The One Thing

Is Spotify’s Discovery Mode just payola in disguise?

Published 3 months ago • 3 min read

I used Spotify’s Discovery Mode feature for three consecutive months in 2023.

Outside of that, the only system I used to promote my music (aside from a complete failure testing playlisting again) was Facebook ads.

Inside my ad campaign, I spent $10 per day every single day and only made minor targeting adjustments throughout the year.

So, for all intents and purposes, my ads remained the same, making Discovery Mode the only significant adjustment to my music marketing strategy in 2023.

When Discovery Mode rolled out, I was skeptical, to say the least—it just sounded like payola to me.

But I tried it anyway.

Now that I’m on the other side of it, I’m convinced my initial gut feeling was accurate.

Let me explain.

Before Discovery Mode

Before running my first Discovery Mode campaign, I was consistently triggering Discover Weekly on Spotify.

Most Mondays saw a slight increase in listeners and streams as a result of hitting the algorithm, but every so often—maybe once a month—I’d see a big jump that just dwarfed the others.

This sort of natural ebb and flow of Discover Weekly traffic generally kept my average monthly listeners around 17,000-18,000 and tended to generate around 50,000 streams per month for my catalog.

For further context, my biggest Discover Weekly spike between January and May of 2023 was over 3,000 listeners and 4,300 streams in one day.

Not bad.

But that all changed when I started using Discovery Mode.

During Discovery Mode

I ran my first Discovery Mode campaign in June of 2023.

I then ran campaigns for two more months—July and August—for a total of three consecutive months out of the year.

In June, my average monthly listeners dropped to just above 15,000, effectively chopping my audience by around 2,000 people, and my monthly streams decreased by 5,000 to around 45,000.

July was marginally better, but by the end of August, my average monthly listeners still sat around the 15,000 mark while my monthly streams were down to just above 41,000, an almost 20% decrease from where they were before using Discovery Mode.

During this three-month period, my biggest Discover Weekly spike was about 50% the size of the winning spike in the period before it at 1,500 listeners and 2,000 streams in one day.

So, given the performance over this entire quarter of testing, I thought it was time to turn it off to see how things might play out.

And well… it only got worse.

After Discovery Mode

In September—my first month of not running a Discovery Mode campaign—my average monthly listeners dropped to just over 11,000, my monthly streams decreased to around 31,000, and my biggest day of Discovery Weekly was a dismal (by comparison) 900 listeners and 1,300 streams.

Across the board, this was an almost 40% dropoff from the beginning of the year, meaning Spotify essentially stopped delivering my music to listeners through its algorithm.

October saw more of the same: 11,000 listeners and 29,000 streams.

It was only at the very end of October that things began to turn around for me.

I got my first semi-substantial Discover Weekly spike on Monday, October 30th with 1,700 streams in one day.

The last time this kind of thing happened was back in May.

And in November, things began to look up even more—15,000 listeners and 40,000 streams—with my second-biggest Discover Weekly spike of the year coming on Monday, November 20th with 2,500 listeners and 3,700 streams.

Almost three full months since ending my use of Discovery Mode.

So what happened?

My conclusion is that Spotify essentially punished me for not using Discovery Mode anymore.

The moment I began using that feature, the platform started prioritizing Radio and autoplay streams above all else, slicing my access to Discover Weekly in favor of those avenues where they could take a 30% cut.

They don’t get 30% of royalties from Discover Weekly, by the way.

And when I stopped using Discovery Mode, they delivered my music to no one.

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe there is some sort of sinister individual or team at Spotify pulling the strings behind the curtain to make sure they “get their bags” from my music.

That would be foolish, and there are a lot bigger artists out there than little ole me.

But I do believe Spotify’s algorithm is built to benefit itself first.

After all, companies do need to turn a profit.

My concern is that, with Discovery Mode, Spotify has built a product that has been purposefully designed to lock artists into a perpetual forfeiture of 30% of their revenue… or else.

And that just doesn’t sit well with me.

Now I’m not telling you not to use Discovery Mode.

And I’m not telling you to use Discovery Mode.

I’m only one example, and I’m sure results may vary.

All I can say is I won’t be using it again because, for me, it’s clearly not worth it.

That’s it for this one.

Whenever you're ready, here are three ways I'd love to help you:

  1. Learn more about marketing for free by exploring our entire backlog of Articles here.
  2. Quickly and easily automate your growth on Spotify inside the DuPree X Academy here.
  3. Hire our team to market your music for you by applying to become a DuPree X Agency client here.

Have a fantastic week,


The One Thing

Tom DuPree III

One high-leverage idea to scale your audience (and your business). Delivered every Tuesday.

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