image and recognition in the process, and
- boosting social media presence through quality video content
Before you grab your boombox and run out the door, though:
Acquaint yourself with local busking laws
Most cities and towns have regulations regarding where and when busking is permitted. Be sure to avoid places where your performance may attract a penalty, such as busy traffic intersections or pedestrian thoroughfares
Choose strategic locations where people tend to relax
While selecting a busking spot, give preference to popular leisure areas, such as public parks, beaches and promenades. Additionally, select spaces where the small crowd that gathers is unlikely to be flagged as disruptive by local authorities.
Be uniformly polite
Polite and courteous behavior is a must for artists who wish to gain maximum mileage from their busking. Veteran buskers recommend responding politely even to uncivil behavior from passersby or local law enforcement.
3. Short video platforms
On platforms like YouTube and Instagram, the number of views, likes, and followers for each post are prominently displayed. Audiences tend to gauge the worthiness of content by these metrics, avoiding engaging with content that hasn’t already garnered significant attention.
Due to this biased environment, new artists with low numbers of views and likes for their content often find it difficult to attract an audience.
But TikTok and YouTube Shorts work differently.
Instead of displaying view counts and follower numbers prominently, the algorithms on these platforms expose new content to audiences that are consuming similar content, irrespective of its previous popularity.
This is one of the few places where your existing follower count and streams don’t matter as much. Even brand new artists with no audience base can find their videos served up alongside the videos of established creators with millions of followers.
By regularly posting engaging content on these platforms, you increase your odds of being featured and discovered by new fans.
Step 2: Engineer social proof
The truth is, 3.7 million new videos are uploaded every single day, on YouTube alone.
With millions of videos uploaded each day, everyone wants to know: why should I care about this particular video?
Even if 10,000 new videos go viral every day (which definitely doesn’t happen), your odds of going viral are 0.27 percent.
So, 99.73% of videos hardly get any attention.
Because, as we discussed before, people are wired to respond to social proof.
If you stand on a busy street and stare at the sky, most people will walk right past you, and very few will stop to see what you’re looking at. But if you do the same thing with three other friends — all of you gazing skywards — you’ll have 10x as many people stopping to figure out what’s going on.
Use this to your advantage by showing people’s reactions to your music, in your video.
Making videos that show that people find your music / performance entertaining and enjoyable is a great social proof hack to get viewers’ attention.
Here’s a case study illustrating how you can make high quality videos that feature interactions with audiences, without a big budget.
Case study – Harry Mack
In 2020, LA-based freestyle rapper Harry McKenzie, aka ‘Harry Mack’, began posting video clips on multiple social media platforms like TikTok and Facebook. The clips showed the artist interacting with random chat partners paired with him on Omegle, a live video chatting service.
In each video, the rapper delivered unscripted, freestyle rap in response to a set of random words suggested to him by his chat partner(s). The video clips not only showcased Harry Mack’s rapping talent, they also made sure to highlight the growing amazement and enthusiasm of his listeners, capturing audience awe and appreciation for the artist’s talent.
Unsurprisingly, the videos attracted huge viewership, leading the artist’s global fanbase to explode into the millions within just a year.
Step 3: Pushing social media following on to Spotify
Once you’ve built a social media following of a few thousand fans or more, pushing these fans onto your Spotify artist page is a natural progression.
But before getting into the nitty-gritties of growing your Spotify following, it is important to get the terminology straight. Distinguishing among ‘streams’, ‘listeners’ and ‘followers’ is useful for emerging artists to get a clear picture of their stature and growth on Spotify.
In simple language,
- One ‘stream’ on Spotify is counted when a track is played for 30 seconds or longer
- The number of streams of a song for a given time period is the total number of times the track was played for over 30 seconds during that period
- The number of listeners or ‘monthly listeners’ on Spotify is the number of different people who have streamed a track (for over 30 seconds) in the last 28 days
- A ‘follower’ on Spotify is distinct from a ‘listener’. Listeners are those who simply play a track by a particular artist, while followers are those who click on the ‘heart’ button to save the song to their libraries (and might even add it to their ‘favorites’)
The difference between casual listeners and followers is crucial to an artist’s Spotify growth: followers are automatically notified of an artist’s upcoming releases via inbox messages and see new releases on personalized ‘Release Radar’ playlists. This boosts the artist’s Spotify streams.
Spotify not only notifies followers about an artist’s upcoming releases through personal messages delivered to their Spotify inbox, it also features upcoming releases from 10 of the artists being followed by a user on its ‘Release Radar’ playlist, personalized for every user.
The number of Spotify followers that an artist has therefore contributes significantly to both the outreach of their music as well as to their streaming income.
The parallel path: Spotify SEO and metrics
Building a social media following that can be nudged onto your Spotify profile represents only half of the picture behind building your Spotify following. The other half is using in-built Spotify features to provide listeners with the best possible experience of your music.
Spotify as a search engine
You read that right—Spotify is a search engine. Like Google, YouTube and other search engines, Spotify presents the “best match” results when users enter search queries.
By maximizing the relevance as well as ‘coverage’ of the keywords used in song titles and descriptions, musicians can improve the discoverability of their music, which in turn increases its odds of being streamed.
For example, say a track is titled “Funshine”. By limiting themselves to genre and subgenre descriptors, such as ‘cool jazz’ and ‘West Coast jazz’, an artist limits the number of song searches for which their track turns up among the results.
Instead, expanding the song description keywords to include terms such as ‘summer’, ‘sunny mood’, ‘holiday vibes’ and ‘beach music’ can potentially increase several-fold the number of song searches for which the track will show up.
Using Spotify metrics
The Spotify Artist page also offers a pretty detailed, built-in analytics dashboard. This allows artists to track numerous metrics to gauge how listeners are responding to their songs.
Here are just some of the major indices you can track for your Spotify music:
- How many listeners are playing your track right now?
- How many times has your song been streamed up to now?
- How many streams has your track had over different time periods (such as the past 1 month, 6 months and so forth)
- How many monthly listeners has your track had on average?
- What are the ages and locations of your listeners?
- How many followers do you have on Spotify?
- How many playlists has your song been added to (with names, dates and locations)?
Our guide to Spotify analytics gives you the full breakdown on how to use this data to supercharge your marketing. It even includes a free Spotify analytics tool.
Supplementary strategies for Spotify growth
Strategy 1: Targeted advertising campaigns
Once you have a reasonable audience base, an ad campaign can give an additional boost to your Spotify growth. Here is a summary of the most important lessons I’ve learnt from client success stories, on what works best in such campaigns:
Zeroing in on listener profiles
Profiling Spotify as well as social media followers in detail has proven to be one of the best predictors of success in targeted ad campaigns. The better we nail those profiles – geographical location, age group, occupation, hobbies and interests – the better we’re able to target ‘lookalike’ audiences through our campaigns, and the higher are the conversions.
Continuous tracking and fine-tuning
An earlier section highlighted Spotify metrics and how these can be used to monitor and fine-tune music marketing efforts. Equally importantly, ‘A/B testing’ – trying out multiple ads to see which works best is critical to maximizing the cost-effectiveness of music ads.
The power of conversion campaigns
In a conversion campaign, social media users see an ad which directs them to a landing page. By clicking on a button on the landing page, the user arrives on the artist’s Spotify page.
For ads on both Facebook as well as Instagram, our experience shows that using a conversion campaign to display previously tested, engaging ads yields optimal results, for example:
- High click-through rates or CTR (up to 60%!)
- Up to 1.5x the average streams per listener on Spotify
- Much higher than average ratio of Spotify saves to listens (2x to 3x)
Strategy 2: Spotify playlisting
The single piece of advice most commonly given to musicians trying to expand their listenership is to, “get on Spotify playlists”. While this is easier said than done, getting on Spotify playlists undoubtedly contributes to expanding an artist’s musical footprint.
Pitching a track to playlist curators requires careful planning and action. Some of the main considerations in playlist pitching include:
- How well does your track fit the theme of the playlist (genre, mood, tempo, other relevant criteria)?
- Is the curator currently open to playlist submissions?
- Are there any criteria that either increase or decrease your track’s eligibility for the playlist? (For example, you could improve the odds of the cover track of your first album being playlisted by pitching it to a curator known for encouraging artist debuts.)
- What additional feature of your song or its back-story can be leveraged to pique the interest of playlist curators?
- Word-of-mouth referrals often play a huge role in getting songs on curated playlists, so having a well-known musician or industry figure vouch for your music can tilt the scales in your favor.
Check out our complete guide to Spotify playlist promotion, including the most common mistakes to avoid.