How I got on official Spotify playlists as an unknown independent musician…

… using only smart marketing, Show.co, and zero money.

I am an independent songwriter from Halifax, NS and the front man of folk-pop band Braden Lam & The Driftwood People. I have been singing since I could talk and playing guitar since I could walk — but in the eyes of the world, I’m still a relatively “new” artist. Now twenty years old, I juggle being a full-time university student with being a full-time musician.

This past summer, I embarked on the biggest project of my life. Having only the four months of my summer break from school, I needed to record an album, form a marketing plan, and execute all of it within this small window of time. No label, no manager, no team, no budget. I was doing this myself.

For a relatively new independent artist, I ended up with some great results. Especially when you consider that I had no connections and no budget. Just an open mind, consistent effort, a solid plan, and the FREE marketing tools that CD Baby gives to all their clients.

Let’s dive into how I did it.

My #1 goal: Get on an official Spotify playlist.

Fortunately I had a summer job that allowed me to listen to music while I worked. So during the first two months of the summer, I plowed through every single episode of the CD Baby DIY Musician Podcast. Every day my desk would quickly fill up with scribbled sticky notes of what I’d learned.

After assessing my abilities, time restraints, and the little budget I had, some major goals for this project began to form. The top goal was to get a start on my streaming game, and that meant getting on an official Spotify playlist. The streaming world is exploding, and it makes perfect sense to focus my energy on these platforms that will (fingers crossed) be essential to my future music career.

[CD Baby’s DIY Musician Blog is also a great resource to explore the world of music promotion, but you already knew that; you’re here!]

Developing a game plan to get my music onto playlists.

The next question of course was how to go about that.

In case you’re unaware, Spotify’s editorial playlists are the ones curated by people who work for Spotify, the so called “gatekeepers” of Spotify success.

Songs are selected based on:

  • trends in the data (algorithmic discovery)
  • pitching
  • direct submissions
  • and, of course, editorial taste

For someone like me who had extremely low Spotify traction at the time, and no connection to Spotify editors, it all seemed like a mystery. But, through the DIY Musician Podcast, I realized I do have powerful online marketing tools such as Show.co that can be used to “hack the system” and juice the Spotify algorithm upon the release of my songs. That helps attract the attention of Spotify’s editors. I wanted to find a way to make the Spotify algorithm serve my music on a platter to the right editor.

But I still had to RELEASE the music!

After two months of recording the album in my bedroom studio, I was ready to develop a marketing plan. I decided to release the single “Dawson City” on August 10th and then push out the full 6-track EP “Driftwood People” on September 14th.

By the way, I recommend you always release music on a Friday. Also, when releasing a single first and then a followup single, EP, or album, I would release them within 28 days of each other (Spotify’s monthly listener turnover point) to make the biggest impact in a short amount of time.

Enter Show.co…

I decided to test out two different Show.co marketing plans for each release. Both campaigns lead to playlist successes on Spotify, and I’ll highlight them both below.

The Lead Single

My first goal was to increase my number of Spotify followers.

I had between August 5th  and August 10th (the release date of the single) to do it. If I could get a bunch of people to follow me in those five days right before the release happened, it would look really good to the Spotify algorithm. I started out with 144 followers on Spotify before launching a “Social Unlock” Spotify-Follow campaign on Show.co. If you’re a CD Baby client, you can run this kind of campaign for FREE!

I also included the email-list signup option for people who were not Spotify users since my email list consisted of a measly 33 people. After choosing a suitable image that matched the branding of my album and worked well on both the mobile and desktop views of the Show.co campaign page, this is what I came up with:

How to boost your followers on Spotify

The “Hook”

The most important component of your campaign is the content that you use as a hook for people to follow you. Think of it as the reward they get for following you on Spotify.

With the Social Unlock campaign, when someone performs the desired action on your campaign, they can unlock a link to anything on the internet…maybe a cool video, sneak peak of a song, unreleased demos, etc. This is where you can get really creative! Overall, your deliverable needs to be fresh content that creates intrigue. Every word in your campaign needs to incentivize a fan to press “Follow” and unlock that reward or experience.

For my campaign, I made a music video for the intro track of my new album and labeled it as the “Official Album Intro.”

My points of intrigue were:

  1. keeping it unlisted on YouTube so it was exclusive to people who unlocked my campaign
  2. conveying that it was an unreleased track

See the wording I used in my campaign above.

Here’s an example of the analytics you can get from your campaign once it’s running. Pay attention to these stats; if you are not getting a great response, change your message, picture, or promotion strategy. Remember, marketing is all about trying new things as you go along and seeing what you get the best response from! Don’t just stick it out if it’s not working. Keep trying new things! Data for Show.co marketing campaigns

To advertise my campaign, I simply posted natural content on all my social media platforms that would pique someone’s curiosity. I found success in posting screenshots from the secret video and putting intriguing questions in the caption, lyrics from the song, or cool behind-the-scenes info.

You could also use Facebook Ads Manager to run some social media ads on Facebook and Instagram to reach a greater number of people.

The full album launch.

The goal for my second campaign was to take advantage of the Pre-Save option available on Show.co.

Here I used a combination of a couple platforms to execute the campaign I wanted. I didn’t want my fans who are Apple Music users to feel left out again. So this time I hosted my primary landing page on SmartURL with a Spotify pre-save, Apple Music pre-add, and iTunes pre-order options:

Smart links for musicians

To clarify, the Show.co pre-save only works on Spotify, so when someone clicked the Spotify Pre-Save button above, they would land on my Show.co page that looked like this:

Build traction on Spotify with pre-saves.

[Note: Once the song is released, your Show.co “pre-save” campaign will automatically switch to an “add on Spotify” campaign, as you’ll see above.]

My hook this time was a different unlisted YouTube video of a live recording that didn’t make it on the album.

Again, it was unreleased content that naturally drove curiosity. In addition to promoting this on social media, I also ran a giveaway contest for anyone who pre-saved the album on Spotify to win a signed CD and band t-shirt. I knew that running two similar campaigns within less thnn a month of each other would be tough to get the same response, so the contest incentive gave the campaign that extra push.

The results

  • After running the single campaign, I had gained 54 new Spotify followers and 81 new additions to my email list.
  • On the day of my single release, I was featured on Spotify’s New Music Friday Canada playlist which has over 220K followers. I was literally shaking when I first saw my name on that list and I remember shouting “It worked” out loud in the middle of a restaurant where I was eating with friends.
  • The song was also added to Spotify’s Down Home Country playlist (I guess my folk song had some country vibes), and a week later was also added to the Fresh Finds: Six Strings playlist. So not only was my song noticed on its release day, but it continued to get attention and moved around playlists.
  • The album pre-save campaign a month later was unlocked 42 times and was also successful in getting the title track of my album onto Spotify’s Folk & Friends playlist which has over 107K followers.

Keep in mind, I also submitted my songs directly to Spotify for playlist consideration. This is especially important to do in the case of an album to identify the song you want featured.

So in summary, I used a combination of creative online tools and content to run a simple, effective, and low-cost marketing campaign that worked. Now it’s your turn to make your own unique campaign. I hope this helps you with your next release!

More Pro Tips (from a total amateur)

Want to make your pre-save/follow campaign even more professional and effective? Here are some quick tips to try and take it to the next level:

  1. Purchase a custom domain (optional, but only $15/year). I used driftwoodpeople.com and adjusted the domain forwarding to land on my Show.co campaign since it looked better then the non-customizable Show.co URL.
  2. Show.co has an option to make your campaign a Spotify pre-save AND follow campaign at once. Try that out; it’s like a 2-for-1 deal.
  3. Don’t give away your secret. If you are using a video for the social unlock, as tempting as it may be, don’t use part of that video to attract people on social media. Keep it exclusive!

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