Streaming music service Spotify has been under pressure in recent months to prove its value to artists of all sizes, not just the biggest acts. The company is hoping its new Spotlight feature will contribute to answering some of the criticism.
Spotlight will bundle music (including live sessions and other exclusives) with interviews, themed playlists and more magazine-style editorial content around artists. There’s also a dedicated Spotlight profile on Spotify, which includes a Spotlight on 2013 playlist of various artists chosen by its team.
The new section will sit under Spotify’s Browse feature, and is live already in its web player. “We’ve been looking to have a better way to call out all the great content that we’re getting and the cool new artists we’re into,” says Will Hope, Spotify’s director of label relations, in an interview with Music Ally.
He adds that Spotify has been producing exclusive content for specific artists for some time now, including Daft Punk, Avicii and Kendrick Lamar. “We haven’t had the right place in the product before to bring it together, but now with Browse we have a repository where we can highlight all the great stuff we’re doing.”
Hope says Spotify wants to work with labels and artists as early as possible in their development, noting that the company’s relationship with Haim stretches back “for the best part of a year”, even though the bands’ debut album only came out this week.
“We’ve done sessions, interviews and there are different bits of content still to come: we shot video of them on tour before they played Glastonbury, for example,” he says. “And while Lorde is a bit newer, her track did very well after being featured on Sean Parker’s playlist, and we’ve been doing some cool things for her down in Australia and New Zealand.”
Is it a bit of a stretch to describe Spotlight as a way to break emerging artists, given that Haim have been hyped for some time now, while Lorde is already one of the hottest properties – even if her rise has been meteoric? As with Vevo’s ‘Lift’ feature, it makes you wonder if this is for a certain class of emerging artist already anointed by the industry as the next big thing.
“Spotlight will become key for breaking artists and developing artists,” says Hope. “It’s a long-term arrangement: when you look at what streaming services can offer, it’s that ability to build an audience over time, and the ability to control your monetisation over time as that audience gets bigger. For new artists, it’s definitely going to be key.”
Is Spotlight an entirely-editorial thing, or more of an advertising / branding partnership with labels? How will they be chosen, in other words? Hope says Spotify intends to take a data-driven approach, seeing which artists are bubbling up on Spotify through plays and social activity.
“But it’s also key to have a collaborative approach with the artist and label. We want to be involved at the very beginning, and start helping to get that audience,” he says. “We don’t want it just to be ‘we’ve got an album, now let’s work on it’.”
For now, Spotlight is a global feature, although Hope says Spotify would “like to take this as local as we can get” in terms of featuring specific artists for specific countries, once the brand is established.
Interestingly, the UK is one country presenting a few obstacles to the new section, due to music not being available to stream there, even if it is in other countries. “Often the UK is the market that’s missing the product,” says Hope. “It was an issue putting the [Spotlight on 2013] playlist together: there were things not released yet in the UK, which makes it hard.”
Why? Hope pinpoints a “slightly different relationship with radio in the UK than in other markets: radio is still very much at the core”.
That’s clearly something already niggling at Spotify. At last month’s BPI annual general meeting, its head of label relations Kevin Brown called for an ‘On Air, On Spotify’ policy from labels in the UK, where tracks would be available to stream as soon as they’re being played on the radio, regardless of when the ‘on sale’ date is.
Hope expands on that. “If you look at the traditional radio plan for labels, it’s about creating as much buzz as you can on radio, and pushing the release date around depending on how successful you are at creating that buzz,” he says. “In the internet age, it doesn’t work like that. Streaming is a different dynamic, where you want to build this gathering momentum and get a snowball effect.”
Spotlight sits alongside another editorially-driven new feature for Spotify: its Landmark series on classic albums, which kicked off last month with a focus on Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’. And this is part of a wider trend for streaming services to invest in editorial and original content – see also Google Play’s recent YouTube documentary about The Clash.
Editorial isn’t a new thing for streaming music: WiMP in Scandinavia and Rhapsody in the US deserve credit for being there early. In 2013, though, there’s a new surge of investment in this kind of content, as streaming services look to prove they’re more than just ‘search boxes’.
“There’s a real opportunity to make streaming services and platforms a far more fan and artist-based proposition,” says Hope. “It’s not just get the music and go. And creating original content is a really good way to drive that, whether it’s live sessions, documentary series like Landmark, or the magazine-style interviews rolling out for Haim and Lorde.”