Originally posted for ReverbNation
If you were to choose between a top-tier press placement, 1,000 new followers, or 1,000 new streams, which would you choose?
For some artists, it’s all about the streams. Stream numbers are tangible proof that people like your song. It’s concrete evidence that all the work was worth it. Or at least…it feels that way.
In an industry where so much of what we do feels ambiguous and far-fetched, having a high stream count feels like the fans are telling us that our music matters.
But there’s a secret to streams that no one wants to admit. And that is that they aren’t actually as important as we like to think they are. Especially when you break it down…
Streams don’t always equal fans
The most important lesson about streams is that not every stream you have is a fan.
There are a few reasons behind this, the biggest being that, unfortunately, there are a lot of bots and fake playlists (i.e. playlists that exist solely to run bots to and rack up numbers). It’s impressive on the surface, but ultimately harmful to you because it is driving the wrong kind of people to your music. For instance, many of these playlists will mix R&B, hip-hop, rock, and a million other genres and make the playlists 100+ songs to cram in as many streams as possible into one playlist, which means the odds of people liking all the songs/genres on that 200+ song mixed genre playlist are slim.
Not only that, the algorithm may start lumping your music in with other genres and pushing it to people who like that genre, which might not be as much of a fit.
It looks suspicious if playlist numbers are high while socials lag
You can spend all the time, money, and energy you want racking up streams, but if in the end you have playlist streams in the tens of thousands and yet your social media is getting no engagement, people are going to be suspicious, and they’re going to know something is up.
Of course, there are completely legitimate ways to build your playlist streams and over time, with a solid and executable strategy, you can and will grow your stream count alongside your fan count.
It starts with the fans
It really is that simple. And yet, so many skip this step because quite honestly, despite being really simple, it can also feel hard to know where to start. After all, how many times have you said “my music is for everyone!” But it’s not, and focusing on everyone will mean attracting no one.
Think about your favorite artists or brands outside of music. They market to a very specific audience (you, in this case). The way we show up, speak, and engage with people comes down to who we want to attract.
So, get clear on who your music is for. Odds are, it’s a version of who you are. Think of the feelings, values, personality traits, etc that make up who you are at your core and what makes you want to listen to a song or go to a concert. Your fans are probably not far behind.
Create content that’s just for them
Once you know who your fans are (another way to think of this is “who do I make music for? Who will feel most impacted by this?”) ask yourself even more about them. This will help as you plan out social media content, live shows, and sponsorship opportunities.
Ask yourself: What do your fans like? Dislike? What videos do they watch, podcasts do they listen to, festivals do they go to, influencers do they follow? What do they believe in? What makes them happy? Stressed? Excited?
Really talk to them. Reach out to a handful of fans and start chatting with them. Do polls on social media. Talk to them at shows. Get to know them, and soon you’ll have a strong understanding of who they are and what they want.
A final thought: fan-centric growth is fundamental
What is fan-centric growth? In a nutshell, this just means that your marketing is designed around your fan’s needs and interests. You anticipate their needs, interests, values, etc. Your growth is dependent on how much you invest in them.
Have you ever seen something pop up and thought “this is so me!” That’s fan-centric.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- Weekly emails to your email list talking about things besides your music. What’s going on in your world? What are you thinking, feeling, pondering? Odds are if you’re thinking it, so are they.
- Social media content that reflects some of your deepest loves/fears/worries/passions. Ever get stuck watching videos for 2 hours? It’s because the content made you feel seen. Do that for your fans.
- Create an experience that is tailor made to them. Everything from the merch you make to the type of shows you put on, to the way you show up online should be in the interest of them.
In the end, it’s easy to see why fans are more valuable than streams. They move the needle more and contribute to longer term growth, but they’re also people. Living, breathing beings that you can truly connect with, grow with, and create change with. And that will always be better than an arbitrary number on a song.