Simeon Walker, is a pianist and composer from Leeds. The vast majority of his online following exist on Soundcloud due to inclusion on Piano Day playlists and in other mixes. Given the recent uncertain future of Spotify as a platform, and the increasing popularity of Spotify playlists he has written a piece for us looking at the pros and cons of both:
Soundcloud has been an invaluable resource for me in growing a fanbase and developing as an artist in general over the last few years. Firstly, it is so useful to be able to interact with listeners and fans in the same place as where the music is hosted (rather than people accessing the music on other platforms and interacting via social media). Everyone loves to have personal access to the people who create the music they love, and I’ve had an overwhelming amount of lovely messages and comments which have spurred me on in the darker moments of doubt and compositional frustration.
It’s also quite an informal space, as it allows artists to upload drafts and works-in-progress, rather than polished release. The benefits Soundcloud provides in sharing it with industry people are also hugely helpful, such as being able to send links to private streams of tracks and albums to labels, blogs and journalists way in advance of release dates.
I write melancholic modern classical instrumental piano music (catchy!), and it appears that both this – admittedly niche – genre and Soundcloud as a platform are considerably more popular in mainland Europe than the UK. The best element of being involved with Soundcloud in recent years has been becoming part of a genuinely supportive and encouraging community of people, particularly other artists and composers within the genre. Treading the lonely path of a solo artist who can’t even express their feelings through lyrics is difficult, and I’m forever grateful to those people who continue to support me.
Being selected for Nils Frahm’s official Piano Day playlist for the last few years has grown my confidence and had a huge impact on the amount of traffic coming to my profile. It’s hard to see how this could be replicated on another platform if Soundcloud were to fold. To be recognised by pretty much the biggest name in the genre has been enormous for me, and I’d be gutted to see Soundcloud disappear as I doubt I’d have received the attention and traffic I have had without it.
The elephant in the room is how do you grow as an artist and make enough money to be able to continue to make new music and progress. As Soundcloud itself is finding, it really does come down to money, and how to earn a living doing the thing you love.
Which leads us to the curious case of Spotify and whether it is actually beneficial to an independent artist. Recent weeks have seen a significant amount of criticism sent Spotify’s way due to the discovery of what have been dubbed “fake artists” – artists with no social media presence or material on other streaming services, yet receiving millions of plays on Spotify – on some of the most subscribed-to playlists on the platform, leading to speculation that Spotify is actively involved in artificially manipulating a reduction in the profit share to the genuine artists uploading their music. Speculation abounds about who is actually behind these artist profiles, and ultimately where the money is going and whether Spotify stands to benefit from it.
There is no doubt that the emergence of Spotify has been a true game-changer. Whilst I have nothing to add in terms of information as regards the “fake artists” story, it appears that the greatest mystery for artists uploading music to Spotify remains the elusive ‘how do I get my music on a big playlist/in front of the playlist curators’ question. But in many ways, for independent artists this isn’t necessarily as game-changing as it appears. It still seems that if you know someone, then you have a greater chance of success. Or of course if you have money to get the right people to put it in front of the right people. T’was ever thus.
Spotify is having a big impact on people’s listening habits. People are listening to albums in their entirety much less, and either making their own playlists or being guided by the playlist curators, increasingly by mood rather than genre. This makes things difficult for artists. For years, most artists have and continue to pigeon-hole themselves, despite a sense of artistic distaste to do so, as a means of understanding their audience better. I feel it would be a shame if artists felt compelled to move towards creating music to fit a playlist mood rather than for it’s own artistic merit.