Cari Fletcher still remembers the moment in 2015 when she got discovered, as show business aficionados like to say.
The 25-year-old, New Jersey-born pop singer was working at a music publisher, helping to scope out independent artists, when Spotify featured one of her tracks. The music streaming service had splashed an image of her face across the cover of its New Music Friday section, which highlights new music releases.
When Fletcher’s boss saw it, he did a double take. “He was like, 'Hey, this bitch really looks like you,'” Fletcher recalled.
Fletcher told the story of her tech-enabled, meteoric rise on stage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference on Monday in Aspen, Colo. She also offered some advice to other independent artists aspiring to break out.
“Discovery is absolutely everything,” said Fletcher, whose fans know her by her surname. “Playlisting,” meaning getting one’s song featured in a bundle of like-tunes on a music streaming service like Spotify, “is everything for a new artist.”
When Fletcher’s “War Paint” made it to the Spotify’s top ten chart, it put her on the same playing field as superstars Selena Gomez and Arianna Grande. Spotify’s choice to shine a spotlight on Fletcher “gave me industry recognition and put me closer to mainstream exposure,” she said.
“Streaming really broke down a lot of those barriers for artists,” Fletcher continued, citing the successes of other recent viral hit-makers such as Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X. “The ability to release music on a global scale in real-time at fast rates is so life-changing.”
The revenue from streaming enabled Fletcher to remain an independent artist—unsigned with any music label—for years, she said. Creating a global fanbase first also gave her leverage when she ultimately negotiated a contract with Capitol Records last year, she said. (She inked the deal in part to help increase her radio distribution.)
Alex Norström, Spotify’s chief premium business officer, who spoke on stage beside Fletcher at the Aspen St. Regis Hotel, summarized the evolution of payments in the music business. When CDs reined, there was one product and one price point, he said. Same thing for mp3 downloads on iTunes. But now, with so-called freemium services like Spotify, which use a combination of advertisements and premium subscriptions to make money, there’s a chance for millions of listeners to hear an artist before they pay out a cent.
“For an artist like Fletcher, there’s huge potential in looking at things beyond sales and subscriptions,” Norström said, mentioning alternatives such as tipping and a la carte micropayments.
Andrew Nusca, Fortune’s digital editor and moderator of the session, inquired about Fletcher’s income.
“I’m in Aspen so my reference for baller money is quite different from the people who live here,” Fletcher said. “I’m a baller on a budget.”
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—Analyst: Expect more tech regulation despite declining user privacy concerns
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