Every week, we field endless questions about playlists. How do you get on a playlist? How do you get on a bigger playlist? How do you get on more playlists? Why was this song not added to a playlist at all? The appetite for playlists seems to be bigger than the impact.

I’m not saying playlists aren’t important. A significant portion of my job is pitching songs for playlists. But playlists aren’t moving the needle as much as you may think. The artists who are thriving in playlists are not thriving ONLY because they got on a playlist. They are thriving because a playlist was part of a bigger marketing strategy. It wasn’t the only strategy. 

Let’s dive into real live data we’ve collected from music we’ve recently released. We changed the artist, song, and playlist names to protect the innocent.

Case Study #1

Both artists in this example released music on the same day and in similar genres. However, Artist A is an established artist who has had great commercial success in pop music. Artist B is a duo made up of two solo artists, each with a decent following of their own. The duo itself is a “new” artist. On release day, the underdogs took the #3 spot on a playlist (Playlist A) with 293,000 monthly listeners. Artist A ranked at #31. 

Playlist A showcases the newest music in a genre. It isn’t meant to provide long-term success. Any tracks added to this playlist are removed within 2-3 weeks. In this case, Artist A remained for three weeks and Artist B remained for four weeks. 

At the time of release, Artist A had over 184,000 monthly listeners, while Artist B only had 3,150. Artist A’s existing fanbase caused the placement to not affect the stream count much. In week 1, only 27% of streams came from Artist A’s placement. This is partially due to the positioning of the track. Artist B was at #3 in the playlist. At that spot, they got 160% more streams than Artist A. This data shows that WHERE you are on the playlist matters as much as getting ON it.


Case Study #2

This second example uses data from the same artists as above, but it will shift focus from one DSP to another. Artist A and Artist B both received high placements but on different playlists. 

Artist A got position #14 on a broad playlist (Playlist B). Artist B got #2 on a genre playlist (Playlist C). Like the above, these two playlists rotate to fit the newest music in that genre. Artist A remained on Playlist B for three weeks, and Artist B remained on Playlist C for four weeks. Looking at Chart 2B, Artist B saw significant growth in Week 4. But, that growth only accounted for 30% of the week’s total streams. 

In most cases, songs on this platform tend to do well over time. But, in the early days, it’s up to the label and artist to draw in listeners with marketing. Both artists received zero listens from their playlist placements in the first week. On average, a playlist placement at this DSP accounts for less than 5% of the total streams on the platform. But it is not to be overlooked. Their playlists may be small, but their audience is mighty. In most cases, stations greatly affect streaming totals. They matter more than playlists on this platform. Artists have free marketing tools that can greatly boost their plays in the algorithm. The longer your song has been on this DSP, the better the algorithm can connect you with the right fans. 

All playlist placements are great! It means that someone, somewhere, recognized your talent. But this data tells us that a playlist at this DSP holds virtually no weight. Be happy for the 5% of streams it brings you, but additional measures must be taken to be successful.


Case Study #3

Unlike the examples above, when you are added to a playlist at the next DSP, songs can stay for months, even years. 

We have several songs that have been on a playlist for years. One track landed on a playlist in 2018 and has nearly half a million streams from that playlist alone. In March of 2023, a bluegrass track was added to a playlist. It has gotten nearly one hundred thousand streams just in the last year. It’s also important to note that, in many cases, songs are not added on release day. It can happen days, weeks, or even months later. 

Artist C was added to a playlist on release day. This band is established and has had tremendous success within the genre. Artist D just released their debut single. 

For Artist C, in the first three weeks, about 70% of their streams came from sources other than this playlist (Playlist D). This could be playlists curated by users, stations, direct listens from fans, and so on. The data starts to get interesting at Week 4. There, overall streams jump by almost 300%. This massive increase is caused by a late playlist add. 85% of those Week 4 streams came from this new playlist placement (Playlist E). That trend continues in Week 5 through 14. The track stays on the playlist for a total of twenty-two weeks. However, after Week 14, streams drop significantly, both from the playlists and all other sources. 

In January of 2024, Artist D released a debut single in a very niche genre with a comparatively small audience. On release day, the song was added to Playlist F, and immediately, over 90% of the song’s streams were generated from this playlist alone. The track has been on the playlist for 20 weeks, and around 70% of the streams are still generated by this placement. 

This data shows that playlist placements at this DSP can greatly boost a song’s streams and give longevity to your release.


Case Study #4

It can also be very difficult to get on a playlist at the next DSP studied. But, placements here can be influential and lead to significant opportunities for music discovery.

Artist C from the previous example was also listed at #1 on Playlist G. This track has nearly 100,000 streams at this DSP in the year since its release. Almost 30,000 of those have come directly from the placement. 

In Chart 4, we see that during weeks 3 and 4, a significant drop occurs in the streams from playlists, but an increase in total streams continues. These remaining streams mostly occurred from stations. Like other DSPs, users at this platform can listen to stations based on a genre, an artist, a mood, and more. There are also algorithmic stations for each listener. These avenues all play a role in boosting the streams of an artist, even if they are not placed in a playlist rotation.


Case Study #5

Monthly Listeners is a quick and dirty way to signal the growth and success of an artist. We often see people striving to increase their monthly listeners by getting added to a playlist. However, the data shows that being on a playlist is not always a long-term fix for this problem. It’s a quick way to increase that number. But, you need consistency, strategy, and a bit of luck to keep them. 

Artist A, as mentioned above, had a commercially successful career while working with a label. After going independent and shifting gears they did not maintain the same level of success. The listeners became a much more niche group which was reflected in statistics like monthly listeners. 

Looking at Chart 1A and 5A, we can draw two conclusions about why Artist A’s monthly listeners keep growing even after the song is removed from the playlist:

  • The placement at playlist placement that we studied earlier reintroduced the familiar name to a crowd that had fallen off. When those listeners liked what they heard, they pursued catalog, listened to new tracks, and continued to engage with the artist. 
  • This song was the first of several singles released by Artist A in anticipation of an album released fall of 2023. The second single was released in Week 4 of this data. The succession of these singles allowed Artist A to build on growth rather than start over with each new song. 

Artist B was at the end of their release cycle when this data was collected. Before this EP, the new duo released three singles. Throughout those releases, Artist B had grown from 0 monthly listeners to 3,000 in just three months. The consistent release schedule put them in a great position. The high placements tripled their monthly listeners in just 4 weeks. However, only about half of those new listeners stuck around after the song was removed from the playlist. We often see this with developing artists. A strategy must be developed to retain the growth that happens with a playlist placement.

Artist C was in the middle of a release cycle when this data was collected. The data shown in Chart 3A and Chart 4 were from the second of three singles before an album was released in December. The well-established band had 46,000 monthly listeners before this song earned two placements on release day. Both playlists had a combined following of about 5,000 listeners, so these placements would have had less impact on monthly listeners. In this case, this growth came from many different avenues. These include playlist placements, radio play, and other marketing efforts. Artist C’s strategy went beyond getting playlisted. It led to growth that lasted beyond the 5 weeks in Chart 5C.