2013 started well for music-sharing service ShareMyPlaylists, with 1.7m monthly unique users visiting its website and apps in January – a record for the UK-based startup.
The service, which helps people discover playlists to listen to on Spotify while also sharing their own, took a step forward in January 2013 too, launching its own API for other developers to tap into its data, including charts and reviews of the 120k playlists that have been uploaded.
Music Ally talked to CEO Kieron Donoghue about his company’s growth, its evolving relationship with Spotify (and why it’s not working with its rivals), and the bigger picture around playlists as a music format.
“We’re seeing things go in the right direction, and a lot of that has come from more people using our Spotify app,” he says.
“But there’s a lot of activity on the website too. 80% of our traffic comes from Google and other search engines: people searching for terms like ‘best Spotify playlists’ and ‘Best house music’, right down to really specific things like ‘the soundtrack to Girls on HBO’. That’s where we benefit from being web-based rather than purely just a Spotify app.”
Key tasks for 2013 include making the ShareMyPlaylists site even easier to use – for example, recent tweaks to enable people to subscribe to playlists from within the site rather than pushing them out to the Spotify desktop app.
Donoghue says that ShareMyPlaylists also needs to continue honing the discovery process on its site. With more than 200 new playlists being uploaded a day at the moment, it’s a challenge to make sure the good ones can be easily found.
Spotify as a threat?
Donoghue adds that in March, ShareMyPlaylists intends to make the most of Spotify’s new discovery features when they roll out to all users.
They could be seen as a threat to ShareMyPlaylists, since Spotify’s new Follow screen and activity feed are a concerted push to make it easier for users to, well, share their playlists – as well as discover those of tastemakers that they might previously have gone to ShareMyPlaylists to find.
Donoghue says the changes will be positive for his company though. “We want to be pushed out more to Spotify users, which is what we see happening in March,” he says. “At the moment, in the [Spotify] app nobody really knows it’s there, but we’re working really hard to make sure that when you look at Spotify, you’ll see our service.”
So Spotify isn’t going to eat ShareMyPlaylists’ lunch? “Definitely not. Right from my first conversations with Daniel Ek in 2009, he made it clear they want to be a platform,” says Donoghue.
“They can’t be Rolling Stone or Billboard or ShareMyPlaylists. They can’t be experts in that type of curation. And he’s been true to his word all these years, which is really good for us. A lot of people like VCs ask ‘don’t you think Spotify is a bit of a threat?’, but it’s not in their interests.”
A big reason for those questions is the fact that ShareMyPlaylists is based solely on Spotify, with no support for rival services like Deezer, Rdio and Rhapsody (to name but three).
This is something I’ve been keen to pick Donoghue’s brains on for a while now. Isn’t ShareMyPlaylists ideally placed to be the bridge between all these services rather than tied to one? It could sit in the middle helping people discover playlists created using one service, and play them on another.
Or it could make life easier for people wanting to switch from one service to another without having to manually recreate all their playlists. Tomahawk is in that space, but ShareMyPlaylists could be too, if it desired. It seems the desire isn’t there for now though.
“Numerous times over the years we’ve been approached by lots of these services to do just that, but for us, Spotify is by far and away the best technology, best people and best platform to build on,” he says.
“Right now if we did a deal with Deezer, Rdio or Rhapsody I don’t think we’d benefit much or grow our audience. I really don’t. Maybe in 10 years time, if there’s another service the same size as Spotify, we’d look at it. But right now, I don’t realistically see how anybody’s going to gain on Spotify’s momentum.”
As someone whose startup is focused on playlists, you’d expect Donoghue to be bullish about their importance. That also means he’s keeping close tabs on how playlists are being seen (and used) within the music industry.
“If you talk to record labels especially in Sweden, they’re almost using playlists as a new format,” says Donoghue.
“Playlists are becoming more and more important: recently I saw a hip-hop playlist being advertised on a billboard in a Swedish tube station! We’ve seen the labels put a lot of effort and money behind playlists: putting a billboard up in Stockholm costs money, and they’re also advertising on the radio and on Spotify.”
Donoghue says he’d like to see more British labels experimenting with the playlist format. He praises independent firms like PIAS, The Orchard, Domino and Defective Records, but thinks major labels are “dragging their heels a little bit”.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has regularly taken pains to argue that his service isn’t hammering the final nail into the idea of ‘the album’ – pointing out several times that a significant percentage of Spotify playlists are simply full albums.
It’s fair to say Donoghue is off-message in this regard. “Spotify is making consumption of music so easy, people don’t have the attention span for albums any more,” he says. “I’d much rather get stuck into a 200-song playlist.”
Something that’s a growing area of focus for ShareMyPlaylists is its own playlists created by the company. For example, its New Releases UK playlist, which adds notable UK single releases every week – and its Top Hits UK playlist, a weekly list of the top 100 tracks in the UK.
These are now being mirrored by similar playlists for the US, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain and Australia. “We want to do it for every territory that Spotify is in,” says Donoghue.
“Especially for new singles, there are no resources out there to find them. And once you get scale – 100k, 500k, 1m followers – they’ll become a distribution channel for the labels too. Especially in places like Sweden, where streaming counts towards the charts.”
So that could become a new line of business for you? “Yes. If we had a network of playlists with over 1m subscribers, when we put a new track on we could realistically have a big impact on the chart position for that song,” says Donoghue.
“That’s where it gets really exciting for those labels, and that’s something they’ll pay a lot of money for. It’s a brand new distribution channel: retailers like HMV are going to be replaced by this sort of mechanic.”