Power of the playlist: landing a song on a Spotify playlist can change a musician’s career

The streaming services have an increasing amount of power in the music industry

Lesson #
September 6, 2021

In the past, artists needed record labels and agents to promote their music and try to land radio spots. Now, with streaming services like Spotify and Deezer, artists can upload music to the platforms on their own. But this means the competition is higher than ever, and the power is in the hands of the streaming services. Plus, learn “light on.”


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Transcript

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The power of the playlist: How a small number of influencers can shape the music we hear

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff, and this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with trending topics and current events. This is lesson number 396. JR has uploaded the entire lesson to PlainEnglish.com/396. If you’re not yet registered at PlainEnglish.com, take a minute to sign up. We have full transcripts and additional learning resources available for free, all at PlainEnglish.com.

Coming up today… there are 70 million songs on Spotify. Streaming playlists are how music consumers make sense of it all. In today’s lesson, we’ll explore the three different kinds of playlists you’ll find on streaming platforms. Today’s English expression is “light on,” and we have a quote of the week from Bruno Mars. Let’s get started.

The new musical gatekeepers

Not too long ago, the most influential people in the music industry were those at record labels, who decided which artists to take on and promote, and the directors of radio stations, which determined which songs to play.

Back then, an artist couldn’t hope to get records, tapes, or CDs in stores—and therefore music played on the radio—without going through a traditional record label. And consumers barely heard any music that wasn’t produced by a major record label. There was some logic to this system. It created a manageable amount of music for the public to listen to on a limited number of terrestrial radio stations and buy in stores with limited shelf space.

That’s all out the window now in the age of streaming. Today, there are about 20 million songs released on Spotify every year, a staggering amount. Any person with a microphone, a band, and a dream can record a song and then upload it to the major streaming platforms.

But the majority of those songs land with a thud; nobody hears them, and they fade into obscurity. Other songs, though, catch on and can get millions of streams, making it so that even without a label, even without an agent, an artist can hold out hope to gain fame and fortune. But if the road to riches before ran through record labels, today it increasingly runs through playlist editors.

Before, music consumers heard new songs on the radio or in clubs, but today consumers discover new artists and hear new songs through playlists. Music consumers today can’t possibly comb through the millions of songs released in a year to discover their favorites, so they use playlists to find and discover music they’ll like. And that means that getting on a playlist is an artist’s key to gaining exposure to today’s music listeners.

There are three kinds of playlists on streaming platforms: editorial playlists, independent playlists, and automatic playlists.

The platforms themselves produce editorial playlists. Employees of Spotify and Deezer, for example, listen to oodles of submissions and craft lists of songs based on moods or themes. SadIndie, for instance, is all melancholy songs; RapCaviar features Hip Hop songs; to get on one of these playlists, your song has to be good, and you have to convince the editor that people will like it.

The concerns of editorial playlist editors are similar to those of radio station managers in the past. If they choose lousy music, people will tune out and go elsewhere to discover their new hits. So, the playlist editors have to select new songs and ones that are likely to find favor with the audience for the list. They do have one advantage over old radio stations, though. A single city might only have a few dozen radio stations, so each station had to have broad appeal. There are thousands of editorial playlists on streaming platforms, so listeners can choose the exact mood they’re looking for in a song. And playlist editors can find a home for any song they really do want to include.

Independent playlists are a little more accessible for artists. There are many more of these, and they can range in popularity. The people who run these separate playlists are not employees of any platform; they can be music-industry influencers, record labels, musicians, or simply hobbyists who like to curate music thematically. These playlists attract followers and likes and can be good exposure for artists. Trap Nation is a playlist run by a music promoter active on YouTube, for example.

Both editorial and independent playlists are updated periodically. Some, like #ThrowbackThursday and New Music Friday, are entirely refreshed every week. Other thematic playlists like SadIndie are updated less frequently; some songs are replaced in an update, and others might stay a while.

And finally, the automated playlists. These are personalized, computer-generated lists or streams of songs selected based on a user’s own history and the popularity of each song. The platforms analyze metrics like how many minutes of a song the typical user listens to, how often it’s shared with others, how often it’s skipped, and so on. Complicated algorithms then determine which songs to recommend and to whom.

For an artist, getting on the right playlists is a crucial part of the distribution strategy. An artist has the opportunity to submit upcoming song releases to Spotify in the hopes of being included on a playlist. Spotify is light on specifics, but the company disclosed that it likes to hear the story behind every song in a recent blog post. They also take into account any publicity or reviews the song has had through other media.

Record labels include playlist submission as part of the services they provide their artists. Indie artists, though, still have a chance. Spotify says it doesn’t discriminate against artists that aren’t signed by a label and even have a playlist just for those artists without the backing of major labels.

A bit of a lottery

It’s still a vanishingly small chance. I’m not musical in any way, but I was reading the Spotify guidelines. You create an account with Spotify for Artists to submit a song, fill out a form, and click submit. And then you wait. And just by looking at the numbers, you can tell that there is a very low probability of success.

About a year ago, Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify, said 60,000 new songs were being uploaded to the platform every day. Even with a few thousand different playlists, there’s just such a slim chance of being included. I don’t envy people in the music business trying to get noticed, that’s for sure.

¿Hablas español?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into Spanish. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

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Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

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Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

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你说中国话?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parlez-vous français?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Você fala português?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

日本語は話せますか?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parli italiano?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Mówisz po polsku?

The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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