By Sammy Andrews, head of digital at Cooking Vinyl and owner of Sabotage New Media digital consultancy
This week, Spotify rolled out a long-awaited new feature: its Discover Weekly playlists. These gems of exploration are now nicely slotted into every user’s library on the service, and are truly an excellent addition. So take a bow, Team Spotify!
I hope we’ll see all other services follow suit. And despite Spotify telling Music Ally that seeding tracks won’t be part of these playlists, I sincerely hope that these new avenues for discovery and connection can be used properly with listening-habits data to help fans find new songs from artists they actively listen to, whether they follow them or not.
(Something Spotify’s WIll Hope and I debated on a panel at this year’s The Great Escape conference.)
Make no mistake: discovery is the key to success for music old and new on streaming services, be that via listening-habit recommendations, curated playlists, seeding, or search. And it’s search that I’d like to have a little look at today.
Last week, I noticed several friends and colleagues sharing a petition link on social networks, calling for Apple Music to show the album credits when songs were being played, rather than just the headline artist and track title.
First, this is a question for more services than just Apple Music, but second, while I’m sure we all agree that creators are absolutely in need of profile, I was dismayed at the short-sighted nature of this petition’s request.
Why? Because the new age of discovery goes so far beyond display. The true beauty and value in discovery via streaming stems from recommendation, curation and data – mountains of lovely data exploration leading to rich paths of sonic enlightenment. These are the paths that truly add value to the entire industry.
We have data coming out of our backsides in this industry, but frustratingly, we have yet to invest the resources required to join the dots. I think that it’s time to change that, and while Discover Weekly-style playlists are a step in the right direction, it’d be great to see even more development in this area by the streaming services.
If musicians and creators want to be found, heard and appreciated for their work the answer lies not in showing listeners album credits they will see briefly, but likely won’t remember or follow up. The answer is allowing them to search for and interact with the data that they are shown.
This would not only provide a platform for creators but crucially an incredibly rich new discovery route for fans and a fantastic extra dimension to the streaming experience. Something several people including Billy Bragg and myself have been calling for, for some time.
Big ask? Nah!
More valuable discovery routes = happy creators = richer consumer experience = happy consumer = more streams = more subscriptions = more revenue.
EVERYONE WINS. No-brainer, right?
Aside from manually entering the necessary data, there seems to be an obvious route worth exploring, which is currently being overlooked. Many of the digital services, including iTunes and Spotify, currently use music’s answer to IMDb – allmusic.com – to get biographies, images and info on artists.
Why, then, are they not pulling in song-credit data from the same source? Its potential to breathe new life into back-catalogue music is vast, as is the ability to give profile to the musicians who poured their blood, sweat and tears into creating our industry’s heartbeat.
With the streaming marketplace becoming ever-more crowded, and data flowing ever-more freely, I am frustrated that this has yet to be implemented, and surprised we’re not making more noise about it.
Don’t just show these credits: let people search for them, click on them and explore. Take Hal Blaine, the drummer in the Wrecking Crew, as an example. They were the session band for most things coming out of the west coast of the US back in the day. He played on more than 50 number ones, and hundreds of tracks that we know and love, but would never know it was him and the band.
Or take producers like Chris Sheldon. Right now, if I search for his name on any streaming services, I get mixes named ‘Chris Sheldon Remix’ but not any of the amazing albums he’s engineered, mixed or produced.
You see where I’m going here? In the fight for streaming supremacy, I often worry that inflating numbers and market share is wrongly prioritised over adding value to those already on board, which in itself surely creates an added hurdle to converting free users into paying subscribers.
Much of my time on conference panels these days seems to be spent debating freemium-to-premium conversion. How do we expect that to happen quicker if we allow glaringly-obvious ways to add value not only to the streaming services, but to fans and musicians, pass us by?
Music is not the only industry guilty of this tardy lag in innovation: the likes of Netflix are slow to add searches indexed by actors and directors, whereas competing (unlicensed) film-streaming services have been doing it for years, pulling data from IMDb and spitting it out in clever ways.
I’m part of a new generation in music that does not want to sit back and watch the industry quietly and slowly adapt to its full potential. I want to be part of an industry that sees that potential, and works to make it a reality, and a thriving place for all. There are many people out there like me, and with some of the most innovative companies in the world leading streaming to the massmarket, I’ve no doubt they ultimately want that too.
So… I’d like to see all streaming services and labels to embrace this idea and put time and resource into exploring and developing this and all other potential discovery routes.
We are in one of the most exciting times the industry has ever seen but If we are all to survive and indeed thrive we must collectively react, innovate and help shine lights on those talented creators who fuel the very product that makes the heart of our business beat.
Without them we are nothing, and ignoring the potential to add such a powerful tool for creators whilst enriching the consumer experience is a lazy mistake. It’s time to innovate!