How to Play the Streaming Game in 2021

A little inside info for my music makers.

I often get asked, “What exactly do I have to do to become successful by releasing music this year?” I get it, everyone wants THE answer, they want it to be simple and doable. Unfortunately, the way the music streaming system is set up is just not simple, nor is it easy, and for many, it’s not even doable.

You asked for it, so here it is. I am not going to name the company, but I’ve been given permission to share this with you in the hopes that some of you understand how much work goes into the process and perhaps you can copy the plan because around here, we believe there is plenty of room for us all to be successful. Maybe you could start your own music label, too!

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Understand that this doesn’t include live performances and touring; that is a whole different agenda. So, if you really want to be a full-time musician, making your living off music, and doing nothing but making music, here ya go.

This is from Chris, a friend who runs an indie distribution/publishing group. They get roughly 12 million streams a week, cume. That’s around $50,000 per week. Most of their roster is making $2k per week.

Here’s what they do on a DAILY basis.

Label/Group side:

  • Slot releases for distribution (5 weeks out minimum), use matrix to start process
  • Curate two new playlists including their newest releases and like artists
  • Record 5 videos, short form for Reels, TikTok, etc.
  • Two hours of playlist research – genre specific with followers of 2k, 10k, 20k, 100k+
  • Reach out to playslisters on social and email
  • Two social media posts about artists and releases within that week
  • File registrations PROs, MLC, LODs and ROs for SoundExchange, HFA
  • License covers with HFA or publishers direct
  • Field sync requests, generate sync opportunities with aligned music releases
  • Two outreaches for brand integration – artist specific.
  • Artwork for upcoming releases – album covers, ad design, social posts
  • Combine artwork into ad set creation.
  • Reach out to touchpoints – music media, TikTokers, bloggers, influencers, brand managers
  • Run and manage an array of YouTube ads: 4-5 at a time (budget- $20/day per artist, $150/day during release week)
  • Run and manage an array of FB/IG Ad Manager ads: 15-20 per day (budget – $20/day per artist, $120/day during release week)
  • Generate producer and Ft./ remixes for upcoming release – slotted 4 weeks into release.
  • Work with video editors on Official and Lyric videos for upcoming releases
  • Scout talent using matrix of Spotify popularity and rising index.
  • Update Chartmetric, Soundcharts, MusicPlay

Expected of up-and-coming artists: 

  • Three social posts (content) per day, platform dependent.
  • Must interact with at least 5 followers/fans – DM, PM, hit their page.
  • Interact with same-genre artists, three a day
  • Create two pics and one video per day (three on TikTok)
  • Must be working on a new song every week. Goal is one finished every 3 weeks, 5-6 week lead time for release post-mastering.
  • Turn in one line every day – lyric or audio
  • Work on a cover to pitch.
  • Generate video ideas for music lyrics.
  • Usually coordinate with touchpoint outreaches to personalize messages

There’s more on a monthly basis, and it increases around release pushes, especially the first three days, and then the first two weeks.

But this is EVERY DAY.

If you are independent, you are the Label/Group AND the Artist. That’s a lot of work.

So, there it is. Your roadmap, your answer. That’s exactly how it’s done.

I’m going to caveat this a little. While this is the dominant way to build fan bases and streaming revenue currently, it ain’t the only game. This works if you plan on feeding the machine new music every five weeks, if you plan on branding constantly with new merch and videos, if you plan on touring – and that all demands you have money budgeted. You also kinda have to want to be public and allow yourself to possibly become famous if it works, and everything that comes with that.

However, the downsides: that means dealing with tons of trolls, haters, and harassment on your socials. It means depression. Too much social media simply means a worse mental outlook and that’s just true. For women especially, this means unwanted dick pics, sexual harassment and nasty DMs.

It also means, in my opinion, that you may become a boring fuck or worse, completely jaded. To write great songs you have to live a life, and not just a music life, as anyone who has been in the cycle of recording and touring will tell you. No one wants to hear another “turn the page” song. You have to date, go get drunk, meditate, go see art, travel, be present with your love – in other words, get off social media. You have to be curious about life and topics and the world to have a voice in your songs. So, it is a balance.

Also, imagine the burnout of doing this every day for 2, 5, 10 years? And that’s not to become rich most likely, that’s just to make a good living. You know, like $30-50k before taxes, depending on how many are in your band.

Is it what you really want?

It may be that a better path for you is to direct all of your efforts to sync. Writing and recording for specific music projects that do not depend on promoting streams or YouTube videos. Building a valuable catalog that can be licensed again and again while you sleep and live a life. There’s an art and a hustle to that as well. And you still have to play the streaming game to a certain extent. But the downsides are fewer and less personally taxing. Although, you need to get used to hearing “No, pass” a lot and not take it personally.

I get it, it’s hard. This music industry world of no barriers means you can–and must– do everything, or build a team who can when you can afford it.

But, you don’t have to. You can still write, record, produce and release the music you want – exactly how you want. You don’t need data and market research. Drop it and tell your friends and fans. Book some gigs and slug it out. Have a few jobs and save up to do it again in a year or three. You can absolutely do that.

Those lists are for those who want to make music their career. Full-time. Every day. Every night. Those who say it’s all they can do. Those who enjoy making a creative business grow. Those who want to have fans around the world to tour to. Those who want a growing tribe of people who take this musical journey with you.

There are always exceptions to the rule. You do it your way. I’m just giving you insight into how it’s being done today.


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

**main photo courtesy of Blue Coat Photos via a Creative Commons license. 

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