As Spotify’s press conference came to a close today, CEO Daniel Ek announced a partnership with Nike; used “incredible” and “profound” in the same sentence, then introduced D’Angelo to play live. It’s an understatement to say that the streaming service is taking the fight to Apple ahead of that company’s imminent streaming relaunch.
There were hints of Apple keynotes past throughout the event, from Ek sharing presentational duties with colleagues Rochelle King and Gustav Söderström to the keywords peppering the CEO’s script. But there was also plenty of real announcements to get our teeth into when gauging how Spotify is evolving, and how it wants to differentiate itself from rivals.
Some of those announcements had been well-trailed. There’s the addition of shortform video to Spotify, with partners including Vice Media, Maker Studios, Comedy Central, the BBC, ESPN, Nerdist, NBC and TED. There will also be “Spotify Originals” – original shows based around music, and fronted by artists including Icona Pop, Jungle and Tyler, the Creator.
Podcasts will also be part of the new Spotify, with the announcement coming just a day after Deezer announced a similar move on spoken-word content. “What is really cool about what we’re doing is the way our new content both complements and extends the core music experience,” said Ek, noting that Spotify hopes its users will “listen to more music as a result” of these new content types, not less.
Also new: a start page called Now, which will serve up contextual playlist recommendations depending on the time of day and the habits of the listener. It’s launching today in the US, UK, Germany and Sweden, with more countries to follow.
King showed off how Spotify’s mobile app – all this is very much a mobile experience – aims to fit into users’ days, complete with a Tinder-style interface to swipe between recommended playlists and non-music content. “We’re making it very intuitive and easy for you to move between your favourite music as well as videos and podcasts, and they all live in the same place,” she said.
There’s also Spotify Running, for joggers and runners, which involves serving up music whose tempo matches the user’s running pace, detected using their smartphone’s sensors. This includes “Running Originals” – six tracks that are capable of adapting themselves to the current pace of the runner listening to them.
“Running to music is actually kinda like dancing. If you’ve ever danced off-beat, it’s awkward and doesn’t feel that great. But dancing to the beat, just like running to the beat, is much more fun,” said Söderström.
He described the originals as “a completely new track format: a track that can actually play at multiple BPMs depending on your pace… where the composition itself seems to magically rearrange to fit your current pace.” He added that “we’re not trying to sneak beat-stretching past you” before confirming trance DJ Tiesto as one of the partner composers.
Spotify is working with existing partner fitness-app RunKeeper, but also Nike, which will be integrating Spotify Running into its Nike+ app. Announced the same week as Spotify’s deal with Starbucks, the company has now inked alliances with two of Apple’s (historically) key partners. It’s certainly taking the fight to Cupertino rather than waiting to be rolled over by the Beats Music relaunch.
“This is just the beginning for us. We think that music is moving beyond just linear, one-way playback. And we’re going to take this approach to many more parts of your life, very soon,” said Söderström.
The one (extended) bum note of the event was the appearance of the stars of Comedy Central’s (excellent) Broad City series, which went on so long and awkwardly that it began to verge into Tidal-relaunch-press-conference territory. Ek talking about Spotify’s growth and how it sees its role in the music industry was much more useful.
He was on the front foot. “Spotify now represents half the global market in streaming dollars, but we’re also growing our market share,” he said in his introductory speech. “Streaming is the growth in music, and Spotify is the growth in streaming.”
There was a new stat – more than 25bn listening hours since Spotify launched seven years ago – but no update on the company’s figures of 60m active users including 15m subscribers. Ek did claim that Spotify users discover artists they’ve never heard before 2bn times a month, in a section of the event clearly intended as a riposte to Tidal’s ill-advised focus on established stars at its relaunch.
Ek talked up country singer-songwriter Sam Hunt, who he said had “found more than 6m listeners on Spotify”, as well as band MisterWives, who’ve found 8m listeners.
“We’re a technology company by design, but we’re really a music company at heart: we’re started by music fans, we’re built by music fans and we’re for music fans,” said Ek. “We’re kinda obsessed with integrating music into every part of people’s lives.”
He also talked about the bigger picture: “Today, discovery and collection have really converged in the stream, and even more so it’s happening on your phone,” said Ek, adding that “The old-world analogues, the radio and the record stores, are converging more. Soon, there will only be listening, and it will be everywhere.”
He also suggested that streaming is fuelling a cultural change in those listening habits. “The whole notion of genres is changing. People don’t look at categories like hip-hop or country music any more. They’re looking at it in a more thematic way,” he said.
“If we truly want Spotify to be the soundtrack of our lives… we need it to be available to deliver the right music and experiences based on who we are what we’re doing and how we’re feeling, moment by month, day by day.”
And he ended on more Apple-ish, upbeat notes. “We’re proud of he impact we’re having on this music industry’s evolution to streaming, and we’re on an incredible growth track… And we’re really in the early stages of this profound stages of how people listen to music, and reshaping of music itself,” said Ek.
“This is a next-generation Spotify for a new generation of music fans, and it literally brings new meaning to the phrase ‘stay tuned’.”
It was a product-focused launch, so beyond the references to the two emerging acts, there was no discussion of royalties and transparency – and obviously no mention of licensing negotiations or Sony contracts – or any real detail on how all this helps Spotify move towards a profitable, sustainable business. All of which are going to be just as important in Spotify’s future evolution as impressive product features.
But the event sets things up nicely: when Beats Music launched in 2014, its executives were keen to label Spotify as a glorified search box. Today showed that in 2015 when Beats becomes Apple Music, that accusation will be a lot harder to deliver with a straight face.