Spotify playlist

How I’m Promoting My Spotify Playlist with Instagram Stories Ads

If you were wondering how I found your work, it was through Spotify. I was looking for vocal synthwave playlists. Yours had the most followers and I really enjoyed the first song.

My Spotify playlist is getting a lot of action lately. Not because the search algorithm starting picking up on it, or because it went viral on Reddit. No, I’m growing it the old-fashioned way: by paying for it.

On March 10, it had 1079 followers. As I write this on March 19, it has 3124 followers. That’s 2K followers in two months, for a total of $378.46 in ad spend (click to enlarge).

I learned a lot in those two months, and I’m paying much less per follower now than I was at the beginning. More on that later!

The benefits of owning a popular Spotify playlist

Owning one of the top playlists in your genre offers several advantages:

  1. Strangers are more willing to check out a playlist than a song, album, or artist profile.
  2. You can promote your entire scene instead of just pushing your own stuff.
  3. You can trade placements on other artists’ playlists.
  4. You can place your name (in the description), likeness (in the cover art), and music alongside the biggest names in your genre.
  5. A high follower count legitimizes the playlist and generates more streams due to its perceived authority.
  6. A high follower count attracts higher quality submissions on SubmitHub.

Convinced yet? Here’s how I did it…

How I created my Instagram Stories ads

Instagram Stories ads are 15-second videos with a 9×16 aspect ratio, essentially 1080p flipped sideways. iMovie can’t do it, but it’s a breeze with ScreenFlow.

ScreenFlow dimensions

ScreenFlow is also great for making square videos, which take up more screen real estate on social media. I’m using a really old version that I bought years ago for screen capture, but it still does everything I need.

I’m hyping ScreenFlow so much, I may as well become an affiliate… done! If you want to try it out while supporting the site, click on the banner below:

Note that it’s Mac only. If you know of any good Windows alternatives, please share them in the comments!

ScreenFlow

I just add my assets to the sidebar, drag them to the video window and/or timeline, resize them to 15 seconds, add text and “effects” (mostly just fades), and export using the following settings:

ScreenFlow Settings

I’m sure that’s way overkill video-wise, but I love that it encodes audio at 320 kbps!

My winningest Spotify playlist ads

Here’s a playlist with 4 of the 24 ads I’ve tested so far. Remember that Instagram also includes a call to action (“Listen Now”) at the bottom of the screen, with a caret telling the user to swipe up.

FRAME DJ was a huge help in coming up with ideas. He noticed that “scrolling through the playlist” ads like the first were being used to build massive EDM playlists.

He also came up with “imagine the warmth of 80s synth music.” I was skeptical at first, but it outperformed the others at the time.

I’m quite proud of “it’s always midnight somewhere,” featuring the music of The Midnight. Clever, huh?

Still, I was glad that “bask in the neon glow of an 80s that never existed” performed just as well using my own music.

Facebook Ad Library is a helpful resource. There are several expensive courses on Spotify promotion that center around Instagram Stories ads. Rather than pay for them, I just looked up the relevant artists’ ads for inspiration.

Test, test, test! I can’t stress this enough. Try different songs, background images, copy, fonts, timing, you name it! Don’t forget to test which 15 seconds of your track converts best, rather than just starting at the top of the chorus.

I test each ad by letting it run solo for two days, ideally two weekdays because weekends may perform differently.

Remember that followers are the goal, not clicks. Every morning I write down my follower count and track the increase from the previous day. It should scale with clicks, but if it doesn’t, your ad may be confusing users.

I place the song from my ad, typically my own, in the top slot of the playlist so people recognize it immediately and know they’ve come to the right place. Sure, it’s self-serving, but not entirely selfish!

Setting up my Instagram Stories ads

I won’t walk through every step in the ad creation process, because yawn. The campaign objective is traffic, and the sole placement is Instagram Stories.

I mostly targeted US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Once I launched my free CD campaign, which I’ll write about soon, I restricted my targeting to US-only, where I charge $5 to ship a CD rather than $15 internationally.

Eventually I opened it up to Mexico and Brazil, where I’m getting clicks for $0.04, versus $0.11 in the US. The lower cost per follower is offset by a lower payout per stream.

Ultimately I settled on splitting my geographic targeting into two ad groups at $2.50 each per day: US, and Mexico/Brazil. If I kept them in the same ad group, the latter would eat up the vast majority of my budget.

Choose your targets wisely, and for chrissakes make sure they are all countries where Spotify is available!

I’m getting about 50 new followers a day, so $0.10 per follower if we attribute all growth to the ads. That assumes that organic growth is canceled out by unfollows.

Interest targeting no more

You may have noticed that I mentioned where I’m targeting, but not who I’m targeting.

That’s because I already spent a few hundred bucks to build a lookalike audience of 75% video viewers — yet another topic for a future post! I know I previously said that lookalike audiences don’t work, but it turns out I was doing it wrong.

You’ll likely need to use interest targeting, in the form of “artists I sound like” or “my genre” plus Spotify. Remember, you want to narrow the audience using Spotify as an additional interest.

Hopefully, there are targetable artists that you sound like, or genres your music fits into cleanly. I’m not so lucky, which is why it cost so much to create that lookalike from mostly non-music-related interests.

Deep Linking with URLgenius

Let’s swap places with our potential fan for a moment. Imagine you see an ad for a cool playlist, swipe up, and are greeted with this screen:

download app

“Wait, don’t I already have the Spotify app?,” you wonder. Yes, you do, and clicking the “download app” button will open it.

We want to avoid this confusion at all costs. The solution? URLgenius.

Facebook Ads Manager

URLgenius creates deep links that bypass the download prompt and open the relevant app directly.

The first 1000 clicks are free. After that, it’s a penny per click. In this case, a penny spent is more than a penny saved in cost per follower!

Here’s a URLgenius link to my playlist. Now you owe me a penny.

My Spotify playlist results

Do people actually listen to my playlist? Indeed they do!

Here’s my Spotify for Artists data for the top slotted track (click to enlarge):

Juggernaut Spotify plays

I’ve got another track in the middle of the playlist, which only generated 436 plays over the same period.

If I consider my playlist campaign only in terms of my two songs, that’s 2K streams for $174. That’s not terrible relative to what you’d pay for Spotify PR, and I know the streams are legit!

SubmitHub to the rescue

When my playlist hit 2K followers, I made the mistake of announcing it on social media. Suddenly I was receiving submissions from every corner of the internet.

Most obviously didn’t fit, because they didn’t have vocals, or weren’t even close to synthwave. Some artists sent me full albums, or worse, directed me to their Spotify profile, expecting me to scour it for any appropriate tracks. It got to be too much, so I turned to SubmitHub:

Vocal Synthwave Retrowave on SubmitHub

If you’re unfamiliar with SubmitHub, you can read all about it in last month’s article. It’s a platform where curators of all stripes screen and manage submissions from artists, labels, and publicists.

I’ve always pushed back against claims that SubmitHub was payola and that curators were somehow scamming artists, but now it’s obvious how off-base those accusations are.

Once I worked through 200 submissions I was allowed to raise my price to two premium credits. Now I get $1 out of every $2 submission.

I’m currently receiving 15 submissions per day on average, making $20 per hour while falling behind on mastering and production work that pays far better.

SubmitHub is no get rich scheme.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of curators only charge a single premium credit, which is $10 per hour at my pace.

It has its perks though! Curators can purchase credits at a 50% discount. 45 minutes per day of my time covers both the cost of my playlist ads and my own artist submissions.

Feel free to submit your track to me if it has 1) great vocals (not just vocoder), 2) obvious 80s elements, 3) traditional pop structure, and 4) a synth-driven arrangement. You wouldn’t believe how many people send me instrumentals!

Spotify playlists conclusion

I think that covers the entire ecosystem!

What do you think? Is playlist promotion a viable substitute for artist promotion, at least on Spotify?

It’s definitely a ton of work, but I take pride in my playlist, and genuinely enjoy listening to it. It’s nice to be in a position where I can help other artists, rather than feeling like we’re all competing in a zero-sum contest. I suppose that goes for this blog too.

Do you curate a Spotify playlist? Have you tried Instagram Stories ads? Let’s swap strategies in the comments!

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Brian Hazard

Brian Hazard

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44 Responses

  1. Wow, great in-depth view on how all this promoting and adds on the socials work, didn’t know that at all.

    1. Thanks Jeroen! Hopefully this behind-the-scenes “how the sausage is made” stuff doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the music. You’ve probably noticed that I generally don’t push out my promotion posts to fans.

  2. Thanks for the mention Brian!
    And for anyone still hesitating – yes this all works and can work for you as well if you put in the hours.

  3. Awesome! Funny as i got a synth wave playlist too (just started..). I wonder if my first song would be a little too pop for your playlist? It should go live on june 1th. Let me know Thanks

  4. can someone use the swipe up link on instagram story if he doesnt have upto 10k followers on instagram? i heard there is a restriction to only your IGTV..please throw more light on that… thanks

    you mean ad manager from facebook?

    1. I don’t have 10K followers on Instagram myself! Fortunately, there’s no such requirement for swipe up on Stories ads.

      Yes, Ads Manager from Facebook, which owns Instagram.

  5. Thanks Brian for this interesting post. One thing I didn’t understand is how you identify artists you sound like or your genre. Is there an algorithmic tool for that? I’ve never found one. Thanks

    Paul

    1. The closest thing to an algorithmic tool would be your Spotify Fans Also Like. For a graphic birds-eye view, check out Every Noise at Once.

      It’s not an exact science, of course. You may sound like a certain artist but have an entirely different brand identity. I suggest trying a ton of artists and genres, and weeding them out if they are underperforming after $5 in ad spend.

  6. So for anyone interested – the cost of getting new followers can vary between 0,04 and 0,40 depending on these things:

    Location of the ad placement (US is more expensive)
    Targeting expertise in FB’s Business manager
    Quality of the visuals and Ad design
    Quality of the call to action (for example: look at what my suggestion did in the article above)
    Uniqueness of the playlist (nobody is looking for another gym playlist)
    Artwork and text of the playlist
    Strength of the playlist curation in getting back a follower to listen

    If anyone wants some free tips let me know (info at framedj dot com).

    Cheers

  7. How did you manage to create a playlist with your artist account? Last time I checked it only allowed me to create a playlist with my personal account…

    1. Yes I did. Apparently at some point Spotify made it impossible for new users to merge the artist and the user profile. I went through so many boards looking for a solution but everyone keeps on having the same problem. I was hoping maybe you found a way around this 🙁 it’s really frustrating

  8. You can’t anymore. My artist profile is verified and i do have a premium personal account. You have to use your premium/personal account to create the playlist. Create your playlist fast, as you might run into problems. There’s always someone waiting/wanting to take advantage of a situation lol! I was lucky enough that no one took the name of my project to create his own playlist!

    1. Good tip, thanks! Do you know if one can change the name of the personal profile so that it matches the music one at least?

  9. Thank you for this! I always seem to run into your posts when I Google music promotion and I learn a lot from each one. The last time I read one of your posts I also discovered your song “In Motion” which is still one of my favourites to this day. And coincidentally I just created a Spotify playlist called “Androids & Emotions” with your track in it. 🙂 I’m hoping to promote it using these methods. Thanks again for the great resources!

    1. That’s great to hear Alex! Most of my traffic comes from Google, which is surprising considering how little effort I put into SEO. Thanks for the kind words and for including my track on your playlist!

  10. Brian thanks so much for all the info! Really cool to see people sharing info like this, inspires me to pay it forward big time!!

    Wanted to ask you a couple things after reading all this.

    I saw your playlist has gotten a lot bigger since you wrote this article (nice going!), I was wondering how many streams you’re getting on the tracks you put in the playlist nowadays. Could you share that with us?

    Also, do you think if you’d increase the budget on your ads (while also focussing on learning what ads work best with your audience of course), you could speed up the process of getting new followers to your playlist? I’d assume so (more budget = more reach) but I’d love to hear what you think.

    Cheers, Abel

    1. Glad you found it useful Abel!

      The playlist is at 6721 followers this morning! SubmitHub reports my average plays as only 140, but Spotify for Artists shows 3.6K streams for my first track from the playlist. Clearly position matters!

      I absolutely think I could double the budget to $10/day and double the number of followers.

      Looking at the last 14 days in ads manager, the frequency is 1.47, so it’s not like the same people are being bombarded with the ad.

      And it’s still the same ad! If I had more time I’d do more testing, which would reduce frequency even more.

    2. Awesome! Steady growing man, so cool to see this really works.

      Ah so because of the frequency, you wouldn’t advise spending a much bigger amount on ads, do I understand that correctly? An amount like 30-50 dollars a day is what I have in mind (hypothetically)

      Also, I saw track #8 in the playlist is also yours, I’m really curious to hear how many streams that one has gotten in the last 7 days 🙂

    3. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t scale to that budget! I’d love to hear how it works out for you.

      That track doesn’t show up in my Spotify for Artists, I guess because I’m only listed on a single track and not the whole release?

      Looking on Oceanside85’s profile, my playlist is the top in “Discovered On” and the track is #2 with less than 1000 plays. Doesn’t tell us that much I suppose.

    4. I’m normally quite self-conscious about putting my track in the opening slot, but in this case, I think it’s necessary for listeners to connect the playlist back to the ad.

      I’ve seen people positively litter their playlists with their own tracks, and while it rubs me the wrong way, but I don’t know if the average listener cares.

      I’m at an all-time high right now with four of my tracks on my playlist, out of 100. Granted, two of them are collaborations where I’m the second artist listed, so if you sort by artist, there are only two.

  11. Listen Now is not a CTA button choice for me on Instagram, How did you get that on to your ad? Also after creating a Screenflow, I have to pinch and zoom in to make it fit the instagram story. Thanks in Advance! Also, I hit the Ad Link on your page for Screenflow and now I’m an owner!

    1. Glad to hear that ScreenFlow is working out for you! I actually made a full music video in it using their stock library.

      What are you pinching and zooming exactly? Did you create the ScreenFlow document at 1080 x 1920?

      I’m not sure what to tell you about the CTA. Are you creating the ad in Ads Manager? “Listen Now” is a choice for me under the “Call to Action” dropdown menu.

  12. Hi Brian

    After checking your campaign for growing your spotify playlist and decided to test it.

    I made 2 promotions:

    In one, i made a direct promotion of my instagram story using my mobile phone, using the share button on spotify and then “share playlist to IG story”. I spent 5 euro.

    Then I made a second promotion using facebook ads manager, also targeted only to IG stories (excluded everything else), through another IG account, for another spotify playlist, another music genre and different campaign setup. Also boosted for 5 euro.

    In both campaigns i received 0 new followers. 10 euro = 0 followers.

    Could it be the fact that I don’t make charming videos but use a static image ?

    Do you have any idea what I am doing wrong and I didn’t receive any followers ?

    Thanks

    1. It’s hard to draw any strong conclusions from 10 euro in ad spend, but I’ve got a couple of ideas:

      1. Your campaign may not have been properly configured. You mentioned your placements but not your targeting or campaign objective.
      2. You’re “selling” music, but there’s no music in your ad. It may be less about image vs video, and more about silence vs audio.

      To really make this work, you’re going to have to come up with multiple creatives and multiple targets, and judiciously test them. Let your ad sets fully optimize or at the very least, don’t touch them for a few days!

      Hope that helps!

    1. I didn’t license it. I figure they’re kinda sorta friends and I’m using it to promote their music too (they have the perpetual second slot), so I just went for it and didn’t get in trouble.

  13. I found this super helpful, except… “I won’t walk through every step in the ad creation process, because yawn.”
    Um, that’s the part I need help with!

    Also, you say…
    “Remember that Instagram also includes a call to action (“Listen Now”) at the bottom of the screen, with a caret telling the user to swipe up.”

    It does? How do you make this happen?
    I was trying to do an instagram story ad (just a general ad for my album) which would send clicks to a landing page with streaming options. (I’m questioning if this is the best option) and I could not figure out how to add music to the story or get the swipe up option.
    Anyway, sorry for the long post. I really appreciate you sharing your experience. I even have an agency helping me a little and the amount of work that social media promotions is can be overwhelming. And it’s not particularly intuitive.

    1. Thanks for commenting Will!

      I’ve already got an article on Facebook Ads, so I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel here. The call to action is the same one you set for Facebook, but in Instagram Stories, it appears as a swipe up instead of a button. You probably know this, but you have to have 10K followers to enable swipe up from non-ad stories.

      I haven’t had much luck sending people to a Smart Link. Too much friction.

  14. Thanks, Brian, I’m slowly figuring it out. I have a fb ad that’s running and getting traction, but I’m sending people to one of those smart links and I think they’re stalling out there. So you always send them to Spotify? What about the other streaming markets?

    I created a video promo that I really wanted to run on IG stories (it did pretty well organically as a reel – nearly 700 views – and I only have 300 followers currently, anyway, seemed good to me) but I haven’t been able to figure out if I need to have music on the video itself or add music like you do with stories and reels, but it’s looking like for an ad I need to have the music built into the video.

    Can I ask one more question? When I add music to a reel or story, viewers can click on the music, but when they click on the artist (me) it says “No profile has been linked to this artist.” Do you know anything about this?

    Thanks so much for the info and feedback!

    WK

    1. Yes, I only send to Spotify, and the only placement that’s really worked is Instagram Stories.

      I haven’t really messed with reels, or TikTok for that matter, so I haven’t seen the “no profile” message. Sorry I don’t have any guidance there.

      But I can confirm that for an ad you need to include the music in the video.

  15. Yeah, the “no profile” error happens when I add one of my tracks to a story with the music sticker, too.

    Anyway, I’ve run an instagram stories ad and I did see some traffic, however, I couldn’t seem to find a way to make it ONLY instagram stories. The ad ran on facebook and messenger, too. Do you build your ad in Ads Manager or Ad Center? There are so many different ways to do seemingly the same thing.

    WK

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Brian Hazard is a recording artist with over twenty years of experience promoting eleven Color Theory albums, and head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion.

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