How should artists engage with music streaming services?

As streaming music becomes increasingly popular with fans, how could artists make better use of the services? Kiran Gandhi, who toured as a drummer with M.I.A. last year, shares her thoughts...

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Most music streaming services today are solely listener facing but I’d love to see more artists engaging with them. Music services essentially strive to offer the user two things: music streaming and music discovery. In the listening category, a user can search for an exact song, listen to a full album from start to finish and build playlists. In the discovery category, services can suggest new music for the user based on things like radio station creation, recommendations based on similar artists you already listen to, playlists based on the activity you are doing (running, dancing, etc) or artists based on the mood you are in. Since there are two main services offered by music streaming platforms, I see two main touch points at which artists can directly engage with these platforms. 

The first is on the music streaming side. Artists should not fight it – especially emerging artists. They should make their music available on these official streaming services. There are always major concerns how artists do not make money from streaming. There is no doubt that the money major artists made in the 80s and 90s from physical album sales far trumps what those same artists may receive for that album streamed today. 

But, for artists who are starting out today, it is so crucial to realise that fans need to be able to find music in a way that’s easy for them, and diehard fans listening to music through a paid medium is beneficial for artists. Most services pay artists based on stream count so diehard fans streaming music frequently is exactly what artists want.

There is a huge opportunity for artists to encourage fans to stream in bulk. Unlike before where the goal in music sales was to sell one copy of the song or album to as many people as possible, the goal in streaming can actually be to have a small group of avid fans stream very heavily. This is a more attainable goal than trying to get millions of people to stream songs or albums just once. 

For example, fans could submit screenshots of how many times they’ve streamed a song for the chance to win tickets to a concert. Or artists could reward fans who stream the most with merchandise at the end of each month. Finding creative ways to encourage fans to listen to their music more frequently will mean that artists receive better payments.

Beyond the financial benefit of encouraging heavy streaming on official platforms, artists can also enjoy the benefit of data. There are enormous amounts of data associated with each account such as frequency of plays, favourite songs, location of fans, gender, age, daily patterns (weekends vs. weekdays) etc. Some services will allow artists to access that data directly and there are third party platforms like Next Big Sound and MusicMetric that offer incredible and affordable insights about how tracks are performing across various digital media.

If artists run campaigns to increase streams and use the data to track noticeable differences in their streaming rates, I would argue that they become a more valuable artist to the streaming service. They are then better positioned to ask for opportunitites to partner with them on things like official showcases, studio sessions, promotional bannering around releases and more.

They first can dispel the notion that “a true fan” should reject music streaming...

The second touch point at which artists can engage with streaming services is on the music discovery side. Especially established artists. The battle today is about which services offer the best user experience for discovery and which have the best recommendations.

I would love so much to see artists build public playlists of the songs they listen to and that they love. They should be the curators. I would kill to know what FKA Twigs listens to in her free time. There is already some of this now, but I believe there could be way more.

Beats Music boasts heavy artist involvement, Spotify has verified artist accounts and Deezer just launched D4A which allows enhanced engagement between artists and their fans. These artists would not be paid or solicited by the music streaming service, they would just be voluntarily contributing to the streaming community in the same way they do on Twitter and Facebook.

By validating music streaming services via playlist-building and curation, artists could achieve several things. They first can dispel the notion that “a true fan” should reject music streaming, and thus bring more listeners into the streaming ecosystem. They can put songs of their own on the playlists, thus turning fans on to less prominent songs that fans may not necessarily have paid attention to beforehand. 

Artists could even work with the streaming service on the backend to gate these special playlists, granting access only, for example, if the user has listened to the artist’s album or specific song at least three times in the past week. In sharing a list of songs they love, the artist is benefitting by further building out their brand by showing personality, accessibility and genuine passion for music and inspiration. By pointing fans to other artists’ music, the artist is also demonstrating humility and authenticity.

Two weeks ago, Nielsen SoundScan reported that the week of August 30th, 2014 saw the lowest number of physical and digital album sales of all time – only 3.7M sold since the company first began tracking sales in 1991. Music streaming is growing, and the big giants, Apple, Google, Amazon, see that.

As an avid user of music streaming services, I would love to connect with the artists that I am listening to via a service dedicated to music, not one dedicated to text or images. “Hunger of the Pine” by Alt-J and “Pendulum” by FKA Twigs changed my soul this summer. In streaming them over and over again, I am sending that message to the artist. “Hey, you have moved me. Thank you for that. Please don’t stop.” I would love for them to know how they have inspired me. And in turn, I would love to know what inspires them. 

– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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