Hot Seat: Playlist Pump PR Agency founder Wilson Olegasegarem
The theme at BIGSOUND 2019 was The Artist As CEO, a fitting reflection of the independent musician taking control of their own destiny.
The smart artist is learning to hustle like a manager and think like a record company A&R. And so they should.
One Sydney-based artist, Wilson Olegasegarem, is doing just that.
Not only for his own artist project but for hundreds of other acts trying to be heard in a streaming-first music business.
From major label acts to DIY musicians, Olegasegarem has unearthed his entrepreneurial spirit and set up one of the more successful independent and underground playlist plugging agencies.
As the CEO of Playlist Pump PR Agency, Olegasegarem and his team are cracking the code and driving millions of streams.
TMN spoke to Olegasegarem about juggling his two music with his agency, the state of play in streaming, common myths surrounding playlisting and being a total boss.
You were an artist first and foremost. Why did you choose to get into the playlist plugging space?
I chose to get into the playlisting space because I saw an opening in the market in late 2014 and was very intrigued by the concept of playlisting. But not only that, I wanted to create this company along with my business partner because we wanted to make a difference and put a dent in the industry to change the opportunity available in this landscape for independent artists!
Me being someone that’s released through major record labels and doing it independently, I know how hard it is and the work that goes behind doing it alone. I recognized where the industry was headed and how prominent Spotify was quickly becoming. I knew that playlisting was going to be the future music business model, and the new radio stations and tastemakers to break artists. The landscape as we knew it was about to change, so my team and I started to build relationships that became the foundation of the networks we now have today.
But also to show artists that are veterans and upcoming artists that there is an agency that can help you and take you from point A to Point Z with your releases in the new music industry. This is why Playlist Pump PR Agency was formed and is here to stay.
How do you juggle both commitments to ensure each one gets the time and creative juices they demand?
I have to say, it was extremely hard at the start juggling both — at some points, the music took a back seat whilst trying to build the company and navigate through the challenges it brought to my team and me. I can say in the last six months I’ve actually started to feel like I’ve found a balance and have been able to put more time, work and focus into my first love: music.
What is the current state of play when it comes to streaming and playlisting?
I have a lot to say about this one. I think playlisting and streaming is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace! Industry strategy firm MIDiA Research notes that recorded music revenues ballooned to $18.8 billion last year — a $2.2 billion rise from 2017. Within that, streaming was up 30% year-on-year, and climbed to $9.6 billion, in what they describe as “the engine room of growth” for the industry.
But, while streaming continues to evolve at a breakneck pace, the system through which artists are paid for the music being listened to hasn’t evolved in comparison. Many artists are still paid little after services and labels take their respective cuts. Streaming payouts to artists vary wildly, depending on whether they are signed to a major or independent label and whether or not they’re the songwriters as well as the performers.
And within these situations, the terms of these contracts can make one artist’s pay level unrecognizable to another’s. We have had clients that have made their ROI and then some. But for most cases, it’s about stacking — meaning releasing records and building your brand on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal, etc. — and getting familiar with the curators who add you. That’s the networking component of this space.
How do you define success around a campaign?
A successful campaign to us is obviously if you walk away with hundreds of thousands to millions of streams! But in this day and age, there are also platforms where you can manipulate the system and buy streams and fake followers. A lot of artists find it hard to see through the smoke and mirrors.
That’s why we always find a successful campaign to be one that gets the artist in front of curators and networks that have playlists with 100% organic listeners, who generate traction, real momentum and engagement. This allows the artist to get real fans that will actually buy tickets to see a show.
Who are some of the most well-known acts the agency has worked with?
Due to the privacy of some of our clients, we actually cannot mention the biggest artists we have worked with. But the guys that are cool with us mentioning them are hip hop legend Pete Rock of Pete Rock and CL Smooth; Sophie Simmons, who is the daughter of Gene Simmons from KISS; and Bryant Reid, who is music mogul LA Reid’s younger brother responsible for discovering Usher, and his artist Matt LeGrand, to name a few. Believe it or not I was fanboying internally when I first spoke to Bryant Reid as he’s responsible for so many of the records that were released in the 90’s r&b and New Jack Swing era which happens to be my favourite era in music!
How should labels and artists be approaching the A&R process in a streaming-first world?
I always say this to my clients, but the A&R approach to having a track released on the DSPs is very different from the traditional A&R strategy to radio. The glorified pop records that you hear on the radio don’t necessarily always do so well on the DSP’s.
Look at H.E.R for example, or Daniel Caeser. You never heard them on mainstream radio, but they blew up on Spotify and all other DSPs — Spotify being the key platform to breaking them! They sell-out shows, win Grammys — all which had nothing to do with radio success. This again backs my point that playlists are the future radio model for breaking acts!
What are some common myths and misconceptions about the DSPs and playlists?
One of the common myths and misconceptions is the fact that people think Spotify curators get paid to add a track from a major label. Not the case at all! Another myth is that there’s no money in streaming. This is wrong — there actually is, but for the indie artists, there’s a long term strategy that needs to be set and implemented first. Myth number three is that all streaming services are the same. That’s also inaccurate, as there are real differences between platforms, and it fosters a different experience and demographic with each.
How do you expect playlisting to change over the next five years as the business matures?
I think playlisting is going to keep growing by the numbers, and that more curators and networks are going to be built! But we are also working with some of the newer kids on the block when it comes to breaking artists that we are having incredible success with — for example, TikTok, Snapchat and Triller campaigns as well as YouTube playlisting campaigns. These newer platforms are making up the new generation of PR services in our updated music business model.
Why should artists be outsourcing playlist plugging and not just leaving it to their distributors?
I think distributors do a great job pitching to Spotify curators directly, as most distribution companies have relationships with the Spotify office in their territory. But there is another world of playlists that are out there: the third party networks, branded playlist networks that are owned by the three majors, and third party tastemaker lists that are like the Triple J of playlists.
These playlists hunt down amazing music, which can end up being added to Spotify editorials once Spotify sees the engagement and the popularity of a record grow or when they get added to an algorithm-based list like Discover Weekly, Global top 50 or Particle Detectors.
So in order to utilize these other networks I mentioned, it’s a smart strategy to bring a playlist PR company or plugger into the mix. But there are a lot of them coming up these days, so you really need to do your homework before working out who the legitimate agencies are.
What’s the backstory to your music and career? Anything else you would like to add?
The backstory to my music career, to put it in short: I was in LA when I had a record deal with my rock/soul band, and when that wrapped up, I fell into the EDM world and went on a whirlwind of a journey and adventure being nominated for an ARIA to clocking three number 1 ARIA club records and countless Top 10s, which I was very grateful for, as that got me to this point now. I laid low for a while and worked on my craft and also my production skills, and started writing the music I genuinely love and grew up with — that is soul/R&B. Fast forward to this year, I recently signed a record deal with Soul Modern, which is a brand new subsidiary label of Central Station/Universal, and am getting geared up for my third release under my new project name “Wilsonn.”