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How Spotify For Artists is Making Musicians Engage with Data and Build an Audience

From indie singer-songwriters to widely-streamed DJ-producers and commercial artists, the music giant is winning trust in India slowly and steadily

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Anurag Tagat Jan 11, 2020

New Delhi's Dhruv Visvanath. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Not too long ago, if you were called an “internet sensation,” chances are, an artist would still have trouble pulling in a crowd. But over the last decade we’ve seen increased data access and smartphone usage in the country, plus the rise of streaming platforms – all of which tell us that if a song has over a 100,000 plays on Spotify, there’s likely going to be large numbers showing up at the next gig.

Biggies like Jay-Z have previously used streaming data to plot out tours in 2017, but the strength of these numbers is gradually proving itself to artists in India as well. In the case of singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad, his international management used Spotify numbers to see which territories his music was popular in and booked his 2018 North America run of shows with the aid of data. Anirudh Voleti, Kuhad’s manager at artist company Big Bad Wolf says, “It’s not 100 percent foolproof but it gives you a good idea of where things are headed. Internationally, booking agents are pretty keen on knowing what your Spotify numbers are. They can base their pitches and their plans to promoters having access to territories where your music is doing well. That’s something that’s taken off.”

Since the long-awaited (yet somewhat tumultuous) launch of Spotify India in February last year, the streaming giant is trying to show artists how they can access and use their streaming data through the Spotify for Artists platform. Whether it’s getting on an editorial playlist or just finding out which songs are popular, India’s independent and commercially-backed artists are working closely with Spotify India to make the most of the latter’s brand value.

Pune DJ-producer Ritviz says about Spotify for Artists, “I think they have been consistent with what they’re doing.” Photo: Courtesy of the artist

In addition to the brand value, producers like Dualist Inquiry aka Sahej Bakshi says he’s drawn to Spotify because it was always his go-to platform for discovering new music. His tunes are featured on playlists such as Mint India (1,564 listeners) and Bakshi says Spotify in India has been “highly beneficial to those of us releasing our music independently.” He adds, “The curated playlists are a game-changing feature — I’ve gotten a lot of traction on my own releases by being included on Spotify curated playlists, and have also discovered a lot of new music through them.”

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A newer electronic music star like Pune-based Ritviz – featured on editorial playlists such as Indiestan (10, 879 followers) and Indie India (42,000+ followers) – feels that the recommendation engine has helped the most. “I think they have been consistent with what they’re doing. Honestly, where it is right now, it’s got there with no glamour. I think the equality is very prominent. They’re pushing all acts and music and the push is prominent,” the producer says.

Unlike Kuhad, though, most independent artists we spoke to say Spotify for Artists listening data isn’t something they lean on while planning tours, but rather in song selection. Pop artist Arjun Kanungo, who’s had his share of Bollywood features but also releases his own material, is followed for both on Spotify (where he has over 935,000 monthly listeners). He lauds Spotify India for starting off a much-needed “symbiotic relationship” between artists and streaming platforms. “It’s helped me reach different audience that other apps may not help me reach. I focus on long term growth and I think the platform really helps me understand relative growth,” Kanungo says.

The Spotify for Artists dashboard offers everything from real-time listening numbers to handy blog posts about best practices. A peek into the workings of the platform shows how – as expected – all artists in India saw a huge spike in streams in March 2019, around when Spotify India launched. The artists can see which playlists their songs make it to – editorial or algorithmic or fan-created.

Singer-songwriter Hanita Bhambri. Photo: Pornsoup

While someone like Arunachal Pradesh-origin singer-songwriter Taba Chake may only interact with a combination of social media and Spotify (he gets several notifications a day on Instagram stories), New Delhi’s Hanita Bhambri says artists need to go beyond just “checking their numbers” on the app. “They aren’t early aware of how early they should submit a song. The earlier the submission, the higher the chances of your music getting put in the playlists,” she says.

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Amarjit Batra, the managing director of Spotify India adds that this kind of knowledge is being imparted through their masterclasses with artists, which are often one-on-one or held for groups. “Typically in India, a lot of things happen at the last moment, but because Spotify works on algorithms, it works only if you submit music on time. Artists have started doing that [submitting music early] and they’re now being discovered faster and get featured on editorial playlists.”

While Batra is understandably pumped about Spotify’s future in India, what has undeniably helped is the company’s global standing for over a decade now. Someone like acoustic artist Dhruv Visvanath has been one among the many artists championed by the streaming giant in India and he says Spotify has given him more clarity as an artist than ever before. “We didn’t have a lot of this info on hand, so we worked on trial and error. But now, knowing something like how a song has reached hundred thousands of streams, it feels like a complete success.”

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