Playlists are something serious musicians can’t afford not to care about or pay attention to in today’s music industry. You probably already knew that though, unless you just got rescued from an island in the middle of the ocean that had no internet. Things like conventional radio and licensing placements can still be hugely influential in music, but playlists are becoming so popular that many seasoned music industry professionals worry the listening format is pushing out traditional albums. By now, most of us have heard of success stories in music where artists get featured on huge playlists and become hugely successful shortly after. But the truth is that playlists are still new as listening formats, and they work much better for some artists than others.
New and unestablished artists
Competition is the main obstacle keeping most new and unestablished artists from landing spots on important playlists. Many artists believe the only thing standing between them and real success in music is a spot on a playlist, so curators working with streaming companies and blogs are constantly inundated with new music to consider. Unfortunately for new and unestablished artists, a human instinct some curators lean into is to favor established artists over unknown ones, sometimes even before music is heard.
It can be an uphill battle whether your project is just getting off the ground or you’ve been making music for years with little recognition, but that’s always been the case in music. The only difference is the fact that popular playlists promise quicker and broader exposure than almost any of the listening formats that came before them. The typical advice applies here, which is to put your energy first into making the greatest music you possibly can, and then to give it every chance possible of getting heard. But another important piece of advice is to approach playlist pitching with both humility and tenacity. Success stories aside, it can take an artist years to find success through playlists even though they offer overnight exposure in some cases.
Experimental of genre-defying artists
If you’re creating music that’s difficult to categorize, landing on a popular playlist might be difficult or even impossible. Playlist curators act as gatekeepers that help shape the public’s tastes and musical interests, but tastemakers have always existed in music. Instead of compromising your sound or marketing your work as something that it’s not, you’ll be better off putting your energy into being great at what you do and focusing on reaching the niche audiences who like what you do. Non-conventional music goes on to connect with broader audiences when it’s so impactful and interesting that it can’t be ignored.
Playlists are relatively new, but the struggle to connect with audiences in music has been around as long as artists have been writing songs and playing them for people. Patience and a willingness to try and fail over and over again is what’s helped artists succeed over the years, and these character traits will give them the best chance at being featured on popular playlists today.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.