So much of the conversation for the past few years has revolved around a very narrow idea of what streaming means to the industry. Too many focus on one number: amount per play. Streaming can be incredibly beneficial at growing and aiding an artist’s career, however not enough of the services have prioritized helping make this happen. The conversation needs to shift from the per stream payment, to the value provided to the artist. Indie artists with tens of thousands of fans (not millions) especially aren’t seeing a sustainable revenue stream from the streaming platforms, but could benefit tremendously from these platforms if they worked with them on helping to engage and build their base. There is lots of money to be made, but it doesn’t all have to come from sales and royalties. Artists can sustain a healthy music career by embracing streaming. They just need to get creative about how they make money.
Here are 8 ways streaming services can help musicians without paying them:
1) Allow Sponsored Songs
Why do shitty label acts break out when incredible indie bands don’t? Money and access. Streaming services should allow artists with a bit of a budget to target potential fans. Fans would much rather hear a sponsored song than an ad from Coca Cola. And with all the data points Spotify and Pandora have, artists’ campaigns could get very targeted. Feature.fm is a platform that has been teaming up with streaming services to offer this. So far their partnership with 8 Tracks has proven tremendously successful. Feature.fm charges about $.05 a play (for plays longer than 30 seconds). If a fan skips the sponsored song, the artist/promoter isn’t charged.
I’ve spent a good amount on Facebook advertising because the targeting is so specific. And it works. I promote my concerts and new releases through Facebook advertising, but would transfer a bit of my marketing budget if streaming services allowed this kind of targeted advertising. Sure, the streaming services should approve the songs (only accept “quality”). If fans like the song, they can add it to their own playlists or libraries and increase potential virality. And artists would still earn royalties on the plays. The artists could potentially earn enough from royalties to offset the cost of the ad campaign.
Pandora led the way with their backend analytics platform, Amp, available to any artist with music on the service. It reveals top songs, cities and number of listeners for that artist. However, there’s still much to be desired in understanding how to best use the data. And it’s awfully frustrating that my most liked songs (thumbs up rating) aren’t my most played. There’s no explanation for this. But it’s a start. The most useful feature is the interactive map of the country revealing the percentage of listeners across the country for each city. Very helpful tool to know where to tour.
YouTube revealed their new analytics feature at SXSW set to be released later this year. I got a glimpse at it and it seems promising. But with similar features to be desired. Which brings me to my next point.
3) Connecting To Fans
Pandora has absolutely no way to connect with fans. If 100 people have created Ari Herstand stations in Dallas, there are 1.3 million people who live in Dallas. How am I supposed to notify those 100 that I’m coming to town? Facebook ads are the only way to target such a specific audience, but what if those 100 haven’t liked me on Facebook? Pandora, YouTube, Spotify et al should give artists a way to notify fans when we’re coming to town. Send our fans messages.
Spotify has an Activity feed which seemed promising. Artists can post a song (theirs or someone else’s), playlist or just a message to their feed (like a Facebook newsfeed) and their followers theoretically would get a notification. However, these live in the activity feed which most users clearly don’t even know exists because after getting my musician friends who are way more popular than me to test it out, the engagement factor is at about one tenth of one percent. Like 30 plays for 30,000 followers. Pretty pathetic.
Don’t be shitty like Facebook. Don’t make us pay to reach our fans. If a fan follows us on Spotify, creates a station on Pandora, Subscribes on YouTube, let us send our fans notifications and messages. We know our fans best. If they don’t like what we’re sending, they’ll unfollow.
4) Show Notifications and Ticket Info
And a no brainer. When an artist announces a concert your area you should get a notification about it with a link to buy tickets. This is a feature fans would appreciate and would help increase concert attendance. Spotify teamed up with SongKick to display the next show on the artist’s profile, the problem is it shows that next show to every user regardless of geography. So if my favorite artist is playing a show in LA next week, but has 8 shows before that, I won’t see his show listed on his Spotify profile until the day of the show. It should show either the entire tour calendar (with ticket links) OR the next show IN MY AREA. Rdio has this. They show me only the shows of the artist occurring in my area. Props. Pandora has absolutely no concert info anymore. Lame. SoundCloud also has teamed up with SongKick and at least has an option to show all tour dates. YouTube now has Cards where artists can overlay a card on individual videos with links to the tour page on their website. Shazam has a section on the artist’s profile (if you Shazam’ed them) to see upcoming shows in the area with a way to buy tickets.
Why aren’t streaming services helping artists out with this more? I’d happily give them a cut of ticket sales for transactions done through their platform.
If you’re not going to pay us more per stream at least allow us to sell some merch to our fans. Spotify has merch options via BandPage, however on mobile it’s allllll the way at the bottom. Literally, you can’t scroll down any further. Past every release, playlists and other songs featuring the artist. I would imagine most fans don’t even know this feature exists. But at least it’s there. On the desktop version it’s a bit more obvious with much better page realty.
Worth noting Spotify (nor BandPage) take a percentage of merch sold through Spotify. That’s nice. YouTube’s cards also allow artists to overlay merch options on videos.
Allow fans to tip their favorite artists. Make it clear that 100% of the tip goes directly to the artist. Not the label. The artist. Have a leaderboard of highest tippers. Make it a game. Give fans incentives to tip more. Artists could thank their top 10 tippers with monthly Google hangouts or private concerts.
7) Crowd Funding
Allow artists to display their crowdfunding campaigns on their streaming profile.
Why is still one of the best ways to break a new act to get them as an opener on a bigger tour? Because it works! Streaming services should use this same methodology to help break unsigned acts. Why does Pandora only include artists at the same tier level of fame on their stations? Why not drop in an up and coming, unsigned act once in awhile? If you think there are no unsigned acts at the caliber of the famous artists, you really aren’t digging deep enough. Pandora has the data, use it to help the indies!
Spotify has started integrating unsigned artists into their very popular curated playlists. Artists like The Well Pennies, The Daydream Club and Cam Nacson have had their songs added to popular Spotify playlists and seen a million+ plays follow – along with increased merch sales, concert attendance and more fans across the board. Not to mention the increased streaming money which has far surpassed their sales numbers.