Live in Conversation: Jason Grishkoff – Part II

Jason Grishkoff

Founder of SubmitHub

This episode’s guest was Jason Grishkoff the founder of SubmitHub

One of the key stages of getting your music heard and promoted outside of your own network is accessing the world’s music curators, but who are they? How can artists and creators access these curators and influencers themselves? This is what SubmitHub is an expert in. With just a hop, skip and a jump, Jason Grishkoff moved from a job in high finance to working at tech giant Google. He had a side hustle that addressed - loving music and missing his friends. What started as a music blog turned into Indie Shuffle “music discovery powered by real people”. This then inspired his founding of SubmitHub. The goal with his new platform is and was, to efficiently and transparently connect artists with curators, “the right people”, in order to get music heard more efficiently & effectively.

DIY Music Promotion: Connecting Artists, Creators, Curators & Influencers

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Jason Grishkoff took place on Tuesday, January 31st, live from Cape Town, South Africa.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

In Part II Marc brings everyone up to date. He and Jason get into what artists can do today to move their music forward. Playlisting, PR, social media and even a little TikTok talk. Jason also offers up a lot of insights into the inner workings of Spotify- what we think and what is actually going on.

Miss Part I? Head back to read here!

Marc Brown: If I’m an artist today and I understand who I am and what I want to do, what would be the next move for me? We have SubmitHub for the playlists and blogs, but where else should someone start?

Jason Grishkoff: Well a lot of people just look it up online and find these self-promotion gurus who do have wisdom, but at the same time you can also fall victim to scammers who promise success. You need to try a lot of different approaches to see what sticks. A lot of people do go for that Instagram and  FaceBook ads route. It’s a multi-faceted approach. Some of it is building your online resume. For example, if you want to play live and contact a booker, they might look you up on Spotify and while it doesn’t matter if you have millions of listeners, you don’t want it to be completely dead.

You also want to make sure that there are blogs that are writing about you, and that there are things happening on your social media. You need to demonstrate that you are capable of performing well and that you have an audience. It’s next to impossible to have success by focusing on just one of these areas. You need to be a jack of all trades these days! Even if your music doesn’t do well at the start, you’ll definitely learn a lot just from doing all the work, it’s like training.

Marc: Absolutely. Even if your song flops, you can learn from what you did the first time and treat it like an experiment. That’s why we started this series of events, #HowWeListen Live: In Conversation to have conversations about what works and doesn’t work for different people. You might have to guess a little at first about what might work, but you have to be open to trying new things.

Jason: Absolutely. What’s cool about artists is that they are active contributors to the Internet. They’re contributing to everything going on, they’re not passive consumers so artists should be proud of themselves for that.

Marc: So if I’m a new artist and go on SubmitHub, should I be sending my music to blogs, playlists or somewhere else? How should people decide what to do?

Jason: Music blogs no longer bring the traffic or listenership that they used to, so it’s not a good way to generate new fans. However, they are good for generating content and reviews for your music. With a Blog, now you’ve got something that shows up when people search for you as well as content to share with your fanbase and that helps to build credibility online.

Marc: That’s really insightful – that everything serves its own purpose. So what about playlists?

Jason: Those are interesting. There are 3 different types of playlists on Spotify. One is the editorial playlist that used to be curated by people, but now they’re more algorithm-driven. The next type is the independent playlists created by users. Spotify tends to bury these in favour of their editorial playlists. The last kind is the algorithmic playlists. The most popular of these is New Music Weekly, which that suggests new songs based on what you like. Spotify will tell you that getting on their playlists is easy, but in reality, they are looking for proof that you’ve had success in the past. It’s very rare for an artist who is just getting started to get added to an editorial playlist.

So the next question is how do you get traction on your releases if you’re new on Spotify? There are 2 ways of doing that: Instagram advertising and pitching your music to independent playlisters. The first is effective but can get expensive, and the second can also be effective but it depends on what kind of listener base the blog has.

Marc: What about “listeners” versus “followers”? Can you tell people the difference there?

Jason: “Listeners” is anyone who has listened to your music in the last month, but it’s kind of a fickle number. Once you get pulled out of playlists, your listenership goes down. “Followers” might be a more permanent metric because those are people who have made the effort to follow you and will likely stick around. That being said, Spotify doesn’t make the number of followers easy to see.

Marc: Do you think you need to target every listening platform individually? Why do you think everyone focuses so much on Spotify?

Jason: The difference between Spotify and those other streaming services is that the other ones don’t have any indicators as to how many followers or listeners a playlist has. That whole fostering of community is not there like it is on Spotify. You also aren’t able to pitch to the playlists on most of the other platforms. That being said, one negative aspect of the non-Spotify playlists is that they don’t tell people how many listeners a playlist has, just how many followers it has which can be skewed.

On SubmitHub we reach out to people who have been accepted onto a playlist to ask them how many listeners they got from being on that playlist. That way we can gauge how effective each playlist is and give our users that information. In the early days, SubmitHub put emphasis on followers, but we quickly realized that that’s a misleading metric. Today as a user, you can make the decisions about where you’re sending your music to with that context.

What I’ve been pushing these days is the “genre fit” of the playlists- where your music sits in the Spotify world. If you want to trigger Spotify’s algorithm, you have to teach Spotify where your song belongs which is why you don’t want to be added to just any playlist because Spotify won’t know where to place you and you won’t be associated with the right genre. You can also target genre-based listeners through Instagram ads and then Spotify will see that lots of people who like your genre are being sent to your page.

Marc: This also goes back to the idea of knowing who you are. You need to understand your music in the wider context of the landscape. So let’s say I use SubmitHub and get selected for a few playlists. Let’s talk a bit about the pitfalls of playlists.

Jason: Yeah for sure. First, it’s important to know that there are three types of Spotify promotional tools. One is like a SubmitHub, where you’re pitching your music to a third party with no guarantee of inclusion, so you’re paying for the time spent on their reviewing and responding to your submission. The second type is sites you go to where you actually buy a certain amount of listeners. The third is a service like ToneDen that helps you run your ads. It’s expensive but the targeting is good and it’s quite easy.

SubmitHub is definitely tricky because the curators are quite picky, but on ToneDen no one is going to say no but it’s expensive because you’re paying per click. The bottom line is that Spotify says that you aren’t allowed to pay to influence how many times your song is being played. They aren’t super strict, but unfortunately, when they do punish people it’s the artists instead of the fake playlisters that get into trouble, be careful. So that would be the biggest pitfall.

Marc: Can you explain that a bit more?

Jason: These networks that have fake followers and listeners are pretty easy to spot. If an account has more than a few playlists with tons of likes, it’s an automatic red flag. Every year or so, Spotify will do big purges and punish anyone who has received fake plays. Early in 2021, a bunch of artists got wiped from Spotify without the opportunity to defend themselves!

Marc: So they just get de-platformed?

Jason: I think it’s just the individual song, but at that point, you’re blackballed and you probably won’t be placed on an editorial playlist. It’s easy to be taken advantage of, so again, you need to be careful.

Marc: Is there anything else artists can be doing? Should people still start with Spotify?

Jason: Yes they should. It’s the most successful of the services, it gives you stats on your listeners and it is possible to get some traction. None of the other platforms really give all of that to you. Spotify has this whole community where people will help to grow your music. 

Marc: What about the actual distribution of your music?

Jason: Yeah. We were thinking about whether or not we should start a distribution company through SubmitHub. We have a lot of distributors who have come and tried to partner with us because we have so many individual musicians on the platform. We’re a really good sales funnel for them in terms of awareness, so we considered doing it for a bit but ultimately it was way too competitive and a ton of work.

Marc: It is definitely commoditized. Hey, it’s conversations like this that show how easy it is to get music out there, but how difficult it is to get recognition. You need strategy, feedback and context to build things up. Anyway, Jason do you have anything else for our listeners?

Jason: Yeah, I’d like to touch on influencer marketing. On SubmitHub you can pitch your tracks to influencers and you pay $10 or however much and if they don’t post, you get your money back. I think a lot of new artists have heard the buzz around TikTok and they think that it’s really easy to blow up on that platform, but it’s actually not that easy. I would only use TikTok as an artist if you’re trying to build up content around your songs, sort of like the digital resume idea we were talking about.

But yeah, unfortunately, virality is next to impossible. You could pay influencers to create mini-music videos for you in small chunks. You can give them a prompt on SubmitHub so you can tell them what you’d like to see and then share that content with your fans. My advice: I wouldn’t work on these platforms as an artist unless you are already on that platform as a regular user.

Marc: That makes a lot of sense! It goes back to the notion of knowing who you are.

Jason: You’re right. Let me just also mention timelines, in terms of when you should promote your release on SubmitHub. Assuming you have all of your assets, you can send your stuff out early to curators and just mark the actual date when it’s being released and SubmitHub will hold until then. When your release is ready, your song links will automatically be shared with the curators. It’s advantageous to do it in advance because you can start getting your momentum pretty quickly. Music blogs will usually trickle in 1-2 weeks after the release day.

Marc: I assume ideally you are looking for both, right? Visibility on release day and also mentions and articles and reviews over time.

Jason: Yeah! Spotify says that all that matters is the first 28 days because they’ll put newer releases in their algorithmic playlists so I think it’s a lot better to push it early on. That being said, if you teach the Spotify algorithm who your fans are it will put your songs in those algorithmic playlists.

Marc: Awesome! Now for a strange question. What is with this new trend about speeding up or slowing down your songs?

Jason: It’s a TikTok thing so I’m not too familiar with it, but we are getting tons of submissions like this from Universal Music Group specifically! They’re speeding up famous songs or older songs. I think they’re hoping that some of the older songs will go viral so they can monetize and continue to push older artists in their catalogue, like that Fleetwood Mac and Cranberry juice example.

Marc: I had never thought about that but it makes a lot of sense.

Jason: Let me just add, or tip you on what a realistic budget is for SubmitHub. Here is what I suggest. Step 1 is to filter the SubmitHub list for your genre and titles, and then I would target the people who are into the specific genre you do, so it’ll probably only end up being $20-$30. Especially if you’re new, I’d definitely recommend going small.

Marc: Jason, so much great advice. Really appreciate you taking the time and having this great chat with me. 

Jason: Pleasure is all mine, cheers. 

*Note: watch for Byta integration on SubmitHub in the future – being able to make submissions using Byta. Should be in effect soon.