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This is the Unstarving Musician podcast. I am your host Robonzo. This podcast features conversations with me, indie music artists and industry professionals. It’s all intended to help other indie music artists be better at marketing, business, the creative process and all the other things that empower us to do more of what we love. Make music.
My guest for this episode is Michael Sloane of Streaming Promotions, which as its name might imply, is a strategic streaming platform promotion company. Streaming Promotions has been in business since 2015; and Michael was quoted in Rolling Stone from an article earlier this year that discusses competition for ear-time on Spotify, and all the things related to streaming promotions. In our conversation, Michael explains why streaming promotion is important. He also explains the related ecosystem, which is in part comprised of Spotify, playlists, artists, consumers and labels. Michael gives insight into Spotify curated versus independently curated playlists, who streaming promotions, identifies as playlists that matter how they do that, and how they find artists that they want to work with. We also talk about scams to avoid, and what artists should be asking as they look into this world of streaming promotions. It was a very educational conversation for me, I hope you will find it to be the same for you. Here’s me and Michael Sloane of Streaming Promotions.
Interview begins here.
Well, this is a timely conversation, it’ll probably get published fairly close to one that just came out this week on that I titled what’s wrong with music distribution? And there’s kind of a tie-in there. So I thought it was like, very cool on the tail end of that. But I don’t know, you know, I understand its importance and I’ve certainly read a thing here and there, and because of all the conversations I have, talk about the importance of streaming and streaming promotion, but I don’t really know much about it. So I guess let’s start with talking about why it’s important; and what’s going on within streaming promotion right now?
Michal Sloan 2:58
Yeah, I think you know, first and foremost, you know that, as you talked about distribution, you’ve got so much music being released daily. You know, if you’re to believe TuneCore, Daniel Ek, either one, it’s 40,000 tracks added to the platform every day. So you just got a huge volume of music. And the issue there is there are only so many editorial looks that you can get. So editorial being the Spotify curated playlists. The rest are up for grabs with how are you getting audience to your music. So our efforts just… Let’s go find users that have large followings on their playlist, and let’s reach out to those people and see if they would like to listen to music that we’re promoting. So it’s really more about just trying to grow audience, there’s just such a torrent of music being released, that you’re in a place where it’s hard to. It’s hard to cut through the noise.
Yeah, and I can hear myself now I found my problem.
Michal Sloan 3:57
Yeah. And I I gathered and doing a little bit of reading for a conversation today that this is discouraging for some artists, I I kind of subscribe to that, “Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing” kind of approach and and, you know, dive into your music and learn as much as you can [Absolutely.] about get out there so that we don’t get too discouraged.
Michal Sloan 4:20
Yeah, I mean, I completely agree with you know, keep your own path. And I’ve worked with a lot of artists over the years. And I’ve always said that, you know, comparison is the thief of joy. So don’t look at what other people are doing and the success they’re having. And kind of keep your course, I think part of it also is there’s just again, there’s just so much music out there that even just keeping your course; if you’re not finding new audience, you’re you’re basically releasing music into a figure eight pattern, it’s going to the same people. And then kind of you’re going back and recording more music and going out to the same people again, and there’s really no growth or expanding your audience. So that’s, I mean, I think that’s where companies come in to try to do digital marketing campaigns and specifically on on Spotify with streaming promotions.
Yeah, for me, the indie artist’s goal for getting their music out there is building their own community. And, and letting those people be the backbone of their music business. But, you know, how should they be thinking about streaming as part of the equation? Because to me also, I think that to go from indie artists, to someone who’s more widely recognized, this is kind of where streaming becomes even more important.
Michal Sloan 5:29
Sure, I look at everything as kind of a funnel, if you will, right. So first, you need to build awareness of you as an artist. And this is really where I guess the beginning of streaming promotions happened was, this is a great, relatively cheap and somewhat revenue producing tool that allows you to find exposure to a new audience. Because, you know, obviously, with with Spotify and the consumption services, it’s all you can eat, right? It’s not about finding a download or purchasing an album, it’s once you subscribe to the service, you have access to millions of songs. So if if one of those is you and your song, then how are you? How are you getting it to the public? And how are you building that awareness? So, you know, our goal really, is just to try to grow that awareness of those artists and build their community. And so once you can build that community, you know, I don’t look at us as the end goal, I look at us, as you know, the top of that funnel, where then you’re trying to build towards a ticket, if touring ever comes back, or, you know, buying merchandise or, or becoming a lifelong fan, if someone’s going to save that music and come back to it over and over again. So I think that’s really kind of how I look at what we do. We’re really the company that’s trying to go from the, and make that initial introduction to the artist.
And when an artist is considering using a service like the one you provide, let’s just I guess, talk as generically as you can, but what are the things that they really need to consider? What are the things that they should look for? What are the gotchas they need to avoid?
Michal Sloan 7:02
Anything that says guarantee? Pretty much I would say, in the digital space in general, I guarantee I’ll get you this many impressions, I guarantee I’ll get you this many adds to playlist, I guarantee you’ll have this many increase in followers or monthly listeners, you know, there’s not really any type of promotion game, there’s not really a guarantee, unless you’re doing something nefarious, like buying spins, or you own playlists, which is in violation of the terms and conditions of Spotify. And you’re just adding to those lists. So anything that that looks fishy, and seems too good to be true. Nine times out of 10 is.
What does that mean, to own a playlist?
Michal Sloan 7:41
So there were several playlists in the early days of Spotify that gained a lot of traction. And people realized that if, you know if they could own these playlists, and they could charge for people to add their songs to these playlists, so several people went out and began buying, you know, large groups of playlist. So they’ll own 50 to 100 playlists that have 50,000 followers or more. And then they will, you know, advertise, I can get you 50 adds 25 adds on playlists and guarantee that the playlists will have x number of followers. And all they’re doing is just taking your money and then putting, putting your music on playlists that they actually control. In most cases, those playlists no longer really generate the traffic, or at least the organic traffic that you’d want to see. A lot of them, they’re running through bots. And so it’s just running the playlist over and over and over again to guarantee a certain stream count on the other side. So it’s really, you know, advantageous for any artists to look into what you’re actually buying, you know, if anybody’s saying I guarantee you 50 or 100 placements, or I guarantee it on a follower, a follower count of x, it’s usually fake and or running afoul of the terms and conditions of spot of Spotify. And the problem with that is if you get busted with any of that as an artist, they can, Spotify can pull down your, your entire artist profile, which you lose all your stream counts and your monthly listeners and all the rest of it. So it can be pretty, pretty tough on an artist if they if that happens, obviously because then you’re starting from scratch.
Do too many artists that you work with find you guys or do you find, does your company find talent that it wants to work with? and kind of prospect… Does the prospecting go both ways? Or?
Michal Sloan 9:29
It does I mean, so we’ve got relationships with a few larger labels and some some larger management companies. And so a lot in that sense of us reaching out saying, “Hey, what’s the plan for artists x.” I’ve got a sales team of a few people that do some research and reach out on artists that we’d like to work with. We also you know, get tons of submissions, we probably get 200 and 250 submissions a month. Of that, you know, we run that in front of our promotion team to see if it’s going to work. Usually the adoption rate of the 250 submissions we get a month is probably five to 10 a month. So we try to be selective and make sure that we’re choosing the right artist. But we also make sure that, you know, it’s not a, we, it’s not just a come to streaming promotions and hand us money and we go to work for you. We want to make sure that we’re actually, you know, gonna be, gonna have some success, we hope.
So the, the path to getting involved with a company like yours, then is through a label. And did you say through larger PR houses too…?
Michal Sloan 10:31
We work with some PR, management, we also work with some PR companies. So we’ve got really, I mean, I’ve been in the music industry now for almost 20 years. So we’ve got some relationships with some larger companies. And most of those things are, you know, artists that you recognize. So we do a lot of work in those spaces. But, you know, every campaign is unique. So we do a lot of DIY, we even do some startup artists that this is their first release, and we’re just trying to grow our, grow an audience from from zero.
Cool. Tell me or describe to me the, the in house independent playlist curators, and how they play into the ecosystem of what you guys do.
Michal Sloan 11:11
Sure, I mean, they are the lifeblood of what we do. You know, getting adds on user generated and independent lists, really allows us to grow that monthly listener number. And so while adds is kind of what our currency is, if you will, with our clients, we’re also working towards the algorithmic playlist of Spotify. So discover weekly, release radar, daily mood, the radio functionality, related artists that that type thing. So our goal is to get you adds on lists, that are, you know, genre and or mood vibe specific to the artist, and then hopefully, that trigger the algorithm to get you into larger buckets for your next release on release radar, or get you into a larger audience of discover weekly. So it’s really the independent playlist community is really kind of what we’re using to help lever, those other algorithmic lists, but the independent playlister is just, you know, any user like me or you that just has either become the cool kid that’s passing around the mixtape in middle school or, or they’re, they’re active, there is now some some playlisters that are actively going out and marketing their playlist to try to grow followers. I’m not sure if that’s for vanity, or if, if they’re, if their goal at some point is to try to sell space on those lists, I would advise against that, again, against the terms and conditions, but there are a lot of folks that are out there, you know, trying to grow that list just to be an influencer in the space?
What are the characteristics of a? This might be too broad of a question, but what are the characteristics of a good playlist?
Michal Sloan 12:50
Um, that it matches, you know, if it says it’s, um, I don’t know, songs to get ready to in the morning or songs to work out to that it matches that vibe one. So that’s very important that it’s not, you know, a playlist of 50,000 followers, then you look at it, and it says, you know, 90s top hits, and it’s got randomly spattered in there a bunch of new releases; because that’s usually something with being botted or something that’s just trying to be faked to get spinned. Instead, those new tracks, a good playlist is going to be something that has a theme, and is consistent. For us, it’s going to need to have more than 500 followers, but not just about the follower count, because that’s not nearly as important as how many streams are coming out of that actual playlist per month. So we’ve, we use some software where we can see actually how much you know, how much traffic, how much, how many streams are being generated by that playlist. So we make sure that it’s active and working.
Is some of that information kind of hidden to the regular eye? You mentioned software is, Is it something that…
Michal Sloan 13:52
Yeah, yes. I mean, there’s there are several companies out there that are, you know, that have gone and done some analytics on on all. I mean, it’s all based on Spotify API. So there’s nothing, you know, it’s nothing off the grid, but it’s, it’s still stuff that you wouldn’t see as an average user.
Sure, sure. And when you say consistent, what is consistent is that mean that it’s growing, you know, it’s growing, it’s adding, it’s, it’s changing?
Michal Sloan 14:13
It’s growing, it’s adding, it’s changing, you know, it’s it’s still active, there’s still spins coming out of it. And consistent in the sense that it does follow some type of theme, whether it be, you know, songs I’ve discovered in indie rock this week, or songs that you know, whatever it might be, we want to make sure that it’s stayed consistent to that theme, and that it’s, you know, it’s not just, they’re just adding music left and right, that doesn’t seem to match what the what the playlist is titled.
Sure. Earlier, I was going to ask what a good questions that an artist should ask, you know, like a company like yours, but it almost seems like that those questions should maybe go to their management or their label. And but yeah, so it’s a two part question. What are the questions they should ask in this area, you know, to learn about this area and figure out what they should their strategy should be? And who should they ask?
Michal Sloan 15:04
Yeah, I mean, I think anyone, if you’re going into the, you know, the playlist promotion world, and you’re looking for a company to work with, I think first is just be wary of, you know, that the too good to be true. And the and the guarantee of things, you know, ask the question of, you know, who are these curators? Or do you have an example of a report? or How can you guarantee anything that you’re saying, you can guarantee, because we’re going to tell you on the streaming promotion side, I can’t guarantee you anything? I can guarantee you that you’re going to have my staffs attention, and, and we’re going to reach out to as many playlists as we can find that fit, you know, that that fits your music. And we’re going to hope to grow. But there if you say the word you know, I guarantee you, I’ll get 50 playlist ads, there’s something amiss there, something something’s not right. So those are the first questions to ask and just continue to be, you know, if it looks like, if it’s 500 bucks to get 10,000 streams on a song, that’s absolutely a bot that you can’t, you can’t manufacture that otherwise, and most of those botted, you know, playlists, the most of those botted lists or those botted streams are coming from, you know, Indonesia, or coming from areas that you probably wouldn’t have a fan base. I know, Spotify has found a couple spots. One was outside of Cleveland a couple of years ago, and there’s one in Houston now that, you know, it will at least if your top market is Houston by a, you know, huge, huge margin and you’re not from the you know, Houston or Texas area, it’s probably a pretty good indicator that something something incorrect was done or something there’s there’s some there’s, there’s some game in the system happening.
Yeah. And and was the second part is that, you know, not really applicable, but like, where do they go to find where’s the best place for them to be asking, or I noticed you guys have a great blog, some stuff that you put out on Medium. And, you know, there’s a couple articles here and there, maybe those are the best places to sort of just start and learn what they need to know, so that we can speak intelligently about it.
Michal Sloan 17:07
Absolutely. I think staying on top of what’s happening in the space, obviously, it’s been the Wild West for, we’ve been around for five years, and it’s definitely changed a great deal in that time. But just making sure you’re knowledgeable about streaming and what’s happening in the space. I think the Rolling Stone article that, that we were quoted in had a pretty good write up. We’ve done some decent, like just kind of stayed in the industry stuff that’s currently on our Medium page. And was also on a TuneCore blog as well. So we’re, you know, we’re trying to get the word out there, a lot of it just about education for us just making sure we’re educating, you know, our clients and, and trying to that’s, that’s 80% of honestly what I feel like we’re we’re really, we’re really good at promoting music, but we’re really, really good at educating. So this is the kind of the state of where things are. And this is a, it’s important to make sure that our clients don’t come into this blind and they know, you know, what we’re up to.
A good friend of mine who has a wildly successful business in a completely different area says something that I think applies to your business, and probably most, but that he says his best customer’s an educated customer. So he spends a lot of time… [Always.] Let me wrap up with a few business questions, if I may. [Sure.] Tell me about the different ways you guys make money.
Michal Sloan 18:26
Sure, I mean, so the only way that we are making money is through clients. So again, we don’t own anything, we’re not renting space on a list, we don’t. So it’s truly just you, just like a PR agency, or any digital promotion, you know, service company, you pay us to come in the door and work your music, and we work it and we send weekly reports and we you know, we do research on your behalf. And we actually get feedback from the curation community to to give you feedback on your music. And you have to take that with a grain of salt, because everybody’s a critic. But we, you know, we we go to work for you. And that’s, you know, it’s really a service based business.
Okay, and you guys are privately funded, right?
Michal Sloan 19:08
Yeah, that’s totally bootstrapped. So it’s a, it was from the outset, it was an idea, we found a market and, and kind of took off after it.
And how are you growing the business?
Michal Sloan 19:22
We’re steady right now. I feel like we’re kind of capped at, we’ve got 15 employees, you know. We keep anywhere from 70 to 100 clients 50 to 100 clients probably at any given time. So growth is really relative. I mean, I feel like we’ve, we’ve carved a pretty good niche as to what we’re trying to accomplish. And it’s it’s really just maintaining at this point, you know, five years in, five and a half years in now as a business, you’re just trying to make sure you know, there’s some margin there and you keep the lights on.
Cool. Well, hey man…
Michal Sloan 19:54
Especially during this time, when I’m just trying. I’m trying to keep people employed.
No kidding. I would think that it’s a time that people are not going to forget about the importance of this; but I wish the best of luck to you and your continued efforts to serve the community. And thank you very much for coming on today. I will definitely stay in touch. Certainly if nothing else to let you know when this publishes.
Michal Sloan 20:16
Yeah, man, I appreciate it so much. Thanks so much for having me.
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