Have you ever wondered why a Spotify editorial playlist adds certain tracks and not others?
Or, what happens after one of the many, many Spotify editorial playlist pitches works. How many people will listen to it, and for how long will it remain on the playlist?
Maybe you share the question that I pondered the most. Will people follow me, or even save the track, after discovering it there?
I answer these questions here after watching my track “Little Mylk (Discovery)” complete its journey…
From composition, to spending 3-weeks on the All New Jazz Spotify editorial playlist!
I got on the Spotify editorial playlist All New Jazz for 3 weeks
The full journey from composition to playlist is long—18 months, from September 2019 to March 2021. I consider this period to be the launch of my career as an independent artist, because I had released my first-ever single (“Lutin”) at the end of August 2019.
As the music streaming market matures, editorial playlists, especially on Spotify, attract much attention. Anecdotally, some artists consider them silver bullets that unlock careers.
I hope to prove this idea wrong, and also clear up the process for artists who seek Spotify editorial placement.
Before we get into it
I’m a jazz artist. What does that mean? Well, my market is much smaller than that of many other artists. If you saw this story about a pop song, the listening activity would be much higher. It could mean thousands of dollars of artist earnings in a month instead of a few dozen!
The production process
The story of “Little Mylk (Discovery)”—by all accounts my most-successful track yet—begins with the purchase of a piano keyboard.
On September 29th 2019, I brought home a digital 88-key piano to my rehearsal space in New Westminster, BC. The space thrived back then; I needed it to rehearse Canadian folk band Early Spirit, other local clients, and my snowballing jazz music.
I also met 12TH ST Sound studio owner Anthony Cenerini around this time. Back then, I talked about my solo career as, “I make some jazz music on the side.”
Immediately upon unpacking and switching on the keyboard, I improvised the whole tune for “Little Mylk” in 10 minutes.
A few things happened in the next month, October 2019, to pull the composition closer to life. First, I asked long-time friend and trombonist Nebyu Yohannes to perform at our former high school in December 2019 with me and my quartet, which consisted of Thad Bailey-Mai, Dean Thiessen, and Carson Tworow. When he asked what we would play, I whipped up a chart of “Little Mylk”. I played it on the keyboard a bunch more and found the right tempo.
I also submitted a FACTOR Artist Development grant application in October 2019. It declared my intention to record new music soon. Accordingly, I booked Yohannes and the band into 12TH ST Sound for one day in December 2019. The previous day, we did an educational high school performance. I thought that this session would be one of three upcoming sessions, but the pandemic quieted my schedule.
Recording & mixing
The day before the recording session, we performed “Little Mylk” for the first time ever; we had not rehearsed prior to the gig that day.
I only had Thiessen booked to play piano for the first part of the day and “In Shadows” took up most of his time. Guitarist Parker Woods was en route to track the day’s remaining tunes.
I asked if Thiessen could stay and play “Little Mylk” once as a rehearsal for our later takes with Woods. We recorded it.
This take—which was only the second play-through overall after the one from the gig—is “Little Mylk (Discovery)”. The same one that got onto the Spotify editorial playlist!
Cenerini mixed the tracks in January 2020. We agreed that he mix “Little Mylk (Discovery)” even though we now had the guitar quintet version, simply entitled “Little Mylk”.
A few days after finishing the mixes, I received the offer from FACTOR’s Artist Development program. I launched my email following around a gig in downtown Vancouver.
At this time, I only planned to release the tracks from the session—the two Little Mylks blurring together—as singles. My grant application had promised eight new singles in the year 2020. So, I got the ball rolling with Cenerini about a second session to record more potential singles.
We penciled in the second session for May 2020 and I got some of the tracks mastered in the meantime. Among them were both Little Mylks, done by Andrew Downton of Railtown Mastering.
In February 2020, I released the first FACTOR-funded single from the session, “Interdimensional Space Cat”. I received the deposit of grant money and scheduled three more singles for the next three months. One of them was the “Little Mylk” with Woods on guitar; I left the finished “Little Mylk (Discovery)” on the backburner with no plan.
Over the following six months, I released my singles during the pandemic. I didn’t see how they would fit into my plans yet. My attention turned to the release of my first full-length jazz album Aim to Stay, which is a separate story altogether.
In September 2020, I got back in touch with Andrew. I sent him a second album’s worth of material for mastering. This one had seven tracks, including the two Little Mylks, which he had already completed; “Interdimensional Space Cat”, “Lutin”, and “Earthling Terminal”, all of which I had already released as singles mastered by other people; “Aim to Stay (Discovery)”, which I hadn’t released and used as the assessment track for the FACTOR grant; and the song “In Shadows”.
The province-wide restrictions crushed my finances going into winter 2020. I realized that no budget existed for releasing a second album any time soon. So I decided to split the project into three releases set to drop over the first three months of 2020: “In Shadows”, Quartet Reunion, and 12th Street Quintet. This move made sense because each release had distinct contributors.
Each release had exactly one new track, so I was able to continue pitching to Spotify’s editorial playlists each time. As three-track EPs, both Quartet Reunion and 12th Street Quintet each had two tracks previously released as singles.
The three 2021 releases started to compound my work in audience-building on Spotify. Both “In Shadows” in January 2021 and “Lutin” in February 2021 earned some Spotify playlist adds.
When I wrote this pitch in February 2021 for “Little Mylk (Discovery)” on 12th Street Quintet, I had no expectations but felt finally that I had something to say, on this fifteenth opportunity to pitch:
This quintet jazz waltz composition has a chill morning mood and represents the best work to-date by my quartet. It’s a collaboration between us and Toronto-based trombonist Nebyu Yohannes, and all of us are up-and-coming Canadian talents. We’ll promote it on social media and with our growing skill at pitching individual Spotify playlist curators.
As we did with “Lutin” and Quartet Reunion in February, Victoria Cowan and I pitched the three tracks of 12th Street Quintet to independent playlist curators on Spotify. We had lower volume and less success this time. Instead of pitching dozens of curators and getting many adds, we pitched 10 and received only a couple.
On the paid consideration side of Spotify playlist promotion, I pitched twice this time and got one add. It was a smaller playlist than the highly successful add which saw “Lutin” reach to 1,000 streams.
We had never pitched to curators like this before these efforts in early 2021. So, we found an obvious step-up in the number of Spotify listeners I reached.
Here’s my attempt to predict why “Little Mylk (Discovery)” was my first Spotify editorial playlist add.
In February 2021 Spotify was ready for me to prove myself, and I did. The monthly listeners of William Chernoff at the start of January 2021 were 40. Then, they were 400 one month later.
One part that’s still mysterious is why they were ready for me at this time. My best guess is that I had released music so frequently—at a rate of more than once a month. They saw that I had material, so now they needed to see me grow.
My growth in February didn’t happen from growing my direct audience ten times and then sending them over; it happened on the platform itself, where Spotify has the audit trail of how I did it. This was a rare chance for them to learn more about me.
I don’t think the reason for success is because of a variation in music quality.
Instead, I retain a baseline of quality and then continue to “meet spec”, as far as Spotify is concerned.
My only caveat would be this:
Clear subgenres will always win on a Spotify editorial playlist that tries to curate a vibe (i.e. slow tempo, chill-hop playlists).
The overall weakness in pitching probably came from the tracks lacking the clear subgenre that “Lutin” had. “Lutin” was a funky fusion track, whereas these ones were ambiguously contemporary. But even then, the concern for promotion is merely to meet spec within the subgenre.
I have some evidence for the claim that Spotify wanted me to prove myself. For the first time ever, Spotify pushed one of my tracks “Lutin” to additional listeners’ Release Radar.
During this time, Spotify also added Fans Also Like to my profile and a Radio for William Chernoff. Howeverm they removed both features after a test of about three days.
Why this chain of events? They saw my release frequency and my proof of growth potential, and noted my editorial submission. They did a quality-control test of algorithmic hook-ups, and then lit the green light once they saw no deal-breakers.
Week one impact
Now, a note about numbers. I avoid using absolute streaming or listener numbers in this article, other than the figures I used earlier.
These numbers drift into obsolescence faster than a smartphone. That’s because Spotify’s total listeners, paid subscribers, and streams change all the time.
I didn’t make this decision so that I could keep information private; if you’d like to know all the numbers, just say so in an email, and you’ll get them. You could even share that information if you felt like it.
Focusing on these absolute numbers is myopic and distracts everybody. A million streams was rare one decade ago, but it might be just table stakes in another ten years. This was actually a central claim of Spotify’s newsworthy infographic webpage “Loud and Clear”. Here’s a top-level quote on the site’s “Streaming Numbers in Context” section:
“What might have been a lot of streams even five years ago looks pretty different today. In fact, over 207,000 songs were streamed over a million times in 2020 alone.”
The work of audience-building has no relationship with this kind of numbers.
“Little Mylk (Discovery)” appeared on All New Jazz, one Spotify editorial playlist among many in the genre. Here’s a relative look at the first week’s impact:
- My followers on Spotify did not increase materially.
- Few of the listeners saved the track. But, the absolute number of saves for the track quickly became the highest of all my tracks.
- The peak number of daily new listeners I reached from the playlist was 3% of the playlist’s number of followers. I thought this was quite good. Across the whole week, the total number of unique listeners was maybe 15-20% of the playlist’s followers.
- In the first day, I reached roughly as many listeners as I had reached in the entire month prior.
- I continued to reach this many unique listeners again every day for the entire first week, sometimes rising to one-and-a-half times as many as I had reached in the prior month.
- A small percentage of these listeners gave repeated listens to the track.
Week two impact
Here’s what I observed happening in the second week:
- The number of unique listeners I found each day decreased by about half compared to the first week.
- The total number of listens each day also decreased. That’s possibly because the song moved down the order of the playlist after a new group of tracks were added. Another theory would be that many listeners only put on the playlist to hear new tracks, skipping the others. (The name of this playlist suits this theory.)
Week three impact
Finally, here’s a relative look at week three’s impact:
- I actually didn’t expect the track to stay for a third week. I failed to document how many other tracks from the same release week remained for the same duration. This would be excellent analysis for next time. Assuming that some other tracks stayed, I think Spotify wanted to see which ones became the most-played.
- I received Fans Also Like and Radio. Finally, I had given Spotify enough information to know how to promote me. The artists included at that time in Fans Also Like were other jazz musicians like Shai Maestro and Ben Wendel. Now, the artists in that section have changed.
All figures resembled week two, even though the track had slid to near the bottom of the playlist order. It seems like listeners put on this particular playlist for new music that week, like we theorized a minute ago.
“Little Mylk (Discovery)” was an unlikely success. It was a track that I could have put on the shelf at several different points. Artists must give their music opportunities to succeed, even if they personally have ambivalent feelings about a track. Even a hasty, one-take track like mine could become the most successful.
It’s good to have a production process that throws off extra tracks in the middle parts of studio sessions. Who knows how much of that material will find unlikely success.
I believe that a Spotify editorial playlist wants enough information from you to learn how to promote you. I must prove that a category of listeners will enjoy my releases; they must see that category through data and match it to an editorial.
But I’m not a believer in the career-making power of these playlists. Many listeners heard me, but the track remained for only three weeks. No significant number of these people followed my profile on Spotify. Maybe you get a bit of income from those three weeks, but what happens after that?
The long-term value of this track is really in the first half of this article, not the second. The value lies in the story of people who work with me and the processes that make new music. That story will draw in people for my career journey.
Want to read more music business learnings? I write a lot about these topics and more on my blog called Rhythm Changes; check it out here.