There's a niche industry on YouTube trying to sell aspiring artists on the idea that paying for social media ads is an effective way to build a fan base. Often, these Music Ad Gurus use their own music as an example of the alleged success of this strategy. This allows them to point to real-world cases in which the strategy appears to be working. But here's a question the data-savvy musician can ask of these influencers to determine whether this strategy is as effective as they suggest:
Dear Music Ad Guru, why do your followers go up but your monthly listeners do not?
Let's look at a real-world case to illustrate the question. This is the actual data from the Spotify for Artists page of one of these Music Ad Gurus. I'm going to obscure their name since the point is to evaluate the strategy rather than to call out any individual.
Music Ad Guru's Spotify Followers Over Time
As you can see, Music Ad Guru has steadily grown an impressive number of followers on Spotify using social media ads, from a handful in 2019 to nearly 15,000 here at the beginning of 2023. (fyi: minor tiffs is my little side project just there for comparison; it has only 4 followers so it's not visible.) So, there's definitely some evidence that social media ads can help grow followers on Spotify. But how does this growth in followers translate into actual listeners? If the proportion of followers that regularly listen to an artist's music stays roughly the same, then given this steady increase in Music Ad Guru's followers we'd expect a similarly steady increase in their listeners, right?
Music Ad Guru's Spotify Listeners Over Time
While this may be an impressive number of listeners for a DIY artist, you can easily see starting around 2021 as you move from left to right (I added the red trend line) that not only are Music Ad Guru's listeners not increasing, but they're slightly decreasing. So, why, if Music Ad Guru is getting a constant stream of new followers, are they getting fewer and fewer listeners?
I think the answer is in the type of followers you get from running social media ads. These types of listeners tend to have extremely low engagement with your music. This makes sense; they were only first made aware of you via a paid advertisement you initiated rather than via an organic connection with your music. That's not to say they didn't enjoy your music; clearly they did since they followed you. It's just to point out that relationships built primarily on paid ads tend to lack the richness that keeps a listener returning to your music again and again.
So, what's the upshot here in terms of using paid advertising as a strategy for aspiring bands? There is an alluring narrative that goes like this: if I invest $5 a day to grow followers, the number of people listening to my music each day will grow and, eventually, I'll make that $5 back each day and I'll build a profitable promotion engine! That would be great, but as the evidence above shows, from a Music Ad Guru's own data, the narrative doesn't fully appreciate the extremely low engagement the strategy tends to yield.
Here at We Could Blow Up, we're focusing on human connection with real artists to build deeper engagement with an audience. If you're interested in learning more, check out our podcast here on Spotify.