Is it just us or is everyone talking about playlists? As the music industry evolves, the rise of music streaming has brought with it new music discovery opportunities - it's no wonder playlists are THE place to be right now.
We are thrilled to feature Alex from alexrainbirdMusic, popular indie music playlist with 380,103+ subscribers on YouTube & Spotify. Based in the UK, Alex's passion for indie music playlist curation has connected him with musicians all around the world, who know (& love!) Alex for his impeccable taste in music & killer playlists.
With much joy & flat-out geeky excitement, we'd like to introduce you to the man behind the music...
What role(s) do you you play in the music industry?
I’m an indie music promoter and playlist curator! Essentially, artists come to me with new music, which I then add to my playlists on YouTube (by far my biggest platform with 380,000+ subscribers) and Spotify, which in turn help the artists to find a new audience!
Tell us more about your story - how did you break into the music industry?
Well I can tell you that I never meant to break into the industry - at least it wasn’t my original goal! For years, the YouTube channel was just a hobby while I was at school; something I loved but never thought it would really get me anywhere. But then as the videos began receiving hundreds of thousands of views and artists began to submit their music directly to me, I became not just part of the industry, but my channel also became a possible career path for me to pursue.
How did your journey as an indie playlist curator begin?
I officially started the YouTube channel in 2011, but didn’t make my first playlist video until November 2013. For the first two years, I just uploaded single tracks as part of a Great Unknown Bands series. One day, the thought just popped into my head - why not make a longer video with a collection of tracks, rather than just one? This was originally so I could find all my favourite songs in one place, and was a bizarre concept back then so I wasn’t sure if people would enjoy it. But it instantly become my most popular video and I knew I was onto something! Since 2011, I’ve released at least one playlist video (and usually three) on my channel every month.
What’s your why - what is it that makes you excited to do this every day?
That’s easy - I have the best job in the world! I don’t just help bands to find a new audience, I’m also responsible for providing a daily soundtrack to millions of people across the world! My girlfriend Beth also joined the ‘team’ (i.e. me!) late last year and we now both work on alexrainbirdMusic full-time, so we get to spend tons of time together too! It’s just so awesome.
What are some of your best or most noteworthy moments as a curator?
There are of course many, such as receiving the 100,000 Subscribers Award from YouTube in 2016. But I think the craziest moments are when I reach out to an indie artist to ask about featuring them on the channel, and they tell me that they heard of my channel and they love my uploads! From someone who started this in the bedroom so many years ago, that’s just crazy to me! It shows the power of the internet and how far our channel has come.
What are the main music sources where you find new music for playlists?
As I said before, I receive a ton of submissions from artists (via email, social media, SubmitHub etc) but I also discover some great stuff on YouTube, Spotify and - believe it or not - SoundCloud. I’ve built up a huge list over the years of bands and curators that I follow on there, and it’s often the first place that I hear something new.
What are some of the key factors that affect your decision to select a song?
Good question! As the standards for acceptance on our channel have risen over the years due to the increasing number of submissions that we receive, I now need a song to hook me within the first few seconds to really stand a chance. This can be through a catchy melody, unique vocals, great harmonies etc. Above all else, a song needs to stand out from the crowd and stick in my head after listening, which is difficult to quantify. We’re very hard to please (we’ve got a 1.3% approval rate on SubmitHub!) but we hope that it’s worth it when you listen to our videos!
If an artist you didn’t know reached out, what would be the “perfect pitch?”
I let the music speak for itself. Unless it’s an email from an artist I’ve talked to in the past, I’ll often ignore the wordy ‘pitch’ and go straight for the track. The perfect pitch would simply be an incredible song that hooks me within seconds and leaves a smile on my face! I’ll then go back to the email and read the bio, look at photos etc. A link to download the song is always appreciated too, but the main selling point for me is a kickass track!
What’s your ideal email format both with content & how a song is shared?
As I said before, I’m not too fussed with the email content as long as it has a link to the song. The easiest way to do this is a downloadable WAV file from Google Drive/Dropbox etc, which allows me to listen and download if I enjoy. MP3 files are totally acceptable though as well as SoundCloud/YouTube/Spotify links. As for content, a SHORT bio, music release dates and maybe a photo are all fine by me. The number priority though is to make the music easy to find/listen to from the email.
What are a few of the best and worst subjects lines you’ve seen for emails?
The best email subject lines give me the artist name (the most important thing), song/album name, the genre and the release date (if the song hasn’t come out yet). If I can see all this without opening the email, it make my life easier!
The worst subject lines are the ones that don’t give me any of this information. Stuff like ‘Check this out’, ‘New music’ and ‘Submission’ are unfortunately all too common. Worse still are emails with a different blog/curator in the subject line - a typo mistake made by mass-emailing a ton of blogs. The worst though has got to be those people who don’t write a subject line AT ALL - believe me it does happen! This also makes it very hard to find when searching through my inbox, so don’t do it!
How have bad emails affected your decision to place or not place music?
Surprisingly, not really. If you’ve clearly linked to a song which I really enjoy, I’m still going to contact you regarding a channel feature. We listen to EVERYTHING that’s submitted via email - even if it’s got no subject line! Just please include a link to your music or attach an mp3 to the message!
What are some things an artist should NOT do when pitching their music?
Haha I can think of loads that I’ve come across over the years, but I’ll list the three most common/annoying:
Emails without links to listen to the song, and more specifically ‘Can I submit music to you?’. We often don’t have time to Google a particular song so may not get around to listening if there’s no clear links/attachments. Also if you’ve ever seen one of my videos, you’ll know I include my email link in the description box and openly ask for submissions. So do your research before submitting!
Following on from the first point, PLEASE make sure your music is suitable for our channel’s sound before you submit. About a third of our email submissions are dance/EDM/rap/disco songs that clearly would never appear on alexrainbirdMusic. Research and know who you’re submitting to!
Finally, the major rookie mistake is including dozens of blog email addresses in the CC field. Generic, mass emails like this are bad enough when it’s obvious that there’s tons of other blogs in the BCC field (blind carbon copy), but when it’s blatantly obvious, it just looks so unprofessional. It makes me much happier to be addressed ‘alexrainbirdMusic’ or even better ‘Alex’! So once again, RESEARCH before sending!
What do you think about artist EPK’s - helpful or not? Why or why not?
Hmm they certainly are helpful to have all the information in the same place, but since I don’t need anything for my videos besides an audio file (I’m not writing a blog post for example), they’re not as useful to me as I’m sure they are to others.
What role does an artist’s branding play when it comes to song placement?
While almost all of the artists that I work with are independent, it’s always the ones with the cooler, brighter, more-involved branding and social media presence that seem to have more fans and generate more buzz. In particular if they already have a strong Spotify presence (e.g. over 50k plays on their song), I’m more likely to feature their music higher up in my playlists - just because I know that a lot of people already like their sound, so the video is more likely to perform better!
What advice do you have for indie musicians seeking playlist placement?
As I’ve said many times, ensure that you research who you are submitting to. It will be a lot more beneficial to focus on 10 blogs and send them each a personal email, than sending a mass email to 50 different people. Also make sure that they promote a similar style of music to what you’re making. Finally just little personal touches really help and can help to stand out from the crowd; if you’re already a fan of the blog, let them know and also namedrop a few of the artists that you discovered through their channels (so they know that you’re being honest!).
Above all else of course, be confident in your music. You may get rejected by dozens of blogs but as long as you’re enjoying the music you create, it’s guaranteed that a promoter out there will dig it too! Don’t give up!
To discover new music, or maybe even have yours discovered, head on over to Alex's YouTube & Spotify channel. If you'd like to learn more about how The Marketing Mixtape can help you with playlist pitching, check out our services page to see how we like to team up with artists!