While music streaming has made it easier than ever to distribute music and connect with fans, there is still a lot of nuance to being an independent artist nowadays. With the popularity of editorial playlists on streaming services like Spotify, you now have to not only understand what an algorithm is and how one functions, but also be able to strategically position yourself to fit within the constraints of said algorithms. It can be a confusing and overwhelming process for any artist without a strong understanding of the sort of processes that go into curating and playlisting. That's why, in an EARMILK exclusive interview, breakthrough artist Unusual Demont talks about his experience as a member of the inaugural Fresh Finds Program while Spotify's junior editor Will Nellis provides some background on the program and gives some additional transparency on the editorial process.
The inaugural class of the Fresh Finds Program includes up-and-comers Julia Wolf, Wallice, EKKSTACY, and the aforementioned Demont. After being selected, the artists were given an opportunity to do exclusive Spotify singles highlighted by an increased marketing push with billboards and heightened on-platform promotion. The artists were paired with producers and songwriters via Spotify's Noteable brand to collaborate on the new singles, which were released at the end of June. For an artist like Demont who had already experienced a swift rise in popularity with his hit single "Amber," the opportunity was a chance for him to grow his fanbase across platforms with a major marketing budget and unprecedented editorial support without ever having to surrender the freedoms of being an independent artist. In a recent Q&A with EARMILK, Demont shed some light on his experience as part of the inaugural program as well as some tips for rising independent artists.
EARMILK: How has being a part of the Fresh Finds Program accelerated your already meteoric growth as an artist?
Unusual Demont: It’s been sick to reach an audience I wasn’t really tapped into before. I’ve had songs get placed on Fresh Finds, but having the chance to make one like “hey!” and know that it was going to have the support of the Fresh Finds Program really gave me a chance to reach some new ears… ones that maybe didn’t necessarily like a Pine or an Amber type of track.
EM: How have you seen your active fan engagement across platforms (YouTube, Instagram, etc) grow since the partnership?
UD: The billboard in Times Square definitely got attention and congrats from some followers who were just passively enjoying the tunes beforehand. Surreal moment for sure.
EM: What was the process of recording your Spotify single "hey!"?
UD: It got passed around a lot actually. There was this demo I recorded with a beat from Jerry Folk & Safario, and the main “hey hey!” that's throughout the entire song is from that very first demo I recorded. I cleaned up the verses, brought the demo to Kieran Watters (The Idiot) and he completely brought the track to life.
EM: What advice would you give to an independent artist still trying to land their first fresh finds/be discovered?
UD: Focus on the music. Playlists are sick and everyone wants to get on 'em, but it feels so much better when a song you genuinely love and put nonstop work into gets on one. Make music you like and let the rest follow.
Spotify's Will Nellis played an integral role in the development of the Fresh Finds Program and is also a key piece of the editorial team that sifts through thousands of songs every week to build the myriad genres that make up Fresh Finds. He recently answered some questions from EARMILK that focused on common musings and misconceptions on the nature of editor vs algorithm, how the Fresh Finds Program came to be, and what comes next for the breakthrough artist development program.
Will Nellis: We plan to invite eight artists per year to be part of the main Fresh Finds partnership program, with four artists taking part at a time. We'll be unveiling the next round of artists later this fall. Additionally, in between our primary marketing pushes for our 8 artists, we’re launching a recurring Tik Tok social series, starting in mid-August. For 8 consecutive Wednesdays throughout the end of summer/early fall, we will be highlighting 8 separate independent artists (along with potential producers and songwriters) through a recurring social content series that we call “Unfinished Finds.” The video series will allow artists to showcase unfinished or unreleased tracks/beats/streams that they are intending to use in an upcoming release to new & existing fans on Tik Tok. They have the opportunity to tell audiences about their new track, what they like about it and add in elements of their personality — allowing this initiative to help them test out new sounds for the first time, while bringing fans a behind-the-scenes look at their process. Lastly, we can’t wait to continue to grow and iterate on our editorial strategy. Day by day, more and more listeners are becoming fans of smaller, independent artists around the world, which allows more and more independent artists to find success. The more we can help guide listener exploration, the more we can encourage new independent artists around the world to help their careers grow.
EM: What processes went into the selection of the inaugural group of artists for the program?
WN: The artist selection is informed by a combination of data and editorial decision making, with our curation team choosing artists for the program that are showing momentum both on-and-off Spotify. With this extended level of support, the Fresh Finds Program will build further upon Spotify’s initial editorial support to give them the building blocks that will put them on a path towards long term growth and sustainable careers. Ultimately, we don’t have formalized qualification criteria because being a developing artist is undefinable, and career growth can mean different things to different artists. Our gut instincts are based on what we think is the beginning of an amazing career.
EM: Now that you've formed partnerships with these four artists, what's next for them and their careers and how will Spotify play a part?
WN: While the formal partnership took place over about 6-8 weeks, the relationship between the artists and Spotify will continue for a long time to come. Now that the artists are armed with tools, resources, and tips for growing their audiences, they are set up for long-term and continued success.
EM: You just launched 13 new regional Fresh Finds playlists as well that focus on up-and-coming artists in regions like Australia/New Zealand, India, and the UK; what is the process like in curating those?
WN: Fresh Finds curation is equally about editorial ear as it is algorithmic discovery and we’re super excited to have added more Spotify editors from around the world to the Fresh Finds working team. First, the Fresh Finds algorithm combs through and analyzes both music blogs and the listening habits of anonymous Spotify users who have a trend of listening to artists before they become popular—think of them like the tastemakers of tomorrow. The algorithm then pulls around 1,000 tracks per week for our data team to analyze and categorize the songs by genre. From there, our editors take a second listen to determine what might fit on Fresh Finds. We combined these tracks with tracks we find on our own from listening to tracks submitted by artists through the editorial submissions tool (which any artist in the world can use via Spotify for Artists) and end up with all new tracks to add to Fresh Finds.
Something notable about Fresh Finds is that, the median monthly listener growth rate for artists one month after being added to Fresh Finds is 108%. While Fresh Finds’ primary function is to discover and curate new independent artists, it also functions to identify talent at its earliest stages for growth opportunities throughout the entire Spotify editorial playlist ecosystem, leading to 44% of artists who had Fresh Finds as their first editorial playlist placement on Spotify going on to get playlisted in another editorial playlist.
Listen to Fresh Finds