Playlists continue to be a huge topic of conversation in music marketing. But should you buy playlist contacts?
Look, if you've been in the music marketing game long enough, you know playlists are a fickle, treacherous path to promotion. And if you're just starting out and wondering how to get more ears on a song, you've probably already been inundated with Facebook and Instagram ads telling you all about "organic playlist strategies."
You won't be surprised to learn that there's nothing "organic" about them. And in many cases, paying for these services can hurt you overall.
So what about reaching out to playlist owners yourself?
The Theory Behind Playlist Promotion
Most playlist promotion revolves around Spotify. While there are other platforms with user-generated playlists anybody can listen to, Spotify certainly popularized the notion of publicly available playlists.
Nowadays, most popular playlists on Spotify (that aren't directly controlled by Spotify) are ran by people who intentionally wanted to create playlists as a brand, financial opportunity, or bargaining chip. At one point, companies and individuals were going out and actively buying playlists from users in order to build a "network" of playlists they could ultimately monetize. Seriously.
These individuals (and sometimes companies) probably have versions of these playlists on other services, too. YouTube, SoundCloud, and to a lesser extent Apple Music and Deezer etc., all have some kind of publicly available playlists. But Spotify remains the primary focus for most playlist owners (and subsequently artists looking to get their songs on them).
The basic theory behind pitching your song to land on one of these playlists is that it's one of the most effective ways to "organically" (there's that word again) get in front of new listeners. Think of them kind of like micro-radio stations.
Hold Up, Is It Illegal For Playlist Contacts To Charge Money?
This is a gray area. It's certainly against Spotify's Terms of Service to pay for a 3rd party company that "guarantees" a certain number of streams. But that little caveat of "guaranteeing" allows a lot of companies that still use the same shady practices to freely operate in murky waters.
And the practice of payola is also actually illegal. But again, payola certainly still exists. It just exists in different forms — like record labels giving money to radio stations for "giveaways" or guaranteeing artists will play "promotional shows" for free. It's an unspoken language that basically means people just got more creative with how they broke the rules.
That being said, if a playlist owner directly says, "Give me $20 and I'll put your song on my playlist for a week," you can report that user and they run the risk of getting booted from Spotify. Likewise, if Spotify notices you're getting a bunch of fake streams, you're likely to be penalized too.
The Most Popular Playlist Workaround
The most popular workaround for playlist contacts involves charging a submission fee to consider a song. Several companies provide these services.
Essentially, they work with a bunch of different playlist owners. Those playlist owners get paid to "consider" songs for their lists. That money comes from artists who pay the company (usually at least $500, oftentimes thousands of dollars) to get their song in front of those playlist owners.
Over time, the most reliable of these platforms developed certain protections for both artists and playlist owners. These exist to make sure both parties feel as safe and comfortable that they're being treated fairly.
But it's still arguably a form of payola. People still get burned. And playlist owners still load their playlists up with unreliable traffic by spending money on ads in the cheapest countries.
So That Brings Us To Paying For Playlist Contacts
That brings us to one of the most "manual" forms of playlist promotion: doing it yourself. Reaching out to the owners of these playlists and asking if they'd consider your song.
This practice is also about as old as playlists themselves. And in the early days, it was a nice and *actually* organic way to build relationships with music fans. Now, it's a practice rife with shortcuts and problems.
Several companies offer huge lists of playlist contacts for money. Usually it's a very affordable price — something the average broke musician could afford, like $15-20. They pay the money and get a list, usually a PDF, of "playlist contacts" to reach out to and ask for some playlisting love.
And it has only made everything worse.
The Biggest Problem With Buying Playlist Contacts For Artists
If you're an artist, the biggest issue with buying these guides is that they're unreliable and often out of date. They are almost ALWAYS sourced without the express permission of the playlist owner.
That means you'll be getting a huge list of random email addresses and Facebook and Instagram profiles with no guarantee the person on the other side has any interest in meeting you. We work with an artist who receives dozens of emails every week from individual artists, record labels, marketing services companies and more — all asking about getting put on playlists that no longer exist.
So not only do you have to do the incredible amount of work to try and reach out to these people, you're also competing with thousands of others — including full blown record labels — trying to get their attention.
This is liable to leave a sour taste in the playlist owner's mouth. Plus, you're probably only going to hear back from 10-20% of them, and half of those will probably ask you for money or direct to you to some other paid service they're part of.
Even if you get these contacts for free, it's a waste of money — assuming you recognize that your time *is* money.
The Biggest Problem With Buying Playlist Contacts For The Playlist Owners
If you ever found yourself unfortunate enough to have curated a playlist with more than a thousand followers, you'll know this pain. You get email after email asking to consider songs for your playlist.
Oh, and you probably get emails from companies asking to be part of their network, too.
Many of these artists, managers, and labels don't even take the time to see if your playlist exists. You'll get some template email with an obvious lie about how they "just checked out your playlist" and "love it."
Because, you know, they're trying to take shortcuts to mass email hundreds of contacts.
It's enough to make even the most passionate music fan jaded. Most people didn't start creating playlists because they wanted to get emails and social media messages from hundreds of random people.
You probably didn't consent to have your contact information listed and sold in these "resources," either. And because there are so many, now you have to do the work of asking for your name to be removed from the list — if that even matters at this point.
Basically, it's a lose-lose situation for artists who are simply desperate for some level of new reach and playlist owners who are being leveraged without their consent.
The Big Picture
Playlist promotion continues to be one of the least reliable forms of marketing your music. If you're going to go down the path, do so knowing you could be wasting your money at best and jeopardizing your music at worst.
Does that mean you should absolutely steer clear of even some of the biggest companies in the game? Not necessarily. But if you choose to use them, it should only be a very small portion of your budget and you should evaluate the efforts rigorously to determine if it was actually worth it — versus doing something like paid ads or investing more heavily in content.
Either way, please do not buy playlist contacts. Nobody wins.