There’s no hiding from it. The word is everywhere. What we’ve been told by Spotify for years and years has finally stepped into gear, and there was no second, third, fourth… we went straight into fifth, and I’m absolutely loving it.
To recap quickly on some key dates in 2015. March 30th – Tidal launched with a stage filled with some of the greatest musicians of the last two decades. June 30th – Apple Music launched with its free 3 month trial. Late June – Taylor Swift demands artists are paid for streams during this time.
Amidst all that what were the folks at Spotify up to?
In late spring, early summer the platform launched its in-app running function. On July 20th – it launched Discovery playlists. On September 9th the net was a buzz with its “Find them first” microsite – a page that pulled up all the artists you followed before they’d “made it”. My list of 13 included Lorde, Banks, Foxes and Churches – apparently I have a serious love for soon-to-be successful female singer/song-writers. The next clever trick we all saw was the “Find them next” feature. A list that intro’d me to Howling and Oh Wonder, but also reminded me of my interest in Liverpudlian Låpsley and an old find, Laura Marling. Happy days.
What I have picked up on recently is exactly how much curation is going down.
Spotify have preached this to us for the last four years. Admittedly, amongst iTunes pre-orders, beatport exclusives, fresh thinking vs old school label managers, somehow, curating and playlisting seemed to fall under the “nice but not essential” category. Not for all, but for many.
Yet somewhere between the end of last year, and our weird 2015 indian summer, it feels we’ve turned the corner. Not just in the UK, but Stateside too. Streaming is now embraced with open arms, not speculatively. Was it the inclusion of streams in the charts? Probably. But I think the threat, if you can call it that, from Apple Music, is what really got Spotify to push through the gears. The Swedish culture may be confident, but don’t mistake that for arrogance. I may be wrong, but since Apple’s streaming platform launched, Spotify curation has gone to the next level.
Only one in ten people I speak to are into Apple’s new service. But I’d say around five in ten or more are into Beats 1. That includes me. Love it or hate it, having access to regular collections pulled together by Zane Lowe and Pharrell Williams can only be a good thing for music lovers. I’m also strangely attracted to the different accents. The very American sounding young lady that presents the charts, the seriously husky dudes in NY and of course the aforementioned two just seal the deal for me.
Apple launched with musical heroes. Champions.
Spotify have supporters. Our much loved Calvin has been heavily involved with them, as has our man Kygo. But there’s no real time radio option, no person or people behind the audio that equates to the sheer magnitude of the service. And even if/when that does kick in, I’d say don’t bother. Programming a radio station is a completely separate entity, as Apple Music have no doubt discovered.
So the point here? What I’m really picking up on is the love, the thoughtful time and energy that goes into Spotify’s music curation. How they’ve been branded up and how for me, they’ve now integrated into SONOS. My audio experience at home, at the office, in the car and on train is sorted. Done.
A while back I saw a list titled “chill out”, hit play, and within minutes was receiving abuse from my facebook pals – quoting “Mysko gone Zen has he. lol.” and so on… The list had taken me to some Himalayan cloud and river sounds, or something to that effect. A year or so on, as in now, unless I’m specifically wanting a set of tracks, for example a 7min work out collection I use, I just roll with Spotify’s suggestions based on my timezone. Yes I’m a fan of “Your Morning Coffee”, but they’ve got so many areas locked down now. “A slower day”, the seasonal “Autumn Leaves”, “Mellow Beats” and if you’re into pop music like my 16 month old son, the options are endless.
I used to assume all these lists were simply built by an automated Spotify algorithm. Over the summer, I read an article in a SAS or KLM flight mag, the guy being interviewed was the creator of “Your Morning Coffee” and worked on it for a bit each day. Suddenly, the vision I had of robots running around the various Spotify HQs was replaced by not just actual people, but people who care about more than tech, streaming and so on. People who care about music. I’m not so naive as to think they don’t have their tricks to wade through the gazillions of tunes out there, but regardless, my opinion changed. For the better.
And how’s all this curating going down for Spotify? Well… on October 8th, it announced that in 10 weeks, the bespoke Discovery playlists had collectively reached one billion streams.
Not too shabby hey?