Spotify listeners—ever wonder who’s behind creating the R&B/Soul playlists? Mjeema Pickett, Spotify’s Global Programming Head for R&B, serves as the curator for the most soulful playlists on Spotify including Are & Be, Gold Edition, and Soul Coffee, which generate over 2 million streams per month.
Prior to joining Spotify, Pickett programmed music videos on VH1Soul for 10 years and became the director of music for both VH1 and VH1Soul in 2012. During her tenure, she oversaw the development and creation of music video playlists that aired on the channel. Before that, she had a long stint in radio, where she really dug in and began to develop her expertise. Her ongoing passion and knowledge for R&B and Soul music helped to propel the careers of many artists.
I sat down with Pickett at the music streaming service’s NYC office to get the details on artist discovery and how she curates some of the most popular playlists on Spotify.
What is your process in discovering new artists? Do artists pitch you directly?
I use different kinds of ways. I look at my social media to see what people are talking about, and I’ll also go to blogs just to stay up with everything.
I’ve been in the business so long. There may be some kind of middle person to make the introduction, like a radio promotions person I knew from my radio days or a publicist that I knew from working at VH1.
You stumble across a song that peaks your interest. What’s next?
I’ll listen and think about what playlist the artist could fit in. I manage around 25 playlists. Some songs that may fit the ‘Soul Coffee’ playlist may not fit into ‘Gold Edition’. A new artist could go into ‘The Newness’ but the song won’t fit into ‘Chilled R&B’ I go into evaluating the song or artist by looking at the playlist hypothesis.
Full stop. Let me explain what the hypothesis is according to the Spotify curator. The hypothesis sets the stage for the mood and experience for the end user/listener.
How do you determine the hypothesis?
With R&B, it’s pretty much a feeling. R&B and Soul is a mood. It gets you going.
For instance, if you’re going to curate R&B playlists, you have to have the good throwback playlists. That’s a given. People love their throwbacks; people love the memories. We curate playlists like I love my 90s and the 80s. I also know that you have to have your slow jams. (Folks do love the slow jams.)
But then there’s ‘Soul Coffee’. I love that playlist because you can sit down at home, have coffee, work or chill to it. It’s just good quality music. It’s the new good stuff, but I sprinkle some old hits in there too.
Sidenote: Pickett refers to ‘Soul Coffee’ as the urban coffeehouse playlist and it’s the perfect description. That’s what she envisions for all of the playlists—to match perfectly the mood with the music.
Even with ‘Soul Lounge,’ it’s great for chilling; you know, you may not listen to it while getting ready in the morning but maybe during happy hour, or when you get home from work and you’re winding down or just hanging with your friends.
Can you tell us about the testing process after you decide to add an artist to the playlist?
We get research instantly—that’s the cool thing about Spotify that is different from my years in TV and radio. In radio and TV, you have to wait a week for call out research or different types of reports. But with the data analytics we use here, we can find out within a day if a song is working; we know how many people skip it, we know how many people listen, and how long they listen. We can see all the activity—on the playlist as a whole or individual songs.
So how long will you leave a song like on a play to test it out?
It depends if I see potential. It’s really case-by-case. A song might be a little new, so you want to give it a chance to breathe or people to get familiar with it. Or 80 percent of listeners skip it, so you know it’s not working.
Case in point—Check out the Spotify #2016Wrapped listing. The data shows the most popular songs and artists on the platform.Image: Spotify
Pickett is excited about what’s to come next year for Spotify. A few developments are in the works, but as I listen to Pickett, the focus is all about the end user, as curator access to instant feedback continues to evolve the listening experience. Check out some of the R&B playlists on Spotify and see for yourself.