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  • Chris Russell

Playlists Are the Future and the Future Is Now

Let's face it. Technology is always going to impact where, when and how we consume music.

More importantly, consumers will drive the technological innovation even further with their preferred listening habits.

In 2017, the barriers to release and distribute music as an independent artist are low and Do It Yourself (DIY) is the new wave amongst creatives. In my opinion, it's beautiful because fans have way more music to explore and choose from.

However, there's one problem.

It's extremely overwhelming and impossible to keep up with new artists and discover new content. So what's the solution?

Music curation aka playlists are the future. Spotify is currently leading this with a breath of playlists spread across genres and particular moods. No matter what activity you're doing or emotional feels you might be having, there's a playlist for you. Not only does Spotify have its own sponsored playlists, but any user or artist can create their own.

All The Feels by Spotify

Each streaming platform uses a combination of human curation and data to build and promote their playlist. While Spotify leverages algorithms and hours of listening data to surface the best songs for the right moment, other platforms, like Apple Music and Google Play, are leveraging a more human touch.

Jessica Suarez, Google’s lead streaming music editor has mentioned that their approach to playlist curation is more editorial, and they only use algorithms and data to market and drive the appropriate audiences to them afterwards. Likewise, Apple Music only uses algorithms for distribution, and as Scott Plagenhoef, the platform’s Global Head of Editorial and Programming, describes their curation process as “completely hand-picked.”


Still not convinced playlists are the future? Let’s explore a few more reasons.

1. Shift in Music Discovery & Consumption

A big shift is happening in how fans are discovering and listening to music. From a consumption standpoint, audience listening habits are shorter and they have less attention spans for full projects.

This makes sense, especially with so much information eating away at our thoughts and the constantly growing trend of multi-tasking. To add to our limited attention span, listeners are also overwhelmed with the amount of new music available. There’s a high saturation of artists and new material, so fans need guidance on what to pay attention to.

Hence, playlists help with discovery and act as the new gatekeepers, dictating what listeners should pay attention to.

2. Slow Death of Radio

Let’s face it, radio is slowly dying and becoming more irrelevant.

Last year, the Music Business Association released an in-depth consumer insights study focused on millennials and music consumption. The report highlighted that 51% of younger millennials prefer on-demand streaming for their daily listening habits, instead of radio. At the end of the day, radio has been slow to adapt to evolving technology and streaming platforms and playlists are becoming the replacement.

Playlists are the new radio in terms of artist exposure but the streaming platforms provide so much more engagement for listeners with the ability to save songs, rewind, share playlists with friends and the ability to easily create their own. They cover a breadth of genres and set soundtracks and background music for specific situations. There are even algorithms in playlists that generate new music discovery based on your preferences

3. Playlists are Dynamic

In the tech industry, software as a solution (SAAS) products are known for constantly being updated and evolving over time because they are cloud-based. As a music platform built on cloud software, streamable playlists are exactly the same, and artists are taking advantage of this.

Last year, Techcrunch did an interesting piece on why Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo was the first SAAS album. Even after the release of Pablo, Kanye would periodically adjust the order of songs, add additional lyrics on the album, or infamously going back to “fix wolves” by adding Vic Mensa back on the track and separating the last 40 seconds into it’s own track. This had fans in a frenzy constantly checking everyday to see if there was anything new.

Kanye was just another step in the evolution of how artists are packaging their music, i.e. shorter projects like EPs, emphasis on singles, etc. Artists are even creating playlists themselves to have a wide variation on the the styles of music that they create. Earlier this year, Drake marketed an album as a playlist to compile a globally eclectic mix of genres and styles as he took creative leaps and risks on his project, More Life.

4. There’s a Playlist for Everything

It’s important to note that there is a level of democracy with playlists, especially on Spotify, which allows user-generated playlists to gain momentum and accumulate a specific demographic of followers.

Not only can playlists embody a particular mood or experience, they can also be political and educational.

Black Lives Matter by Spotify

For example, there are playlists that support causes for the LGBT, feminist, and African-American communities. The playlists become impactful works, displaying freedom of speech as users make bold statements by patchworking music into playlists that convey certain messages, emotions and agendas.

This works because a variety of seemingly unrelated songs can be curated into a way where they are contextualized differently than they were as individual singles.


Now, what does the the rise of playlists mean for musicians? Let's look into some of the benefits of playlists for artists.

Indie Artists Can Become an Overnight Success

There have been plenty of success stories of unknown artists finally catching a break and gaining mass appeal via playlists.

To put it simply, Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services are breaking artists, and two notable examples are Lorde and the hit song Cheerleader by OMI. Lorde was featured in Sean Parker’s (Co-Founder of Napster) Spotify playlist called Hipster International. From there, the rest is history, she quickly started to trend as users discovered her on the playlists and shared the song with their friends. The same happened to Cheerleader, which was a three-year-old reggae song before it became #1 on the U.S. Hot 100 as a tropical house remix. All from the power of playlist discovery.

With so much independent user content uploaded to Spotify, there is an abundance of data being collected. As a result, Nick Holmsten, Spotify's head of shows and editorials, says that his team confidently analyzes the data and can tell you which song will be a breakout hit in just a few months.

Spotify’s editors and curators carefully watch the analytics of songs such as how often listeners play a song, which songs in a playlist are being skipped, how much of the song they listen to, and if they save it to their personal playlists. If a song is gaining momentum around a certain demographic, then the editors will add it to other specific or larger playlists, such as the Weekly Buzz.

There are regional playlists for every country, and if a song gains popularity in one area, it soon could be added to a more global playlists for an even larger reach. Starley, a pop-singer from Australia, is a great example of going viral via playlists. Her song Call on Me was picked up by the Danish Spotify’s New Music Friday, two months after its release.

Call on Me did really well and the editors added it to the Weekly Buzz and the Pop Rising playlists which have a little over 1 million combined followers. Eventually the song was generating thousands of daily streams, so Spotify editors introduced it across popular international playlists.

At Spotify HQ, this strategy is called “Playlisting,” and effectively introduces listeners to songs that are dominating the streaming analytics on the platform.

Get Discovered By Your Ideal Core Fanbase

Obviously, if you're a music addict, you're likely not relying on the radio for new music. It's more likely that you despise the radio because it's saturated with the same 10-15 songs that have been playing for months.

Non-casual fans are usually in the trenches, searching blogs, social media, and forums for the next big thing so they can say they heard it first. These are the type of people that you want to discover your music, since they will tell ALL of their friends and followers about you. Connecting with these active fans will be beneficial in the long term because it will carry your music beyond the lifespan of a particular playlists, which may not be popular for long.

I'm proudly one of these fans.

With the popularity of playlists growing and their reputation for having quality and cutting edge artist buried within them, active music lovers are all over these playlists.

It's a no brainer. With a quality single or project and the most appropriate playlist, you can easily reach some of your initial loyal fans. From there, you can only continue to watch those loyal fans grow. On your Spotify artist page you can even see analytics that show you the city where your fans live. Thus the possibility of touring could be even sooner than you think.

Furthermore, you can identify a playlist that fits your niche. If you already know your core audience and are familiar with the sounds and culture that they embrace, then you can find the playlist they listen to most frequently and meet them there. It’s no longer necessary to have a top 40 breakout hit just to get discovered. That won’t make or break your career in 2017.


Future of Playlists

As playlists continue to evolve, they will create new revenue opportunities for artists and tech companies.

Spotify is planning to fully capitalize. In June, they announced that they’re taking their most popular playlist, RapCaviar, on a 6 city tour and they’re calling it a live concert series. RapCaviar has over 5 million loyal followers who rely on the playlist to hear new jams from big stars to up-and-coming artists.

RapCaviar by Spotify

Merging the digital with the physical in-person experience is a brilliant move for Spotify, and RapCaviar as a brand in particular. At Noise Complaints, we always stress the importance of combining digital and physical content to our clients, because it can strengthen a brand by engaging fans personally with a memorable experience, if executed well. If all streaming platforms adopt this strategy, then playlists will become even more essential to the music industry. Most importantly, this will give new artists an opportunity to shine with their live performance and recruit new fans for themselves.

If you ask me, this is a phenomenal time for any music lover to be alive.


Check out our official playlists below and follow us on Spotify by searching "spotify:user:the_noise_complaints_group"

Late Night Drive Vol.1

The tranquility of the night, no hustle, no traffic, just time to be yourself and think. The moon shines through the night, showing you the city in a whole new light. The perfect playlist for a late night drive and reflection.

Hustler's Motivation

For all my entrepreneurs, hustlers, or just people trying to get through their 9 to 5 and make that money, this playlist is for you. There may be glory in the grind, but we still need to get that money.

Cookout Music

What's a cookout without music? Elevate the taste of your food and set the party off right. This is the perfect playlist for your summertime cookout to make sure it's one to remember.

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