When I was a teenage musician, I used to cut corners in pursuit of income. I'd practice the minimum amount possible to justify the pittance I negotiated for a gig. Every time I'd reach out to my listeners, I'd ask them to pay for something.
The most common way I'd try to do that was to play a different gig every month and invite the same people. And I'd play the same music, missing opportunities to be interesting and valuable. No wonder they didn't tell their friends about me.
You must provide your audience with value and only then will you grow with their word-of-mouth. If you talk to your audience like they're a stone from which you're trying to squeeze value, you jeopardize your relationship.
Unfortunately, I see artists getting this wrong when they ask for Spotify pre-saves. Before we address this problem head-on, let's lay out exactly what a pre-save is.
What is a pre-save?
A pre-save is a software integration. Distributors offer it; DistroKid's is Hyperfollow, CD Baby's is Show.co, etc. The pre-save runs automatic actions on a streaming service account—for our purposes, Spotify—ahead of your upcoming release. On release day, the distributor takes control of the pre-saver's account, follows you with their account, and saves your new music.
Spotify itself does not recognize pre-saves; the distributor merely waits until release day and performs automated actions.
A pre-save just locks in a release-day save (and follow). If you tell anyone to save your music and to follow you on release day, you've accomplished the same result. Therefore, pre-saves provide your audience with no unique value.
That's a problem, because when you ask for pre-saves on social media, you sound like you're trying to grab value from your audience.
Every time you post about pre-saves, you're probably treating them the wrong way.
I have two case studies. The first is Matlen Starsley Band, who use Facebook as their main social channel. There, they asked their audience to pre-save on Facebook about once a week for a five-week period leading up to April 8th, 2021.
First, imagine what else the band could have accomplished together with their Facebook audience in five weekly moments. You can surely come up with more engaging ways to build a rapport than making a repetitive request.
They also asked with an email on March 25th, 2021:
"If you have a moment we would appreciate you giving the song a pre-save [...] each pre-save gives us a boost with regards to the dreaded algorithms."
When you pre-save, you're helping boost the album in the Spotify algorithm and raise the chances of my music getting a feature spot in editorial playlists!
The assumption is that Spotify will "boost" releases that earn more saves. If that's true, why waste your time asking for pre-saves over multiple weeks—why not spend that time doing valuable stuff with people and ask your then highly-engaged audience for saves on release day?
These artists must believe that their audience will not otherwise save and follow the music on release day. That greatly concerns me: it suggests that these artists have less faith in their ability to offer value than they do in software automations.
Pre-saves are low-confidence, low-trust communication. Dangerously, asking for them feels like selling, but it's not real sales behaviour.
Pre-saves are fake sales
When you get a pre-save, you feel like you've made a sale, but nothing of value changes hands. Even getting an email address doesn't solve this problem, because the pre-saver hasn't indicated anything about what kind of email they want to receive from you.
When you stick your neck out to sell something, it must be something valuable that you, and your audience, believe in. That transaction will be enjoyable for everyone and will lead to word-of-mouth momentum.
Pre-saves aren't that. They waste your time leading up to the release, distracting you. They make you ask your audience to do something pointless.
Let's stop doing pre-saves. Instead, let's focus on being valuable most of the time and doing valuable transactions at the right time.