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Spotify Shenanigans

It’s been a while since I released any music. One of my old bands, active between 2001-2015, had released all sorts of stuff in a variety of formats but all that was available on streaming platforms was a best-of compilation that was put out a year or two after the band had split.

Going through the archives recently I realised there was a bunch of stuff that I really ought to re-package and release to the like of Spotify et al. I’d found an unreleased live album which deserved a proper release, as well as some unheard studio recordings – and when I noticed the special deal my distributor was offering for digital releases I thought fuck it, I should release all the old studio albums as well!

The band had a handful of listeners on Spotify – most of the time the figure hovered around the 10-20 monthly listeners mark – but none of our tracks had passed the magical 1000 streams mark (after which the number of plays is displayed next to the song). I didn’t really expect this to change – the band no longer exists, and the last gig was over 7 years ago. But I did think it would be nice if a few of the tracks could go past 1000 plays so we didn’t look completely crap.

Perhaps I could set up a free Spotify account and just play some of my songs on a loop with the sound off. I didn’t really expect this to work – I mean it’s got to be pretty easy for Spotify to pick up this sort of behaviour right? And presumably they’ll just close the account or discard the plays. It turned out to be quite the opposite.

Because I guess Spotify make more money from adverts between songs than what they pay out to artists for streams. Rather than wanting to stop these sort of shenanigans, they probably rather like it. After all, they play an advert between every 3 songs on the free accounts. So if I leave a playlist going all day long, playing songs that are averaging 4 minutes in length, that’s more than 300 songs a day – which means more than 100 ads are going to play. Nice.

So I did this, and after a week or so I logged in to my label’s Spotify account and noticed that the plays were indeed being logged as genuine plays. Well I might as well leave it going then.

Another week on, and I notice that something else is happening. Instead of 10-20 monthly listeners, the figure is now 40. And a couple of the songs are getting played a lot more than I can account for with my own plays. Interesting.

A week on again and my first song has passed the 1000 plays marker. My monthly listeners are now 80. Diving a little deeper into my stats on the artist dashboard I notice that some of the songs are beginning to be added to quite a few playlists. It’s dawning on me that this is the most effective marketing campaign I’ve ever done, and it’s all been by accident. In fairness this is absolutely on brand for me.

I’ve been doing this for a month now. I’m keeping a close eye on the stats to see if I can spot any patterns. One of my songs is really taking off. Well, relatively speaking. It’s now had nearly 200 different listeners and nearly 5000 plays, 3 or 4 times more than any of the others. It’s made it on to 69 different playlists. It’s been played in 31 countries. And the country that I’m repeatedly playing it from is responsible for only 15% of those plays. The UK takes 50% of the plays. This computes… the band were always more popular there than in Australia, where we resided. Australia is responsible for less than 0.1% of the streams. Yeah, that computes too.

The monthly listeners are now past 350. Numerous songs are being added to playlist all over the world, and we’re also being picked up by Spotify’s algorithmic playlists – I presume this means the songs that Spotify plays for you once an album or playlist finishes. This is all rather unexpected, but entirely welcome. I am thoroughly enjoying watching these numbers keep on going up.

Another interesting development – Apple Music. Every week I get an email telling me that I have had zero plays on Apple Music. Again. I open these emails each week only because, like every musician who has never achieved any commercial success whatsoever, I’m still sure that one day somebody will discover my genius and instead of zero the email will say something like 4 million. Anyway, the last couple of weeks that zero has gone up. It became 2. Then 7. Then 13. This is definitely an intriguing side-effect.

So there you have it. In trying to scam my way to a few more plays on Spotify I have accidentally increased my listenership exponentially, in little more than a month. Obviously it’s still bugger all, but it’s a much bigger bugger all, and that’s the important thing. Have I finally found a way to make the system work for me instead of it’s usual policy, which is to try and make my life a misery at every opportunity? Spotify are happy – more ad revenue for them. Fuck, I’ve just realised I could be helping to fund their Joe Rogan podcasts. Urgh. Nevertheless I shall keep checking in on my artists stats and perhaps revisit this post at the end of the year. Will this growth keep on going at the same sort of rate? Or will it run out of steam? Hell, if this goes on much longer I might even get a royalty payment out of them…

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