Playlists Are the New Radio

Feb 06, 2017

In the new music streaming economy, curated playlists have become a powerful medium for music discovery, promotion, and spins.

We now live in an attention economy. Distribution is easy. Attention is scarce. With access to all the music in the world at the click of a button, how do listeners decide what to play? Now that the technology and business models behind music streaming have largely worked themselves, out, this tyranny of choice is the greatest challenge facing artists and music services alike.

Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and others don’t own the music they stream. They license it from the labels. So a handful of exclusives aside, they all pretty much have access to the same catalog. So how do they compete for users?

Simply put… it’s their curation, or the way their large “rented” catalog is surfaced to users. The service that most accurately and easily presents each individual listener with the songs he or she wants at that moment is the one that will best attract and retain the largest user base.

Some of this is powered by algorithms, complex mathematical equations that compare millions of song attributes against a user’s listening behavior to make guesses on what they might like to hear next.

But more recently we’ve seen a growing trend of human curation… music experts paid to create custom playlists based on different moods, situations, activities, or genres. These playlists have become a powerful medium for music discovery and monetization.

A recent study by MusicWatch found that eight in 10 of those paying for a music subscription use it daily, and of those half listen to a playlist every time that they use the service to stream music.

Scoring a spot on a popular playlist has launched several new artists careers.

Stories like this indicate that some of these playlists can be as impactful as radio airplay. In fact, labels now have staff dedicated to pitching the playlist creators at these services, similar to how their radio promotions department lobby for drive-time rotation slots.

What’s more, labels have even started creating their own playlists and uploading them onto these services themselves to introduce new acts.

And it’s not just new music that benefits. Back catalog music that might otherwise be left gathering digital dust on the infinite storage warehouse of the Internet can suddenly enjoy a new lease on life in included in the right playlist at the right time.

Playlists are the PERFECT mechanism for breathing new life into your back catalog. Playlists give you the opportunity to feature your songs in new contexts, shaped by the songs that precede or follow.”

CD Baby’s DIY Musician blog

To understand why playlists are so powerful, consider the following

·      Playlists are “lean back.” Like the radio, you just turn it on and enjoy.

·      Playlists focused on moods/activities are not restricted to any specific genre or timeframe. A current electronic hit can fit in between a classic reggae track and an obscure R&B song if programmed properly.

·      Because listeners are not choosing the song to play, they’re more open to accepting new music that they may have never chosen to play on their own.

As Apple Music mastermind Jimmy Iovine said when he launched the curation-heave Beats Music service (which Apple later acquired to form the heart of Apple Music): “The most important song after the one playing now is the one that comes next.”