Photograph by Jose Zuniga aka Hogie
Local rapper Sham Black has had mixed results with paid playlisting.
Once upon a time, playlists were nothing more than a collection of songs grouped together on your iPod whose only purpose was to make your workouts less miserable. The value of playlists has changed drastically since the early 2000s, as they now make or break artists on streaming platforms such as Spotify.
As a result, an entire ecosystem of businesses has developed that assist artists in getting their songs onto these playlists. The simplest model paying a company a fee to get your songs on their playlists. Local rapper Sham Blak has had mixed experiences going this route. He has paid $39.99 twice to get a total of four of his songs on playlists. He generated impressive streaming numbers in Los Angeles with his song “Cycles,” while another song of his, “Bounce,” didn’t fare so well.
“I saw the numbers shoot-up and then I guess the bots or something trigger something where it stops playlisting,” he explained. “When I went to check the playlist the songs in the playlist were deleted. It was just a playlist with a title, but there were no songs in there.”
So, did Sham Blak get a refund from the third-party company when the playlist shutdown?
“No, those people went MIA, and I didn’t hear from them no more,” he said with a laugh.
The world of pay-to-play playlists on Spotify is a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. The investment is small, there is some risk as the practice itself violates Spotify’s terms of service, but the payout can give a song added credibility via inflated streaming numbers.
Plus, the third-party gets a nice payday.
Singer-songwriter Adam Townsend explained how the pay-to-playlist operations operate. Note: he’s not a fan.
“It’s easy. You can create a fake playlist brand and buy a bunch of followers for your playlist and actually buy plays off of those playlists so it looks like it’s generating streams,” he said. “Then they’ll set a website up, and it looks all clean and slick. They’ll probably get a couple 100 artists to pay for placements with them, and by the time that Spotify figures it out that company has closed-up shop and they’ve probably made quite a bit of money.”
Townsend gigged around San Diego from 2010-2016, but now lives in Tucson. Besides being a full-time musician, he has also become a successful curator of playlists. When requests in his inbox for song placement became too overwhelming, he switched to using a service called SubmitHub, which allows users to buy credits to have their songs screened by playlist curators. He gets about 50 cents per-song that he listens to and considers.
“It’s less than a dollar per-submission, but that small fee prevents people from spamming out their song, and it makes people think twice before sharing it with whoever,” he said.
Sham Blak also shelled out $150 on a Buzz Music package deal for his song “Bounce” (featuring Legion X). The package included an interview, review of their song and video, and getting added to their playlist, “and their playlist does well,” he added.
“The song got a lot of spins on Spotify, and the video got a lot of hits from their web page, but it wasn’t bot views,” he said. “It wasn’t 10,000 or 20,000 views. It was maybe about 100 or 200 views, but real. It was very organic. You could tell they were trying to introduce us to their market.”
As for navigating these complex streaming waters, Sham Blak has simple advice, “I would say go into it with a strategy. Go into it with a plan. Don’t just submit your music and think that’s all you do. It’s more work than just paying 30 or 40 dollars and sitting back and thinking that’s gonna push you to the next level.”