Spotify: hero or villain for unsigned bands?
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
As ever it's not a binary choice. We dig deep into streaming's relevance for new bands with the help of Trust the Doc's Neil March
Cliché alert! Great minds think alike; fools seldom differ. They can't both be right so we see that life rarely, if ever, conforms to simple binary choices. The Monkees of course knew this in the 60s as they sang "Today there is no black or white, only shades of gray."
The point of all this frippery is twofold. I recently released a video in which I talk about the role Spotify can play in the development of young, unsigned bands; and, risking the opprobrium of the digital deniers, argues that they can be useful.
Coincidentally I came across an opinion piece written by legend of the South East London scene, Neil 'Trust The Doc' March which very cogently argued a similar theme, even to the point that yes, Spotify can be useful however the role of a decent record label can be pivotal.
So are Neil and I great minds or fools? Likely neither and Spotify are not all bad. Even with the welcome increase in vinyl sales, we are not going back to the way the music industry used to be - it has changed irrevocably. Partly this is a good thing as it gives power back to young artists to release their own music. The irksome corollary of course is that there is way more music out there and consequently it's so much harder for tracks to cut though to an audience. Spotify is just one of the tools which bands can use - it's not a payment plan, it's a promotional device.
With Neil's permission I have edited and included some of his article here however I would encourage you to read the whole piece on his blog page. It is tremendous advice for young bands and artists. Over to you Neil.
"Let’s talk about streaming then ... we can all agree that the current system for evaluating streams is unfair and in need of reform. Whether that will happen in the foreseeable future is somewhat questionable given the widely different interests of those at the heart of government in these nations. That may, of course, include direct self-interest in some cases!
In the meantime, however, to simply encourage aspiring artists to boycott the likes of Spotify is scandalous and, in most cases, would constitute career suicide. Whether we like it or not, streaming now occupies 69% of the global recorded music market. That is despite a recent boom in physical sales. For artists trying to build followings, reach new audiences and establish themselves within particular genres, being on streaming platforms is essential and getting tracks onto popular playlists is a key part of their strategy. Streaming is not just about sales. It is about exposure. In an era where the role of radio is being challenged by digital alternatives, the ability to be easily identified by style and similarity to better known artists is a highly useful tool that artists can learn to utilise.
It is also important to get away from the absurd idea that a single digital stream can be compared to a record sale.
Interestingly, the industry recognises that a stream is not the same as a record or download sale. That is why, when compiling charts and assessing qualification for silver, gold or platinum discs, 100 streams emanating from monthly subscriptions only equal one sale and, where streams are On Demand Ad-Funded and are attached to adverts, 600 streams are equal to one sale.
There is a popular view, often shouted around on social media, that record deals are a thing of the past and new and emerging artists should dismiss them and self-release.
Self-releasing is easy and democratic in the simple sense that the artist has complete freedom of choice and can get their music out into the wider world at precious little cost. But do you think it is just coincidence that major record companies still spend hundreds of thousands and very often millions on marketing international superstars in order to keep them at the top of the sales charts?
The truth is that breaking into that world is hard. If you are going to self-release, you need to think about how you will get noticed. Reviews in properly read journals and blogs (as opposed to those who copy and paste your EPK onto a single Google page where there is no actual evidence that they have any readers) can help. Pitching to be on streaming playlists is another important part of the strategy as is playing live or, if not, thinking of other ways you can reach audiences including videos, live streams, creating imaginative playlists and inviting others to follow them whether on streaming platforms or on recorded shows on Mixcloud and other platforms. Merchandise can also be a way both of bringing in income and having people walking around advertising your brand.
It all sounds wonderful but, in truth, most of this is hard work, takes vast amounts of your spare time and can be quite costly too. And, unless you know what you are doing and have a strategy for how you will build your reputation, get yourself onto some festival stages, streaming playlists and target shows, generate reviews etc. and convince the bigger media that you have genuine momentum, you may find it a soul-destroying path."
Amazing advice Neil and of course this next section is music to our ears:
"That is where even hooking up with a small indie label can mean so much. Speaking from first hand experience, despite having quite a lot of experience of plugging and promotion and having run two small labels, one pre-digital and one digital, being signed to Dimple Discs has been a revelation for me. Even though I have got my own and others’ music onto national BBC stations and other significant stations and shows over the past eight years, it has been refreshing watching a label with a proper set-up marketing and promoting my music in all the relevant spaces, getting airplay on shows I have never been on previously, getting our tracks onto playlists and taking that pressure off me so I can get on with all my other music-related activities."
You can find details of all Neil's many projects on his Demerara Records site
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