TLDR: There are a lot of articles about doing this and that with plays on Spotify, but that’s not really the point of this article. There is no fancy system inside here, and I don’t recommend any special tools in particular. The long and short of it is I gave myself permission to make and release music. However, the process by which it took to arrive at this point didn’t happen overnight. So if you’re interested in this story, read on…
Most of my goal planning sessions usually come down to some variation that I would like to spend most of my time working on music, and having a studio that allows me to explore that passion deeper.
Throughout the 2000s I made a push making my own music under the name
There were some cool things that happened along the way, such as releasing a remix for the Balkan Beat Box, and having my house tracks played in clubs in cities such as Miami, Ibiza and Cape Town. I’ve also been able to do music for a handful of video games (the most recent one was Orphan Black: The Game).
However, for many years I kind of gave up on myself, because from some angles you have to admit that being an artist is a difficult job, and in an expensive city like Toronto you can easily get sidetracked doing random contracts and client worked unrelated to making art.
As time went by though, I knew that my passion for making electronic music and sharing it with the world wasn’t going anywhere even as I’ve had to make sacrifices along the way.
Setting the Stage
I would be remiss to tell a story and leave a whole important chunk of it out. On January 1st, 2017 I left my job in marketing and went travelling for six months. While I was in Barcelona, I bought a cheap classical guitar and started to write new songs while I went from city to city.
Upon my return in the summer of 2017, I started a night of music at an Ethiopian bar in Toronto named Nazareth, and my good friend and long-time collaborator Jordin came on board to play every week.
We had a rough go at bringing people out, but after it was over we went on to form a band called United Power Soul. With UPS we experimented with releasing a cassette, in addition to distributing to Spotify and Apple Music using Distrokid (which is a fantastic service). Our efforts have largely been devoted to playing live shows, and we did quite a number of them in 2018, even though they exhausted us.
Fast Forward to the Present
Around the time of new years of this year, I set an intention to release my favourite styles of music (ambient and techno), and release it often. The thinking behind this strategy is by releasing more music I have no choice to get better at it. And the better the music, the better the chance it has to spread.
I settled on testing the idea of releasing a new track every week, but it took a few months to get the test in place.
In December I released the track Stars Fall (again using Distrokid) to distribute it to Spotify and Apple music, but I didn’t make a big deal about it as I was just testing the waters a bit.
Throughout January and February there was a lot of talk in my head, but not a lot of action. I had the distribution lines in place, but I was just kind of stuck.
How I Actually Got the Listeners
Ah yes, young child, why don’t you pull up a seat now. In the period before a release goes live, Spotify now gives you the option to submit your song to be considered for its official playlists.
This feature was created to help streamline the act of thousands of people who were tracking down Spotify’s editorial team and pitching them on their songs. Overall the chances of the Spotify team picking up your track for is low, but the option is there nonetheless. So I took them up on the offer and submitted Two Islands for consideration.
A week later, the next release Del Mantara went up. And it was that week when Spotify selected Two Islands to be on the playlist Antiestrés – which is Spanish for “de-stress”. It’s sitting there with other artists like Brian Eno and Aphex Twin. The majority of listeners on this playlist are located in Mexico, followed by Chile and Argentina.
I was pretty happy when I saw this but I think it’s important to temper your emotions with this kind of stuff because every sign of success is usually just that, a sign, and you always have to pace yourself for a very long road ahead. Not getting overly ecstatic when good things happen to you also means you are willing to not get overly upset when not-so-good things happen to you too.
So that is how I’m getting thousands of plays a month now. I have no clue what this translates to in terms of a payout (likely very little if you’ve read about Spotify in the news), and I don’t really care at this point. However this was exactly the push I needed at a time when I was unsure of what I was doing.
So what is important about this story, and how does it translate to your own artistic journey?
I simply put my name in the hat. Getting heard in any pursuit is difficult at first. You have to accept that you’re going to eat dirt while you push through to send your art to people. In my case, I accepted that and just focused on what is most important – my ability to make music and post it online.
With limited time in the day, almost everything else is out of your control. You just have to focus on what is in your control, and that is your ability to show up, perform, and then put your name in the hat. This applies to the search for arts grants, jobs or anything else.
Even if there is not a ‘call for applications’, putting your name in the hat means telling people who might be able to help you about what you do. Many people neglect to put their name in the hat for no good reason other than, “what’s the point?”. They’ve shot themselves down before letting the world decide if your work is good or not.
For over a decade people have been talking about the idea that the era of the gatekeeper is over. That is not entirely true. There will always be tastemakers and influencers. In my case, there was this fluke that someone in Spotify’s Latin American division heard my music and liked it. However, I will remind you that this all began because I chose myself and I put my name in the hat.
Give yourself a job to make art, and do your best to help people find it. But when you let that goal of figuring out how people will find it take over the project, you’re going to slow down in making the art.
My story is by no means any massive success. As I said above, we don’t know what this will translate to financially, and maybe by the time you read this post my music will be removed from the playlist and I’ll still be scratching my butt thinking about how one finds exposure. I also don’t think the goal of making music should be to end up on playlists, but I really appreciate the opportunity to reach listeners.
Now the main thing is that I’ve learned something through the process of experimentation. I turned off the judgement centres in my brain and said: “what the heck?”. That part of your brain that makes these overly cautious judgments is called the Amygdala (also known as the “critic” and the “Lizard Brain”), and its job is to keep you safe and living at the status quo. It’s not helpful when it comes to putting your name in the hat so ignore it.
Your artistic career will be filled with various failures and false starts along the way. Going through long down patches as I have is not only normal but essential to the process. The best thing you can do is acknowledge the situation for what it is, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take on the animal spirit of The Phoenix who rises up and flies.
I hopefully have somewhere around 50 more years left to live. That’s a small fleck of