“I’m well on my way to paying off my house with streaming revenue”

Streaming revenue is growing for guitarist Lance Allen
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How one instrumental guitarist is earning significant money from his streams on Spotify and Pandora.

The music career of Lance Allen is a true DIY success story. He doesn’t tour. He doesn’t rely on merch sales to pay the mortgage. He isn’t a household name. And yet he’s earning a full-time living in music by balancing guitar lessons with streaming revenue. That money he’s generating from Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube is a pretty sizable portion of his overall earnings too. It’s enough to “buy a new guitar every month,” but instead he’s using it to pay off his house.

How’s streaming working so well for him? I asked.

An interview with Lance Allen, the Guitarlancer

CR: Your main focus is clear from the calls-to-action at the very top of your website homepage: drive action on Spotify and Pandora. Why those platforms? Why not… touring? iTunes? YouTube? CD sales?

LA: Spotify and Pandora Radio have the largest audience, and that’s the reason why they’re my main focus. Plus it has been a source of income for me.

In late 2015, I was lucky and one of my songs was chosen for the new playlist on Spotify called Acoustic Concentration. A Skype guitar student that I teach told me about this. I didn’t know what to expect really, considering most people in the industry complain about Spotify’s royalty rates. The first payment I received was somewhere in the tune of $700 and I was floored! I didn’t know how long it would last, but I held out hope. It kept going and eventually the playlist switched up songs and I remained on there. This stayed constant, but I wasn’t doing any research until earlier in 2017, when I accidentally stumbled on a short book called The Slotify Method by George Goodrich. This book and the CD Baby PDF on how to get added to playlists put a fire in my feet and I got started right away. I’ve done most of the things suggested in each of the pamphlets, and it has worked greatly.

As far as touring, I don’t need to do that. I have a successful guitar lesson business and a family at home. It’s quite nice to be at home with the family. I do the occasional gig at coffee houses, weddings, or corporate events. It’s at those type of things that I bring physical CDs. I have a box with a hole in the top and lay my CDs around the box and have a sign that says, “Pay the box, take a CD. Any amount is ok. Enjoy!” This seems to work great, because most people pay more for the CD than they would normally.

YouTube is strong for me. I started in 2006 posting videos of my arrangements on guitar. My camera got better, sound got better, and everything else fell into place. I do generate a little income from the AdSense. YouTube is very friendly with Google, so whenever I release a song I’ll make a live performance of me playing it and link to my Spotify and Pandora artist pages, as well as where you can buy tablature or sign up for lessons. Sometimes I’ll do multiple videos of the same song on various guitar brands to get more keyword juice going. Every little bit helps. You just have to keep the content going.

CR: What, if any, are the unique opportunities that Pandora and Spotify offer instrumental music?

LA: I have found that businesses all over the globe are using Spotify and Pandora to stream instrumental music in their shops and offices. Whether it’s a coffee shop, a boutique store, gift shops, or doctors offices, they use these platforms typically to play instrumental music. A lot of them use existing playlists, but some create their own. So there is a lot of opportunity for me in these areas. Still learning about them.

So, you currently have half a million monthly listeners on Spotify, but take us back to Day 1: How did you get those first 1000 listeners? The first 10,000 listeners? Can you walk me through the real foundational steps for driving interest in your music? And how much of your success was the result of engaging your existing audience vs. reaching out to playlist curators?

I can’t remember really what my earliest numbers were like as I didn’t pay much attention until I saw some income from being on Acoustic Concentration.

After reading up on how to get on playlists, here are some of the things I started doing:

  • Posting screenshots of my artist page to Instagram and using pre-loaded hashtags for reach. I did this daily!
  • Using Twitter to promote the playlist I was already on, as well as encouraging people to follow me on Spotify.
  • Finding playlist owners and asking them to add me to one of their playlists.
  • Becoming acquainted with Spotify editorial departments on LinkedIn.

Speaking of, how DID you reach out to playlisters? What’s the method in terms of research, pitching, promoting, and so forth?

I did a search on Spotify using keywords that pertained to my genre of music (Acoustic Guitar, fingerstyle guitar, instrumental guitar, study music and so on. There are a lot!) I set about an hour each morning while I enjoyed my single origin pour-over coffee to do this. I searched out the creators of the playlist on Facebook and Twitter. I matched up photos, and requested them to be a friend, along with sending them a message telling them about my music and how it would fit nicely into their playlist. It’s very tedious work and some playlist curators don’t even get onto social media. The key is to stay persistent with it and then the ones that matter end up connecting with you and help you out.

I know from when I met you in person at the DIY Musician Conference that you have a confident way of promoting your music, without it seeming… cloying or arrogant. Is that just your natural demeanor, or did you have to work to acquire those skills of self-promotion? What part do you think that confidence plays in your career successes?

Confidence is one of my major strengths! If you have a dream or are very passionate about making a living doing something you love, you have to be willing to do what it takes to succeed. I’ve learned this through growing my guitar lesson business and meeting people. You never know who is going to be the next person to help you out. They may recommend you, buy a CD, or support your fundraisers. Or… put you on their playlist!

I’ve read a lot of books on self selling, and making friends and influencing people. One that especially got me going was The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone. After listening to that book on audio, I found myself putting in ten times the effort! There are a lot of great books out there on making yourself sellable and influential.

What have been some of the letdowns or failures you’ve experienced along the way, and how did you pick yourself back up?

The letdown is not being able to reach someone with a user generated playlist I know will help me. I’m focused on getting onto the playlist that users create because that in turn gets my name on the Spotify curators’ radar.

Something that I do to help with keeping persistent is having a goal sheet written in bold sharpie just above my computer. I try my best to keep at it, regardless of a failing outcome. I have seen results from my efforts, so I just keep with it. I find that I learn new things and techniques along the way. This hasn’t happened yet, but getting pulled from a playlist would be a disappointment. Especially a Spotify playlist, as their independent curators are ghosts and difficult to have direct contact with. However I would keep pushing, because it is my goal to succeed with my music.

Taking a look at your discography, you put out albums every few years, with two related albums in 2017, but you also started dropping a bunch of singles over the past year. What effect did putting out music more frequently have on your music’s streaming performance?

Releasing singles has been the best thing for me. It keeps listeners engaged with my artist profile. I started releasing covers too, because CD Baby makes it so easy to do. That has been a game changer! People love hearing cover songs. And because mine are all instrumental, they get put on big playlists, like Instrumental Pop Covers.

The two related albums are String Poet and String Poet Guitar Solos. One of the releases has the violins and cellos in the mix and the other is just solo guitar. I did this because of a playlister who only wanted solo guitar. It got me on the playlist, so it was worth releasing them that way.

In August 2017 one of my songs got placed on the Peaceful Guitar playlist, which is a Spotify playlist with half a million followers at the time. I’m quite confident that this happened as a result of being prolific on the platform. The pay from Spotify streams is big for me. I could easily buy a new guitar each month if I wanted, but it’s paying my house off!

In October I decided to record a song just for the Peaceful Guitar playlist. I didn’t know how it would go, but I did it anyway. I listened to the playlist and created a song that would fit. I took into consideration that most of the songs on there were nylon string and quite peaceful, so I got some new strings and went to work. I even gave it a title in the same manner as the other tracks in the playlist, “Raining Slowly.” It wasn’t a lot of work really. I sat in my living room with my laptop, GarageBand, a single AKG microphone, and a Focusrite preamp and recorded one take of an idea that I had. I took an iPhone photo of my guitar and used Font Candy to make a title on the photo. This ended up being my cover for the release. I got the song uploaded on Spotify and on day one it was placed on the Peaceful Guitar playlist!

Took me about 1.5 hours to do this tune and now it’s a part of my income. Holy Cow that was awesome. I’m doing what I can now to replicate that.

What’s the basic checklist of things you do to promote each single?

Make sure you are ready to post in every social media outlet, tagging people, messaging your friends who have created playlists (you know, the ones you met from doing the research).

Make a YouTube performance video, linking everything together. You can also make a video with the audio layed underneath your cover photo of the release. That seems to help as well. Don’t forget to put links in every video.

Besides frequent releases and pitching to playlists, what else are you doing to drive Spotify engagement?

Creating and promoting my own playlists. I’ve created a playlist that is growing quickly called Acoustic Guitar Cafe.

It’s a lot of my friends who play guitar similar to me. I just recently asked every artist on there if they would be interested in chipping in $20 for a Spotify ad to promote the playlist. I was able to get a decent budget on a Spotify ad to promote the playlist. This will hopefully help find new followers and listeners of our music. It’s also started a discussion with some of the artists where we’re sharing stats and techniques of what is working to get our music heard.

What are you doing to drive Pandora streams? Are you using AMP?

I use AMP every day or every other day. I try to post artist messages that are personal, sometimes funny. The key is to connect with people that are listening. Being that it’s instrumental, I can provide a short blurb about why I wrote the tune. Things like that generate thumbs up, which in turn brings your music up more often.

What role does data play in shaping your strategies? Do you make a habit of looking at analytics?

I look at the analytic all the time. In fact I can’t wait until 11 CST to see the artist.spotify update. That tells me if I’ve gotten on any new playlist. I also used the data when creating the Spotify ad to promote my playlist. I’m eying the AMP data as well, to see if my artist messages are working and possibly making conversions or new listeners and fans.

So what are some of your big picture goals?

I’d love to earn a complete living with streaming revenue, and in fact I’d love to say that I paid my house off with streaming bucks. I’m well on the way.

Also, I’d like to see my music in the movies or TV eventually. I know in the music business it’s all about who you know. I’m already in a library, so just hoping a music supervisor picks it up and hears it.

I didn’t quite make it, but I tried to get nominated for a Grammy this year. Although I don’t need a Grammy to succeed with this, it would be neat to get a nomination. So I will continue to submit every year I do album.

Who are your musical idols — and have your songs appeared alongside some of theirs in curated playlists?

Yes! One is Phil Keaggy, and it was a dream to have him on one of my songs, “Blue Ireland.” Tommy Emmanuel is another big influence, and I hope to one day record something with him.

What’s the next year look like for you?

Next year Pandora will have increased, as well as Spotify numbers. I will be releasing more Christmas music for the holidays as well as an album of cover songs. I may even do an original album of peaceful guitar music or possibly a Volume 2 to my String Poet album that everyone has loved. I may even look into doing an electric guitar album or something in the smooth jazz style of music. That elevator music pays too!

Download CD Baby’s free guide to getting your music on Spotify playlists.

Check out more information about Lance Allen on his website.

In this article

Join the Conversation

  • Thank you for this interview! Grateful to have the little success I have now and to share my story! It’s still happening for me and will continue to share my experiences with other artist and comrades in the business!

    • Thank YOU sir. Hope to see you in August (and of course also drinking coffee on Facebook).

      Follow me to the end of the rainbow on Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Instagram, or subscribe to my newsletter and get a free PDF of my poetry chapbook: I Say Potato, You Say Apocalypse.

    • Tommy Z

      Cool story. How can you message spotify playlist creators now that they have taken the option away?

  • Linda Vee Sado

    Inspiring story I finally got on a major Halloween playlist and it made a huge diff. Too bad it was a seasonal one. Nice while it lasted. I have been picked up on smaller ones, but nothing like the plays I got from that.

    • Thanks for reading and stopping by! Hope you get a chance to give my music a listen and appreciate it! Cheers!
      Keep at it!

  • Tommy Z

    The problem with Spotify is you can no longer message playlist creators. Is there a way around this yet?

  • Thanks for the story on Lance. As an instrumental musician, I’ve been making a living playing my own music since 2007, but only started to put serious effort into streaming this year.
    I personally know another acoustic guitarist who is achieving similar results as Lance, and he’s inspired me to go down this path. I must admit I’m finding it a bit daunting, so it’s great to read another positive story.

  • Terry Tucker & Sunforest

    Such complete and utter bullshit. I am a musician, a songwriter and composer, not an online librarian/secretary/stockbroker. The reason musicians who actually make a living from their music have record companies, managers, agents is to enable them to focus on their music. Rapacious as the traditional music business can be, it’s still better than earning one penny or less for every 1,000 hits on youtube, spotify, whatever. I got on Spotify to make a playlist (after reading CDBaby’s recommendation to do that) only to discover that they have my entire itunes library, which includes homemade recordings of everything from music my friends have written to work I’ve done in schools with children, plus my professionally recorded stuff and a few things I’ve bought from itunes. It’s all there and it gives me the creeps…they have lifted all my facebook information as well.

    • Unless you distributed that music to Spotify, it’s not available for others to hear. Most likely your Spotify player has synced with the music housed on your computer, just as a convenience for you. It’s probably displaying it similar to your iTunes player. No one else can search for or access that material. It’s not in Spotify’s system. Just on your computer. I mean, I could be wrong if you’ve actually distributed the music to Spotify, but it sounds like it’s probably what I described above.

      Follow me to the end of the rainbow on Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Instagram, or subscribe to my newsletter and get a free PDF of my poetry chapbook: I Say Potato, You Say Apocalypse.

    • Thanks for reading Terry, I too see unreleased songs in my spotify list.. It’s music that is in my library on my computer, but not released. The key here is to try and get on a Spotify playlist.. which is kind of hard to do.. be possible. Keep making music!

  • Sue Wilkinson

    Hi Lance:
    Thanks for being so generous with your very specific tips on Sotify/Pandora playlists! I really was inspired by the entire article. I also love your website! Do you find its easier to get on and be featured on instrumental playlists as opposed to say vocal singer/songwriter lists on Spoptify and Pandora? Thanks! Sue g. Wilkinson I wish even greater prosperity in the future!!

    www. sue wilkinson.com

  • georgeg

    Awesome story, so much is possible for musicians to make a living. Bring on 2018!