How Musicians Can Beat The Online Bias Of iTunes/Spotify Algorithms.

We’ve known for a long time, how easy it is to make and release music online. But how do you build a fanbase, so people notice you and buy your music? Even better, become fans, come and see you on stage, support you and ultimately... help you pay the bills.

When Derek Sivers started to sell his music online, he did it because he had no other choice. All this was before Paypal and happened way before iTunes. His company CD Baby was born because his musician friends (once they’d seen him do it) asked him to put their original music for sale online.

He started his company by accident in 1997. He went on to sell for around $22 million.
He donated the money to charity. But make no mistake, he will always be financially secure. You can read more here.

He rarely gives interviews, but when he does, they are worth checking out, because, above all else, he is one of us. A musician.
Search his name in your podcast app. and buy his book ‘Anything You Want’. You’ll also find some of Derek’s talks on TED.

In his most recent podcast, I found from a few years back, Derek admits how lucky he was to have his big idea at the time he had it.

Following this 'admission', he is asked about what he recommends musicians do to get noticed now.
Trying to get your new music on the homepage of iTunes, Spotify etc is pretty much like winning the lottery. The algorithms set by these big companies will never help a new artist who isn’t on a major label.

His answer is so simple, I had to share it and expand on it.

Record a cover version following these rules…

  1. Choose a song you love by a well-known artist/band.
  2. When you find a song no-one has covered, record a version.

What this means is, anyone who is looking for the song will see your version right there.
Even people blindly scrolling through tunes by a band/singer/ artist/musician they love (like and trust) they will have more chance of seeing/hearing your version.

For curiosity alone, people will click.

Here are some other things you might want to consider...

  1. The song doesn’t have to keep to the genre.
    So… if you think you can record an acoustic ballad version of a Nirvana song, or a hardcore metal version of a Beautiful South Song, why wouldn’t you. I know this has been done before (Look up Richard Cheese), but… think of the algorithms and your chances of being seen!
  2. Perhaps choose music from a person or band who has a massive back catalog/following. Elvis, Bowie, Rolling Stones, Madonna…. whatever. There will be some lesser-known tunes / b-sides) that the hardcore fans will know and feel almost a responsibility to check out.
  3. If the band/artist you are covering isn’t alive, you’ll be dealing with a fanbase who might be more open to someone ‘paying tribute’.
  4. Check out the fan forums, Facebook pages, reddit… This is where you say hi, say something nice about the song, show humility for the artist/band, befriend them and offer up your cover.
    If you want to be ‘strategic’ you might want to ask people about the song before you post your version. This will create traction in a thread.
  5. Put on your thick skin. Get ready for criticism from the purists. Remember to let it go… it’s not for them.
  6. Create connections, invite them to your website, where they can find out more, follow you on social media etc. Remember that having a website with an email list is worth something. Another Facebook follower is almost worth nothing. If you need help with that, get in touch.


A final note… You might need to get over yourself if you think you’re beyond covering music. So, for clarity, you should know that…. Covering someone else's music doesn’t devalue you as an artist.
You are the musician you are because of the music you grew up hearing. ‘Classical’ musicians have been doing this for years.
If you choose what others believe to be a great song, you show your ability to recreate a great song and create curiosity about your own writing chops.

I’d love to know what happens if you try it. Or what has happened if you’ve already tried covering someone else music… so please let me know how you get on.


PS. When you’re ready to take ownership of your own thing, here are 3 ways I can help you.
PPS. Remember to get permission of the artist you are covering before you do cover! (Thank You Mr Darnell)! 

  • Got no cash? Read my blogs and get a free download on my website - It’s free. I like helping musicians and I get that many aren’t in a position to spend money before they are making it.
  • Need to get something together but not earning what you want yet? A good website is essential. If you are unhappy with or don’t have one yet…. I can help you build a website that will showcase your talents properly. A social media following is useless unless you have a place people can go to away from the distraction of pictures of their friends, pretending to be happier than they really are. 
  • If you’re a working professional, you can apply to join the growing number of brilliant musicians around the world, to coach you. I’ll help you keep on track with the important stuff and make sure what you put out attracts people to you.