Breakdown: Are Music Playlists Good or Bad for Musicians?

Are Music Playlists Good or Bad for Musicians?

Are music playlists good for musicians? This is a question that’s been thrown around and dissected every which way for years. Playlists for musicians undoubtedly give some vast benefits. But there may also be a few negative consequences to be found in the world of music. In 2017, the playlist was ingrained in not only music but also our society.

While radio and the blogosphere may still help an artist gain notice, playlists are becoming a more reliable means for consumers to find and consume music. A 2017 article published in Wired Magazine tells the story of how one of her songs showing up on popular Spotify playlists made her a massive star in a couple of months. Now racking up plays in the millions, Starley’s story shows how much power and influence playlists hold in the music industry.

Playlists are the Recent Shift in the Music Industry

For those of you who have been making serious music for more than a decade, this isn’t exactly breaking news. Still, the fact is that playlists are shaping the musical landscape more than ever before. If you don’t release your music with that in mind and plan accordingly, you risk missing out on some potentially huge opportunities.

As modern listeners are shifting towards playlists every day, the only question that arises is from the artist’s point of view. The question is whether playlists are good or bad for musicians. We will address this question in our article.

Thanks to seeds sown a few years ago, playlists have become an inextricable component of the music-listening experience. Beats, now known as Apple Music, has over 30 million users and was instrumental in making streaming a widespread hobby.

What Playlists give Musicians?

When an unknown artist is featured even on a modestly followed playlist, it can bring significant exposure measured in more listeners, interest from blogs and media outlets, and new opportunities. Unestablished artists can also gain traction with the help of playlists for the music on various streaming platforms.

At least 40 million Spotify users have used Discover Weekly, and it’s been joined by other algorithmic playlists like the Daily Mix and the Summer Rewind, a classic rock songs retro collection that garnered as much interest on social media as a big album release. On Spotify, playlists now account for half of all music consumption.

We all have hundreds of playlists dedicated to particular moods and feelings, and you’ll find me listening to one of them on shuffle more frequently than not. We probably listen to playlists more than we listen to albums. We construct playlists for our friends and tell them how to make good playlists, and the individualized aspect of music playlists is undoubtedly appealing. This is something that no record ever ultimately manages to do.

Will Albums Still Prevail?

Good playlists are indeed helping musicians find audiences, but they can also lead to diminishing creative potency. Usually, singles don’t give musicians the sonic or artistic freedom to stand on as albums do. Despite what you’ve read so far, statistics show that the album will stand the test of time. The digital streaming era has pushed musicians to create better albums, emphasizing “all killer, no filler.”

Playlists for musicians are great at entertaining listeners, but are they a suitable replacement for albums? Some might not think so when looking at how much musicians are earning and their artistic impact.

When music fans listen to their favorite album, there’s a certain satisfaction derived from knowing that they paid for the music they love – they’re giving back to the artists who made it. That’s not the case on music streaming platforms, where artists aren’t paid a fixed fee when you stream their playlist’s music.

Instead, your subscription fee enters a big pot which is then split between every artist on the platform based on their share of overall streams of music playlists. This might seem a fair way to distribute music streaming revenue. For instance, if Rihanna gets 1% of all streams on Spotify, it’s fair that she is paid 1% of the subscription revenue. But this system, called the pro-rata payment model, begins to look unfair when the effects of curated playlists are considered.


Over the last few years, music streaming has become the dominant form of music distribution worldwide. In the prevailing covid times, streaming makes up over half of the global revenue from selling recorded music. Naturally, artists, record labels and their distribution partners are all interested in maximizing the streams their songs receive and consequently the income they can pocket. Getting into the top playlists is an intelligent way of achieving this, but with approx. sixty thousand new songs are uploaded each day on Spotify alone; this is not a trivial task.

Spotify’s model with two or more different service versions where the most basic version is free. The more advanced versions are offered on a subscription basis is usually called freemium—a play on the words free and premium. Often, the profit margin for the free version is shallow, or even negative, and it is expected that it is the subscription fees that will generate enough revenues to make the service profitable.

On Spotify, independent label artists are getting less than their fair share of access to the most popular playlist for musicians. And under the pro-rata system, that means smaller artists are seeing their streaming revenues further depleted – especially by heavy users, such as pubs and cafes, who are constantly playing popular playlists throughout the day.


In a pandemic that hits the world, live music is almost entirely (although hopefully only temporarily) eradicated, music streaming is an essential source of income for musicians. But suppose independent labels and artists are left without a good slice of the pie. In that case, it threatens the beautiful diversity of music we currently have on-demand access to, wherever we are in the world. Therefore, this is the scenario of the current situation. What would you like to prefer between music playlists or music albums?

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