Using direct marketing to boost Spotify streams

This is an excerpt from Ari Herstand’s book How to Make It in the New Music Business (second edition).

Three years ago the northern Virginia conscious hip hop artist Lucidious was struggling to get listeners to his music.

He had about 150 monthly listeners on Spotify (no I didn’t forget a zero) with merely 45 followers, about 1,500 followers on Instagram and Facebook. And was making less than $100 a month from his music. 

Fast forward to today, three years later, he now has over 500,000 monthly listeners on Spotify (no my finger didn’t get stuck on the zero key), over 50,000 followers on Spotify, over 200,000 Likes on Facebook, over 100,000 followers on Instagram, he’s getting around 5 million streams a month, has over 100 million total streams across all platforms and is making around $20,000 a month just from his recorded music. 

Success on Spotify without playlists

Oh, and he’s got no label, no manager, no publicist, no agent and is on zero official Spotify playlists

I’ll pause as you pick your jaw up from the floor.

These are real fans. Not bots. Human beings.

He showed me his Instagram inbox which is flooded with fans telling him how his music saved their lives. His music focuses on mental health awareness.


So how did he do this?

He utilized direct marketing strategies on Facebook and Instagram to find his audience and get them into his world. Specifically, he mastered the Facebook Business and Ads Manager and ran all different kinds of video ads targeting fans of similar artists. 

They came pouring into his world and eventually he was getting fans to click his ads at around $.02 per click – putting every marketing expert to shame. Spending about $10 a day, he was pulling in around 500 new fans per day. And because his music is great and his Instagram is engaging (i.e. he is very active on there – responding to comments and messages), these people who started off as passive observers turned into die hard fans.

I tested out his strategies with my project and a bunch of friends’ projects in various genres and it works across the board. 

This is not a fluke and this is not because of the kind of music he makes. 

Yes, I know, that you’ve probably run Facebook ads in the past and you were less than thrilled with the results. Me too. I’ve WASTED thousands on Facebook ads. The Facebook Ad Manager, though, is not just for Facebook ads. And if you don’t know how to utilize it effectively, it won’t work for you. Period. 

So don’t come at me with “Facebook ads don’t work!” You’re both right and wrong. And, to be honest, this strategy is not about running ads on Facebook anymore. That was so 2018! 

He did this all on his own, without the help from the industry. And he’s been largely ignored by the industry. And he’s A OK with that because he’s making a solid living and has 0% commission to pay out to anyone. 

His fans know he exists. And that’s all that matters.

But But But, Playlists!

Ok, deep breath. Despite what you might think, you do not want to bet the horse on getting on Spotify playlists. For one, you’re fighting against every label, every distributor, every manager and every artist for coveted playlist slots. There are only so many slots and only so many playlists. We are too obsessed with the playlist game. Playlists are fickle and do not get real FANS into your world. Yes, getting on a few hot playlists can skyrocket your monthly listeners and streaming numbers overnight. But these are not your fans. These are fans of the playlist.

Streams ≠ Fans. Monthly Listeners ≠ Fans

Just because you have a million streams does not mean you have a million fans. Same goes for monthly listeners. We are living in an era where there are artists with millions of streams on Spotify who cannot draw 50 people to their local shows.

These artists are making a solid living off of their Spotify streams, but don’t have any real fans. I’ve heard of artists who were able to quit their day jobs because they got included on a few hot playlists which earned them millions of streams a month (thousands of dollars a month), only to get dropped from those playlists and have to go beg for their job back when their streams dropped to virtually zero.

It’s time to break away from the obsessive playlist mentality!

One of my favorite games to play is to guess the monthly listeners to followers ratio on an artist just by looking at their Spotify profile. Spotify, of course, displays the monthly listeners number loud and proud right there on the artist’s profile. And the number of streams for the top 10 songs. But the actual followers number is quite hidden.

If an artist has no fans, but tons of streams and monthly listeners, it’s because they are on super popular playlists. 

Just click on the About section (on the Desktop version of the app), scroll all the way to the bottom and take a look.

A solid ratio is 5% (Followers to Monthly Listeners).

Real fans on Spotify

As you can see, Lucidious has nearly a 10% follower / monthly listener ratio. 

Take a few minutes (when you’re at your desktop) and check out some of your favorite artists’ ratios. Now look at some small-mid level artist ratios. And especially your friends who got included on hot playlists who you’ve been jealous of. Don’t be. Be happy for them! But also remember, monthly listeners DO NOT equal fans. And streams DO NOT equal fans.

If you want real fans (not just fans of the playlists you’re on), you have to utilize direct marketing.

Utilizing Direct Marketing To Grow Your Audience on Spotify and Instagram

The best way to find and grow your audience is now through direct marketing. Not PR. Not playlists. Not touring. Not blogs. Marketing. And you don’t need to spend that much money to do it. 

Ok, what is direct marketing? It’s not as scary as it sounds. Direct marketing is simply finding your audience and inviting them into your world. That’s it. 

So how do you find where your audience is?

Utilizing Facebook and Instagram ads is the best way to do this at this moment in time. However, you do not want to do this blind. This is not clicking the “Boost” button on Facebook or the “Promote” button on Instagram. That’s the quickest way to throw away your money. Facebook has that button because it’s so damn simple to do, they make so much money on people who don’t understand how to properly utilize the Business Manager and Ad Manager. 

Yes, mastering the Ad Manager takes a bit of time. But anyone can do it. You can do it. You just have to hunker down and make it work. Yes it’s complicated. Yes the backend Business Manager can be insanely confusing. But that’s the work you gotta put in if you want to compete. Once you learn it and get it down, the hard part is over. You can then go back to making music. The beautiful thing about direct marketing is that once you set the ads, they go. Sure, you want to monitor them, but once you get an ad that’s effective, you don’t really need to touch or tweak it for awhile. 

Most people who are employing these methods are gaining around 100 new Instagram followers a day (real fans, not bots) and about 500 Spotify followers every week – while spending only around $5-10/day. 

So, instead of posting incessantly on Instagram and Facebook begging people to share your stuff. Go directly to the people who would dig what you’re doing. 

It’s a very exciting time to be an independent musician.

If you’d like to learn more about Facebook Advertising, Facebook has put together an introduction to advertising for musicians here.