Understanding Spotify's Algorithm

Want your music to reach Spotify listeners through playlists like Discover Weekly and Release Radar?

Then there’s something very important you should know about Spotify’s algorithm:

Chasing vanity metrics can hurt you!

There are plenty of resources that explain Spotify’s recommendation engine in detail. We’re not going to get into the weeds here because the lesson is simple. You want active engagement on Spotify, not a massive amount of streams for their own sake. It’s about quality over quantity, at least early on. Eventually the former can drive the latter.

What does Spotify’s algorithm do?

Spotify’s algorithm (or more accurately, algorithms) analyzes the listening habit of hundreds of millions of users. It makes comparisons and connections using historical listening behavior, and then predicts what individual listeners will want to hear in the future. 

Spotify’s algorithm is eerily good at making these personalized predictions. If it weren’t, Spotify wouldn’t be the powerhouse platform it is today. And it wouldn’t be one of the go-to levers for audience growth and music discovery.

In short: Spotify doesn’t want to share bad songs, but it likewise doesn’t want to share good songs with the wrong people. It wants to serve the right song to the right person.

In order for YOUR song to be the right song, Spotify must have a sufficient amount of data about your ideal audience. When Spotify shares your music with a new listener, they’re taking a calculated risk.

So before Spotify extends the reach of your music to users beyond your existing audience, they need to see QUALITY engagement metrics.

Quality engagement metrics include:

  • Repeat listens
  • Limited skips
  • High follower-to-listener ratio
  • High save-to-stream ratio
  • Playlist adds
  • Chatter in the music press (yes, the algorithms monitor the web & social)
  • Shares elsewhere online
  • And more

You need to instruct Spotify’s algorithms that your songs are great, that you have an identifiable audience, and that when one of your songs is surfaced to a stranger in that audience, the person takes an action suggesting they truly like your music.

Should you worry about your Spotify Popularity Index?

There are exceptions to the above engagement criteria, and I’ve seen a lot of analysis of how your Popularity Index (PI) on Spotify can determine what gets a boost.

Spotify’s Popularity index is a 0-100 scale rating of how popular you are compared to every other artist on the platform. 

Some music marketing chatter suggests a PI of 20+ in the first few weeks will get you onto Release Radar and a PI of 30+ will get you onto Discover Weekly.

We could go further in the weeds on Popularity Index rankings as a separate measurement from how any particular track or album is doing on Spotify, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s just stick with the basic theory: Quality OVER quantity will eventually lead to quality AND quantity.

NOTE: Chartmetric automatically populates your analytics dashboard with your Spotify Popularity Index.

Should you appease the Spotify algorithm?

I can hear the gripes already: “I’m not changing my music to please an algorithm!”

I think that perspective is flawed. Here’s why:

The algorithm IS your audience. 

I mean that in an almost literal sense; not that you create your art to please a machine, but that this machine is the most powerful representation of your fans’ aggregate tastes and listening habits. 

If the algorithm gives the people what they want, you should give the algorithm what it wants.

Does the algorithm want short songs, instant hooks, synth bass, and zero long intros? No, those are merely current songwriting and production trends. What the algorithm really wants is DATA. 

If you make epic prog accordion songs about orcs learning to code after being laid off from the mines of Mordor, you should NOT (necessarily) change your art to “appease” a robot overlord; you SHOULD give Spotify’s algorithm good info about who your ideal listeners are — because your fans are out there. Spotify wants to know who they are.

Again, right song for right person. Not “song that checks all the trendy boxes” for randos.

Sure, the more niche you go, the bigger your disadvantage in terms of your Spotify Popularity Index; but for simplicity, let’s again assume that Spotify is incentivized to serve your music to people who will love it, no matter how famous or unknown you are.  

And if you’re still feeling cynical, remember this too: Not every song is a single, and not every track is meant for quick connections.

As long as you have some songs that DO work as introductions, Spotify’s algorithm can help those tracks reach new listeners. Some of whom will become fans that go deeper into your catalog.

How can you drive quality engagement on Spotify?

Here are some things that will help Spotify gather useful data about your current and potential audience:

Those are just some of the ways to send good signals to Spotify’s algorithm.

Unfortunately, there are five common mistakes artists make on Spotify, and they can ruin your music’s chances of being heard. Want to avoid them? Read about “5 Ways to Ruin Your Spotify Presence.”

Or check out the full podcast episode below: