Live in Conversation: Mike Warner – Part II

Mike Warner

Author / Founder - Work Hard Playlist Hard

This episode’s guest was Mike Warner, Author & Founder of Work Hard Playlist Hard

Mike Warner is an independent artist, educator, author, speaker, music executive, curator and the go-to person when it comes to playlist strategies on music streaming services. All of his experiences in the music ecosystem have informed the writing of his acclaimed book, Work Hard Playlist Hard in which he teaches artists, at any level, how to grow their audience on streaming services through profile enhancement, data analysis, automation and creating value as a curator. Mike likes to set the record straight as far as what playlists really can do for artists’ careers. Mike discusses how he made his way into his position at Believe, USA,  and how music streaming became his biggest focus and expertise. Dive in and you will find some tips and tricks on customizing your artist profiles on DSPs; building a playlist and growing followers, pitching to independent curators, and releasing music catered to playlists. 

Streaming: Tools for Musicians to Succeed

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Mike Warner took place on Tuesday, March 28th, live from California.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

In Part II Marc brings a bucket of questions to the table. Mike gets more specific on strategies, timelines and building a team. He also tells Marc about the unique ways artists can get noticed by the Digital Service Provider (DSP). The biggest lesson is don’t give up and don’t ignore any of them. Artists should always be talking about their work no matter when it was released. A song is “new” the moment people hear it, even if it is 1 or 10 years old. 

This is part II of the interview. Miss part I? Click here to read.

Marc Brown: Now let’s dig into some specifics, other platforms, do you have any information on accessing your artist profile on Tidal and playlisting insights there?

Mike Warner: TIDAL for Artists is now live. Currently, there are 2 things on there. One is TIDAL Rising which anyone can apply for and the other is TIDAL Artist Home which is in Beta right now. It’s coming soon. Essentially, once you log in you’ll be able to update your Tidal profile and add your social media links etc. Tidal is especially good when it comes to album credits, vocalists, musicians, engineers, producers etc. Basically, this allows anyone who wants to be credited for their contribution to a song to get the credit! Pages are created for each of these people and they can tag the songs that they’ve worked on. Tidal Rising is their artist program. Before it was only for a few artists, but this year they’re opening it up to hundreds of artists. So what you need to do is fill out a form, and then you will have access to a wide variety of opportunities by being featured as one of their “Rising Artists”. 

Marc: Maybe for a lot of people, a lot of this information might be new, how do they develop more of a long-term plan?

Mike: If someone’s spent a lot of time perfecting their craft, I’m weary to tell people that they need to invest a lot of time and money into planning the release. But the reality is that you do need to invest at least some time to ensure it gets heard. I use the reminders app on my computer and phone to create a new to-do list for each new release we have. Each time there’s a release I’ll have a weekly list of what needs to be done, usually starting at week 8 out. In my opinion, the most essential thing is submitting your release well in advance so it has the opportunity to be heard. When it comes to social media, at the very least you need to have a presence on these platforms, often artists will have one platform that they prefer to be heard on.

Marc: So then you think 8 weeks is an ideal timeline to start preparing for a release?

Mike: That is ideal, but I also know people get excited and want to put it out as soon as possible. The reason I like to have more time is that sometimes things go wrong.

Marc: So I upload my music and should I start filling out my forms as early as I want?

Mike: Yeah. The only limitation is that once you upload your music to your distributor, it takes about a week for the streaming platforms to show it in their back-end tool. You may ask what about after the release. So, in some cases, you can submit after your release is actually out. With Amazon Music for Artists, you can fill that form out for up to 2 weeks after your track comes out. For Pandora, you can still feature your track for up to a year after you release it. Spotify, at the moment, everything has to happen prior to the release going live. 

Marc: Let’s talk about what to do once your song is out. If you’ve done all of these good, organized things in preparation for the release and you didn’t get as many streams as you wanted, what are the steps you can take to get things going long-term?

Mike: I think the most important thing is to not be disheartened. A lot of people think that if something doesn’t happen in the first few days then it’s not going to work. More and more these days, music is getting discovered months or sometimes years after it’s released. It may just take time to reach the right ears. You should also know that a lot of playlists, these days, aren’t updated as frequently as they used to. The only ones that are updated weekly without fail are the New Music Friday ones so ultimately the first few days don’t really mean anything anymore. 

Marc: Right – people will get to it in their own time if they know it’s released – which goes back to your key point about making sure you’ve done everything you can do to allow people to find your music.

Mike: Yeah! For me personally, when I first hear a song it doesn’t matter if it was released today, 1 or even 10 years ago – it’s new to me that moment I hear it. Same thing for your fans! Artists should always be talking about their work and be proud of it no matter when it was released. 

Marc: Now what about gathering a team together even at a DIY level?  How do people find the right kind of help?

Mike: First and foremost, no one will care about your music more than you because you are the one who put your whole heart into it. The reason why I talk to artists about doing it themselves (DIY) is that initially there’s no money coming in for you to spend on a team, it’s just you. Once you’ve done some stuff yourself, then you can hire someone to keep doing what you’re doing to free up some of your time. There are also PR companies who will do different things for you like pitching for radio, securing press etc. I would say that in order to find a company or an individual that’s the right fit it is really important to make sure you ask lots of questions and ask for referrals as well. I even like to go on Reddit and search for someone I’m thinking of working with and see what people have to say, people tend to give their honest opinions which can be really useful. I definitely do want to discourage people. But giving a person or team your money will not necessarily make your dreams come true – it doesn’t usually work like that.

Marc: Do you have any advice for people who are releasing music, but might not be in the position to hire a team?

Mike: I always recommend reaching out to individuals for playlisting! We’ve talked about editorial playlists, but there are also user playlists that can help generate streams. One example of a tool I have used to successfully reach out over the years is Facebook. When people sign up to Spotify, there’s an option to sign up through Facebook which means that a lot of times the profile pictures on both platforms match. So you could look at those and reach out that way to get their contact info! It might sound stalker-ish but it actually does work. I would suggest that you do some research and look at people’s profiles to make sure they will be open to being reached out to or not. Another angle is brand playlists. I like to use Starbucks as an example. I found their Twitter account and realized that Starbucks also create playlists. So what I did was I turned on notifications so I knew when they tweeted their new playlists, and the next time I figured they were going to tweet I sent them a DM with my song. I ended up getting on their playlist! 

Marc: Wow, I’m very impressed! That is a serious strategy. I think the spirit behind that is great – you need to keep doing stuff and always remember that there is someone on the other end of the computer! I guess part of the lesson there is that people actually do want to hear from you, we talked about that when we chatted with Saidah Blount from SONOS. You just need to frame it in the right way.

Mike: Yeah! I also encourage everyone to really pay attention to profiles on LinkedIn. People are way more open to hearing from you there than on many other platforms. Here is another strategy to get someone’s attention: create your own playlist. You can place your music in there, but mix it up,  place music from similar artists, artists you like, that inspire you, that you just discovered, and then start telling those artists and your audience about the playlist. Most artists are great and are very reciprocal since you’re delivering good news, them being on your playlist. They might put one of your tracks on their playlist.  This type of thing can lead to collaborations and all kinds of opportunities. Do not forget that you should always create playlists on multiple platforms. There are tools you can use to replicate playlists and deliver them to other platforms. All of a sudden when you’re sharing that you added another artist to your playlist, it’s even better news, you actually added them to a playlist on multiple platforms.

Marc: Absolutely. There are people out there posting music that they like and if you share similar tastes or make the same kind of music there are a lot of opportunities and it’s a great way to make connections. Now to change the subject a little, what about different distributors and what they have to offer other than playlists?

Mike: Well there are different types of distributors. There are the ones like CD Baby & DistroKid who take your music and put it into stores and that’s basically it. Taking that a step further is Believe, where I work, who do additional things on top. They also take a percentage, and so they are actually invested in your music, and they will do additional pitches through their reps, providing them with extra information like photos, press releases etc. that you can’t put directly in the forms. It really can be a full-time job staying on top of all of that! 

Marc: The one thing I’d also add is that as an artist or record label, you need to have some knowledge of what has already worked for you. You want to find people who will help you double down on the things that worked for you. So really you want to know if your distributor has what you need?

Mike: Definitely. It also comes down to relationships. You need to meet the people you’re going to work with and make sure that you are aligned when it comes to growth and being able to give you what you need and vice versa. It’s always easier and less painful, in the long run, to do your research.  Ask all your questions before you enter into a relationship with a new person or team. Always best before rather than afterwards. 

Marc: Yes, the golden rule is don’t rush! Any more tips to add Mike?

Mike: Yeah – I’d love to touch on Spotify’s new user interface. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Spotify changed the way the platform looks in the app.  It’s kind of like a TikTok scrolling experience now. I actually like it, but some people do not) – now what you have are videos in some cases and as you’re scrolling it’ll start playing audio clips of that song or playlist and then you can click back into it after if it interests you. The one thing I’ll say is that because it’s so visual, it’s pushing people to actually look at the screen versus just requesting songs or playlists via audio or whatnot. That means it’s now way more important to upload a Spotify canvas, which is a looped video that fills the screen on the mobile app. If you can catch them with that, it’ll hold people’s attention even further, especially now that it’s right there in the feed. 

Marc: Makes total sense. We’re such visual people. Giving someone something to look at in tandem with the music is a great suggestion. 

OK, wow that was a lot of great insight. Mike, I really want to thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us! It was super inspirational and you’re a great example of how you can do so many things yourself and achieve success. 

Mike: Thank you, I appreciate the kind words!