Music publishing executives discuss how their marketing and playlist strategies are shifting and where the potential lies in the relationship between publishers and DSPs.
If one wished to pinpoint when the sea change happened, the 8th November 2018 seems as sure a date as any. After the creation of data and analytics tools for labels, distributors and artists, Spotify eventually got around to delivering the same for publishers with the beta launch of Spotify Publishing Analytics.
“With more information, publishers are empowered to make the most of the opportunities the global reach of Spotify provides, and the more information we can share with each other, the more opportunities we can help create for songwriters,” said Jules Parker, head of publishing relations and services for Spotify in EMEA and APAC, on the launch.
At the time of the launch, we said that it had been a long time coming but, now that it was here, it was going to have significant impact on how publishers worked with DSPs and could become even more proactive in their marketing of songs and writers.
“It offers daily analytics, giving insights into how songwriters’ works are performing on the streaming platform, including how they are being engaged with on playlists (increasingly the most powerful way to drive streams for both frontline and catalog releases),” we wrote. “A number of PROs and publishers have been offering analytics to writers but this is a first from an actual streaming service. And, as we have seen again and again with regard to data, where Spotify leads, others will follow; and so something similar on Apple Music (given the launch of Apple Music For Artists earlier this year) and other DSPs could be in the pipeline.”
Slowly but surely DSPs have been building out tools designed to help songwriters and publishers gain insights into what is happening with their streams while also giving them ways to boost their profiles. Earlier this year, Spotify closed down its Secret Genius initiative and replaced it with Noteable, describing it as a “global home for songwriters, producers, and publishers” where it sits as a central meeting point for a multitude of tools (Spotify Publishing Analytics, Spotify for Artists, Songwriter Pages, Songwriters Hub, SoundBetter) and education initiatives (The Game Plan, Songwriter Saturdays).
Mere weeks after Spotify’s move here, Apple Music created its Behind The Songs portal for writers, offering them more advanced playlist and promotional support.
Something is unquestionably stirring and publishers are increasingly feeling more emboldened here to sharply increase their marketing activities through DSPs. It is a very different landscape to what it was even half a decade ago.
“When I started here in 2016, I remember Spotify coming in and talking to us about what they were going to do for publishers,” says Paul Smith, vice president of A&R and international songwriters at Warner Chappell Music. “We were talking to them about how things would work and it was uncharted territory. Fast-forward five years and we’re in a position now where we work really closely with all the DSPs.”
He adds, “The relationship and the conversation we’re having about how they can make things better for our songwriters is something I don’t think I would have expected when we had that initial conversation five years ago. There are lots of things we’re doing with them now. As the platforms evolve and as they come up with new initiatives, we’re talking to them all the time about how we can be doing more work for our writers with [DSPs] directly.”
“As the platforms evolve and as they come up with new initiatives, we’re talking to them all the time about how we can be doing more work for our writers with [DSPs] directly.”
– Paul Smith, Warner Chappell Music
Access to data tools has meant publishers are able to be more proactive and respond to trends immediately. This has also meant a structural change within publishing companies to capitalise on these tools and resources.
Mike Fordham is director of playlisting and streaming marketing at Primary Wave. This is a newly created role that he has been in since September 2020, having been a playlist and streaming specialist there from July 2017.
“I came on board and really expanded the network of DSPs and contacts exponentially,” he says. “So we got deep into getting to know all the key players at Spotify, Apple, Pandora et cetera as well as a lot of the tools that they offer and the resources they have to really maximise opportunities for our clients. It’s been a long time coming, in my opinion. It’s just tremendously exciting to see that come to fruition.”
He says publishers are increasingly proactive in alighting on or creating marketing opportunities as well as streaming opportunities for their writers, describing it as “much more of a partnership” today.
Sara Lord, SVP of international sync and project development at Concord, says this is being reflected in organisational changes within DSPs to have teams in place who are dedicated to dealing with publishers.
“We do have a team at Spotify and a team at Apple whose sole purpose is to look after the publishers,” she says. “It is a huge step in the right direction.”
“We do have a team at Spotify and a team at Apple whose sole purpose is to look after the publishers. It is a huge step in the right direction.”
– Sara Lord, Concord
The DSPs are, suggests Fordham, increasingly more open to publishers – rather than just labels or artist managers – having a direct relationship and pitching dynamic with them.
“With Spotify, I’m able to go speak to their publishing team about any of our writers, whether it’s a new release, a catalog opportunity or maybe it’s a new writer onboarding,” he says. “But similarly, if there’s a new release, I can go talk to the artists and legal team to make sure they’re aware of it. It just affords me a lot of freedom ultimately to have different conversations and really make a lot of things happen for our clients.”
Smith says the doors of DSPs are increasingly opening to publishers and the onus is now on them to refine and grow those relationships – especially for writers at the earliest stages of their careers who might not yet have a wider machine (such as a record company) behind them.
“We have regular communication with the editorial teams,” he says. “We make a point to be able to connect with them and chat about things. We have asked about further relationships and how we can keep the conversation going and how we can be pitching things. I think it’s a wider conversation for us to have as a business with how we can actually do more of that, given the fact that not every artist has a label and a marketing team. So being able to pitch directly to them is super important for us.”
Fordham singles out Pandora Stories (which lets artists and other creators add voice commentary to their own playlists) for particular praise here, saying it is something that publishers can really make the most of in their marketing.
He calls it “a playlist on steroids” for songwriters.
“Often you’ll have an artist talk about some of their biggest hits,” he says. “Maybe it’s the inspiration whilst writing or maybe a funny anecdote from the studio, but it could also be a track-by-track analysis.”
Smith, meanwhile, points to the Songbook playlist brand on Apple Music and the writer pages on Spotify as powerful new platforms that writers and publishers now have in their marketing arsenals.
“We work really closely with both DSPs to help push as many pages as we possibly can,” he says. “The writer pages are in beta at the moment and we have a certain allocation every few months that we can push; there’s always a scramble from every writer wanting to have their page. We work methodically with them to make sure that we can get the right pages up that are going to be impactful straightaway.”
“The writer pages are in beta at the moment and we have a certain allocation every few months that we can push; there’s always a scramble from every writer wanting to have their page.”
– Paul Smith, Warner Chappell Music
He adds, “There’s a lot of work that goes into making sure those pages are up and running, they look great, they are correct and the songs on there are well represented. I don’t think I’ve seen writers engage with something as much as with their pages. I think it’s because back when people bought CDs you didn’t really have that. Even five years ago, the only way writers would be able to really talk about themselves without having their own website would be just a Wikipedia page. And Wikipedia can be edited by anyone so you sometimes see random things on there that didn’t really make any sense.”
Beyond the role of playlisting with consumer-facing platforms, there is also growing movement towards using playlists as B2B tools. Throughout 2021, Concord is working with music curation company Playlister FM on the Music Seen project. It is designed to showcase the publisher’s catalog, using thematic playlists as part of a rolling 365-day project.
“We do playlists every day; our job is to create playlists to fit the brief that we get from our clients,” says Lord. “What I wanted was an approach to our catalog that didn’t have specific things in mind that we, as a creative team, are always looking for. Every day of your Instagram feed you will get a song or a piece of music. Then once a week, you’ll get a seven-day playlist with a theme. Each day on the [Music Seen] Instagram feed you will get some information about the song – something interesting or quirky that may have happened. It is great to get other people’s input into our catalog and dig deep.”
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Dan Lywood, the director of Playlister FM, adds, “It is pushing the catalog in an interesting way without being too obvious about it – and doing something visual. The concept of partnering music with a visual, when done right, is extraordinarily effective.”
He describes Playlister’s music supervision role for restaurants and hotels as “the company that likes to look for the B-sides” and he wants this playlist partnership with Concord to have a similar remit. “We’re finding tracks that might be outside of your normal listening journey – from classical or show tunes or whatever they might be.”
Things here for publishers and writers are massively improved from how they were five years ago, but there are still new features and tools the DSPs could be developing that can give songwriters greater autonomy over their marketing on streaming services.
For Smith, the playlist brands built around writers are important, but he would like to see this grow into developing more explicit marketing tools and opportunities for songwriters akin to those given to performing artists.
“I think there needs to be more focus on the actual systems in terms of the apps and the programmes on these DSPs to be more focused on the songwriter,” he proposes. “I haven’t seen much of that to be honest. I haven’t seen a songwriter channel that talks about songs, with video content on there [and so on]. You have to search for those Written By… pages or the Songbook profiles. I’d love to see a bit more of that. We’re talking about marketing here. We’re not talking about just creating pages or just having a bit of a homage. I would like to see it up front and centre.”
For Fordham, high on the wish list would be fan engagement tools for writers in the same way there are for performers (most notably Fans First on Spotify).
“I’d like to see a return to having more tools for communication with fans. Being able to go to the existing fans, as well as potential fans, of an artist could really go a long way.”
– Mike Fordham, Primary Wave
“I’d like to see a return to having more tools for communication with fans,” he says. “Being able to go to the existing fans, as well as potential fans, of an artist could really go a long way. Even if it was something that labels, publishers and artists were charged for, I think there would be a real appetite for that. If you had that capability, that really would help that conversation take place and really convert into creating more fans.”
He concludes, “If there was something like that [Fans First for songwriters], for instance, where you could go further and really establish a relationship and get to know these fans – particularly your top fans on an existing platform – that would be great. I really think it could deepen the artist and fan relationship.”