Spotify is a global phenomenon now, and the platform provides people with a chance to create an amazing playlist for the whole world to hear. The most reliable ways to gain Spotify playlist followers aren’t obvious, however, and common advice on the subject is just as likely to lead you to frustration as it is to help you connect with new listeners.
Nearly all posts on this subject emphasize sharing and promotion on platforms outside Spotify, but I honestly believe that promoting your list is not only non-essential, but actually leads to ghost followers and hollow engagement. I can even show you just how stunningly ineffective outside promotion really is.
Spotify will do all of the meaningful promotion for you, and a good playlist will pick up thousands of followers without you doing any legwork.
Updated for 2021: The information in this list is as relevant now as when I first published this in 2018, and it's based on patterns I started observing when I signed up for Spotify almost a decade ago.
Spotify has changed a lot in that time and has generally diminished the relevance of its user-created playlists, but I have recently found steady, organic follower growth on many of my playlists using the same approaches I've used for years -- the same ones described here.
It’s entirely possible to gain Spotify playlist followers without analytics and without social media.
I was able to gain over 30,000 followers on a playlist dedicated to an underground genre of music without doing a single promotion or social share for it. That list, called Synthwave / Retro Electro, eventually reached 84,000 followers, and at its peak was gaining over 100 people per day and adding over 24,000 monthly listeners to the artist in the top spot. That happened almost entirely through organic reach within Spotify.
(That playlist ultimately met a grim fate, one I will describe in a future post on how to manage submissions and social interactions around your Spotify playlists.)
Even though I later promoted that playlist on socials, the followers I gained from those efforts were practically non-existent compared to the growth that was happening organically on Spotify on a daily basis.
So forget the miracle social media post that will pick up tens of thousands of new likes overnight. It’s entirely possible to gain Spotify playlist followers without analytics and without promoting on social media. Focus instead on these approaches, be patient, and your playlist will find its audience.
1. Listen to Your Playlist
This may sound odd, but it’s the absolute best way to get a new playlist off the ground. After dedicating thousands of hours to dozens of Spotify playlists, I can promise you this works.
Listen to your own playlist. Often.
Playlists with high engagement become more visible within Spotify than those with fewer active listeners. When you make a new playlist, that engagement is entirely up to you. If you make a new list and never listen to it, it will sit at 0 followers for the rest of time. If you make a list and listen to it almost every day for several weeks, you’ll start to see your follower count climb upward.
This remains true over time as well. A playlist that is neglected by its owner is likely to see a decline in the rate of new followers. But get back in and start listening regularly and it's like adding kindling to a low-burning fire.
It’s worth reiterating that my Synthwave / Retro Electro playlist reached 30,000 followers before I did a single social share or other promotion for it. It had been gaining listeners slowly for some time, but the real spark came when I began using the playlist as the soundtrack to long gaming sessions. Once I started listening regularly, the slow trickle abruptly turned into a steady stream of new followers.
Listen to your own playlist. Often.
It's also important to note here that if you build a great list, your follower growth will be exponential. It may not be glamorous, but like most things in life, patience and grinding it out are going to be more effective and rewarding to you than a miracle social media post. In the early going you may only get two new followers per week, but stick with it and in time that number will grow to 20 people per week, then 50, etc.
Once you have a high number of engaged followers, your listeners will contribute to the playlist's algorithmic growth. With hundreds or even thousands of people listening each day, Spotify will make your playlist increasingly visible to new people and the process of it going viral will be underway.
But it starts with you, so listen to your own list.
Even if you stop reading here and ignore the rest of this article, this one thing alone can help your playlist reach hundreds or even thousands of people.
2. Be Picky with Your Choices
There’s no replacement for quality, and a great selection of music is infinitely more valuable to the engagement on your list than a viral Reddit post. (More on Reddit later.)
For example, in late 2019 I started a Chillwave / Chill Synthwave playlist. Having already learned my lesson about quality, I pushed myself to only add songs to the playlist I loved, and the rapid follower growth out of the gate told me I was doing something right. That playlist hit 7,000 followers in just over a year and is on pace to gain 12,000 more in the coming year.
Let me share an even clearer example of how important a tightly curated selection of music is: in 2014 I made a Power Metal / Speed Metal playlist dedicated to music with roots in early European power metal. I had it loosely sculpted how I wanted, but never took the time to go in and closely refine it. Over the course of six years it gained just 750 followers.
Then, in 2020, I finally dug in and committed the time and energy to curating it as tightly as I could. The follower count tripled in just nine months.
It is now close to 2,500 followers and on pace to pick up 5,000 more in the coming year.
That influx of engaged listeners has helped it become the top discovery playlist for a majority of the bands in it as well as one of the top search results for "power metal" on Spotify, both of which help accelerate its follower growth.
To frame it another way, monthly follower growth in the power metal playlist increased 15X in its first year and is on pace for 40X in the coming year. That happened entirely by refining the selection of the music in the list – and listening to it a lot in the process. No social shares, no paid advertisements, and best of all, the new followers are actively engaging with the list.
A tight selection of music will keep people listening without skipping or moving to a different playlist, and that engagement leads directly to increased follower growth.
There’s no replacement for quality, and a great selection of music is infinitely more valuable to the engagement on your list than a viral Reddit post.
When adding music to your playlist, try to ask yourself, “Do I love this song?” and if the answer is no, don’t add it. Or, as I constantly remind myself while I’m curating a list, “When in doubt, leave it out."
3. Find Your Niche
This won’t be easy to hear, but creating Spotify playlists for popular and established genres is setting yourself up for disappointment. For example, making a playlist dedicated to the main synthwave genre at this point is going to be a steep uphill climb, as there are thousands of playlists dedicated to that music and it’s going to be very hard to stand out.
A significant part of the success of my Synthwave / Retro Electro playlist (and more recently the Chillwave / Chill Synthwave playlist) stems from the fact that it was one of the very first ones on Spotify. When I made my first synthwave playlist in late 2012 there were only five or six other lists dedicated to the genre.
The minimal level of competition helped it stand out, and my playlist had already begun its viral journey well before the explosion of new playlists hit. All the synthwave playlists from that early Spotify era gained thousands of followers in their first few years, even if their creators abandoned them in the process.
In other words, it’s good to be early.
So instead of making a broad playlist for a large and established genre, here are some things to try instead.
Anticipate New Genres
It’s easy to look back on what’s already been made, but if you can look forward to the future of your favorite genres and keep up with stylistic evolutions, your playlists will benefit from it. Easier said than done, though if you’re listening to a large volume of contemporary music you’re likely already hearing new ideas and might be able to predict the changing tides.
Music innovation is constant. Focus on the patterns you hear and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Focus on a Specific Theme, Mood, or Subgenre
A similar, though more accessible option, is to choose a theme, mood, or subgenre for your playlist. In other words, carve out a small slice of a large genre and focus on that. Or focus on a mix of genres with a similar vibe or emotion. Anything that makes your playlist more specific will help you.
Establishing a clear focus will make your playlist unique and help it rise above the others.
If you love contemporary mainstream music but enjoy the melancholy songs more than the upbeat party songs, focus on the sad stuff. Make an entire list of modern breakup songs that work well together and generate a distinctive mood.
My metal playlists focus on specific and often underground slices of much larger genres. (More info on my love of genres here). Virtually no one else is making playlists for those niche genres, such as NWOTM, or, in the case of my Power Metal / Speed Metal playlist, no one else is curating them in that specific way. That allows those lists to stand out and become the top discovery playlists for their respective style.
This is a fundamental concept in any kind of marketing and it's true for playlists as well: establishing a clear focus will make your playlist unique and help it rise above the others.
4. Make the Playlist For Yourself
It's important to focus on a niche and recognize trends and patterns, but not at the expense of your own personal taste in music.
Similar guides will encourage you to consider your audience and build a playlist geared toward your listeners. This is useful to a small extent, as mentioned in the last point, but worrying too much about what other people want will make it difficult to be decisive with your list and can lead to a sloppy mix or one that sounds just like everyone else’s.
Even worse, if you begin adding music you don’t personally enjoy, you’re likely to stop listening, which will negatively impact the engagement of your list. There's also no meaningful or productive way to earn money from your efforts, so you should be doing the curating work for your own internal rewards first and foremost.
Playlisting is a creative endeavor, and just like being a painter or a musician, you'll find the best results if you stay true to yourself and what personally excites you.
This is your list, and no one knows what should be in it better than you do. Put the music you love into the rotation and it will develop a unique personality that will stand out from similar selections.
5. Don't Worry About Size
Here's a piece of playlisting advice you won't hear in similar guides: let your playlist be as big as you want it to be.
My playlisting goal has always been to build comprehensive collections of the best music within particular genres, and that approach has always served me well when it comes to follower growth. When my Synthwave / Retro Electro playlist was gaining 3,000 organic followers each month it had over 1,200 songs in it.
That's a huge playlist, and engagement and follower growth were through the roof.
My Chillwave / Chill Synthwave playlist is currently picking up around 750 people per month and has over 300 songs. The Power Metal / Speed Metal playlist I mentioned has over 500 songs.
For me, this relates directly to the last point about quality, which is that you want your listeners to stay engaged and listening for long periods of time. Giving them an opportunity to discover hundreds or even thousands of great songs will keep them locked in on your list and listening for hours at a time.
When adding music to your playlist, ask yourself, “Do I love this song?” If the answer is no, don’t add it.
Again, quality is essential here. Big playlists are only exciting and interesting if they're tightly curated. Otherwise, they feel sloppy and listeners won't bother exploring. Even one bad or uncharacteristic song will pull your listeners out of the groove, at which point they're likely to find something else to listen to.
I love big playlists, and a lot of other people do too. When they're done well they're like a hidden vault packed to the ceiling with rare and precious jewels. But they have to be good, so be picky and only allow your list to be big if you can realistically maintain a high bar for quality.
Don't ask your listeners to go digging for the good stuff, you’re expected to be the one sorting through hundreds or thousands of songs to find the best ones.
6. Keep Great Songs In the Playlist
Another common piece of wisdom of the Spotify era is to regularly remove your existing selection of music and swap it out for a new one. In my mind, this goes against a powerful tendency of music listeners – one demonstrated by 80 years of FM and satellite radio – which is that people never tire of their favorite songs.
"Hotel California" is still played daily on stations across the USA despite being 45 years old. It's practically a cliché for its cultural prevalence and yet it plays on. KTCL, an FM radio station in my home state of Colorado, has been playing Sublime's "Santeria" every 2 hours for the past 25 years, and that's barely an exaggeration.
People get excited about their favorite songs, even after decades of hearing them.
Advertising dollars – and by extension entire companies and careers – are at stake with these stations, which means there's only one reason they still play those songs: people want to hear them.
We develop deep personal attachments to our favorite songs, and those connections have the power to stir up powerful emotions and memories within us.
Think back on parties and family gatherings you've been to. People get excited when their favorite songs come on, even after decades of hearing them. Fans at concerts scream to hear a band's biggest hits from past albums, usually preferring to hear those over the new songs the band is touring to promote.
So not only do I not worry about people getting tired of older songs in my playlists, I believe they'll actually be disappointed to find their favorites missing.
This also relates back to the point about making the playlist for yourself. If you remove your own favorite songs, you'll enjoy your playlist less, listen less often, and that all-important creator engagement will drop.
If you like small, 50-song lists and don't mind swapping out tracks, embrace it. But by all means, don't hesitate to add all your favorite songs at once and keep them there for yourself and others to enjoy for years to come.
7. Put The Best Songs Upfront
I completely underestimated the importance of this for years, but I can’t stress it enough. Put a selection of the best songs at the top of the list. In my experience, the song in the first spot of a popular playlist can get as many as 75 percent more plays than the song in the second spot. The majority of people click on that first song to sample the playlist, and if they like it, they stay.
If they don’t like it, they leave.
Organize the top of your list like it’s the best mixtape you ever made and it will grab and keep new listeners while encouraging existing ones to come back for more
Make that first song your introduction to the playlist and make it count. This is also true for the next 10 or more songs in your list. Choose these songs carefully and pay attention to how they flow from one to the next. You should aim to always have music you’re excited about in those top spots.
For me, this satisfies the goal of swapping out your playlist selection for different songs but without eliminating people's favorites.
Organize the top of your list like it’s the best mixtape you ever made and it will grab and keep new listeners while encouraging existing ones to come back for more. I regularly slide new releases up toward the top of my lists and try to add a completely fresh sequence of music to the top every six months or so.
8. Use Keywords to Help People Find Your Playlist
“Hot Nights, Summer Hits” sounds cool, but it doesn’t tell anyone what the content of your playlist is. More importantly, no one will ever type that into the search field on Spotify.
In my experience, a playlist with a descriptive title that uses keywords, especially genre or artist names, is the best option. You want it to stand out though, so simply naming your playlist “Rock Music” isn’t going to do you any favors.
The formula that has worked best for me is to have one or two of the most relevant genre names in the title. This gives listeners a clear idea of what’s in the list and gives them the best chance of finding it if they're searching for music in that style.
For example, "Chillwave / Chill Synthwave" or "New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal / NWOTHM." This isn’t essential, but it’s always worked well for me. One name can be general, while the other can be more specific or help clarify the content of your selection.
If your focus crosses genres or is more general, try to put a spin on it. Something like ‘80s Pop Perfection can be both descriptive and unique.
If you need help discovering the genre names for your favorite music, try searching for artists on Last.fm and looking at the most common genre tags on their artist page. You can also compare the popularity of relevant genre names on Google Trends.
It's also helpful to add additional genre names and other keywords you feel people might search for to your playlist's description, as that text is searchable within Spotify.
For example, I have a playlist called Thrash Metal / Speed Metal From The Depths, and in the description I also mention "blackened thrash, death-thrash, blackened speed" and several other closely related styles of music. Searching for any of those additional terms on Spotify pulls up the playlist in the search results, which gives listeners more chances to find it.
It's helpful to add additional genre names and other keywords to your playlist's description, as this text is searchable within Spotify.
The same is true for artist names. For example, Tycho is the most popular artist in my Chillwave / Chill Synthwave list, and I have his name in the description. At the time of this writing, a search within Spotify for "Tycho" shows mine as the top playlist result, ranking even higher than Spotify's own This Is Tycho list. On mobile, the playlist sometimes appears very visibly just below the artist's profile.
A lot of people come to genres because of one or two artists they’ve heard and aren’t necessarily going to know what style of music they make. Those people are likely to type in an artist's name and look at Spotify search results. If that artist's name is in your description, then bam, they see your list.
I’ve had playlists that weren’t gaining followers until I added artist names to the description, at which point a trickle of new followers started coming in. Considering I wasn’t actively listening to or updating the list, that seemed like a clear indication the artist names were helping people find it.
9. Add Eye-Catching Cover Art
Sometimes an image can be more powerful than a playlist’s title or content, and an eye-catching piece of cover art will get people clicking on your list to see what’s inside. Music genres almost always have their own visual aesthetic, so look at some of your favorite artists and album covers for inspiration.
There are plenty of sites with free-to-use images that may be relevant to your list, so do some hunting. Or track down the creator of a piece of art you like and ask them if you can use it. Or, you know, just use whatever image you want, but at least credit the artist in your description and don’t be surprised if someone asks you to take it down.
If you don’t upload any image, Spotify will display the cover art for the four albums at the very top of your playlist, which -- whether it's true or not -- signals to potential listeners that you don't take your playlists seriously.
A great cover image will convince people your list is great before they hear it.
(Spotify made an update recently that allows you to change the cover image from your phone, making it easier than ever to make your playlists look great.)
10. (Don't) Share and Promote Your List
Wait, you thought this article was about gaining playlist followers without sharing or promoting?
Even if you have a decent social presence or find somewhere else to post your list, you’re likely to only get a few followers out of it, which is nothing compared to what Spotify can do for you on its own. Worse, the followers you do pick up from social shares or paid advertisements are likely to be far less engaged than the people who find your playlists organically.
I've recently discovered staggering evidence for just how empty a viral Reddit post really is.
For years, I strongly suspected that playlist promotion, particularly through Reddit, was leading to hollow engagement. I've recently discovered staggering evidence for just how empty a viral Reddit post really is.
The following graph shows streams generated for 16 songs in a single synthwave playlist. That playlist landed a viral Reddit post in summer 2019 and picked up tens of thousands of new followers overnight.
You can clearly see the spike in streams on the day the Reddit post went viral, followed by an immediate nose-dive. Each circle on the graph represents a day, so streams generated for those songs spiked at just over 10,600 on the first full day, fell to 5,000 on day two, 3,600 on day three, and were under 1,000 streams per day within two weeks.
Despite showing tens of thousands of followers, the list now generates an average of 100 streams each day total across those 16 songs, which is about 6.25 streams per song.
For comparison, here is what the same streaming chart looks like on a playlist with healthy, organic follower growth. This image shows streaming numbers at the start of the lifecycle for my Chillwave / Chill Synthwave playlist and two songs I included in it at the time.
With just 2,000 followers, the Chillwave list was already generating close to 50 streams/day on each of the two songs, compared to 6.25 streams/day from the list with 40,000 followers.
Viral Reddit posts bring thousands of ghost followers to your playlist who listen once and never come back.
We can see this reflected in the top discovery playlists for the artist OSC. At the time of the following screenshot, my Chillwave / Chill Synthwave playlist had just 2,500 followers. Significantly, two playlists below mine in this discovery list were successfully boosted through viral Reddit posts in the summer of 2019 (one of which is represented in the spike graph above) and had over 20,000 and 40,000 followers respectively.
Within one week of adding OSC's music, my Chill Synthwave playlist was putting more streams on the artist's songs than the Reddit-boosted playlists with tens of thousands of followers.
There are, of course, other factors like number of songs in the list, their placement, and the age of the playlist, but even with those taken into account, it’s remarkable to see a list of 2,500 followers churning out more streams in a week than ones with tens of thousands in a full month.
The takeaway should be clear: viral Reddit posts bring thousands of ghost followers to your playlist who listen once and never come back.
Sure, those big follower numbers look great, but engagement is what matters, and you’ll get that by making your playlist the best it can be and letting interested listeners come to you.
Stop worrying about promotion. Use that time to make a great selection of music and give people a reason to come back. Your playlist will be better for it.
Spotify is pretty opaque about the best methods for gaining playlist followers on its platform, though the approaches I’ve described here are ones I’ve tested and used successfully for years, and they should be helpful for anyone looking to introduce their favorite songs to a broader audience.
Establish a unique focus for what you’re doing, be picky, and listen to your playlist often. Chances are your list won’t blow up overnight, but stick with it and you have a great shot at gaining thousands of Spotify playlist followers.