Ministry of Sound boss Lohan Presencer has called for Apple Music to create a business model for third-party playlist creators, while warning fellow independent labels to beware of majors’ attempts to “manipulate” the system.
Presencer was talking in the wake of Ministry-signed artist Sigala topping the UK singles chart with his track Easy Love, fending off competition from Justin Bieber to reach number one.
“It shows that when you get a fantastic record, it still motivates people to go out and buy it. We sold 70,000 downloads last week. There are still enough people out there who want to buy singles when the great records come out,” he said.
Easy Love recorded 82,000 chart-eligible ‘sales’ last week, with the 70,000 downloads accompanied by 1.2m streams – the latter equalled 12,000 sales under the Official Charts Company’s UK singles chart formula.
The streams came mainly from Spotify, a company that Presencer has regularly criticised, and in 2013 sued for copyright infringement before settling the following year. The relationship is more positive now.
“Clearly Spotify contributed significantly to the final result. We released the record on their service two weeks ahead of the download, to ensure that the streaming numbers and additions to playlists were up to speed with the big major-owned tracks,” said Presencer.
Like a growing number of his independent peers, Presencer is thinking hard about how to navigate a streaming environment where programmed playlists on services like Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play are increasingly powerful drivers of streams.
He’s also spotting shenanigans. “The majors are expert at manipulating the playlist structure on Spotify. It’s very difficult for an indie to compete on a level playing field when majors have bought playlist companies and packed their playlists with their own repertoire,” he said.
“We had to go and rattle the cage of Spotify and encourage them to add ‘Easy Lovers’ to as many playlists as they could. Their playlists are supposedly editorially objective, and I think that looks reasonably to be the case.”
There is nothing stopping those companies from filling their own playlists with their own songs. Trade body AIM is overseeing the creation of an umbrella playlists brand for independent labels to compete, while Ministry itself could curate playlists including its own tracks.
That remains a touchy area for the company, though: its own catalogue is now on Spotify, although its compilations are not. Meanwhile, Ministry is withholding even its catalogue from Apple Music, partly in protest at the “non-negotiable” licensing agreement, and partly – according to Presencer – because it wants Apple to do more to support curators.
Presencer told Music Ally that he suggested “up to eight different options or terms” to Apple in the run-up to Apple Music’s launch, but that they were rejected. There is a nuance to this relationship, of course: Apple’s iTunes Store remains a vital distribution channel for Ministry of Sound, as shown by Easy Love.
“Of course, all of the downloads were on iTunes, so Apple is still critical to having any type of hit,” said Presencer. “But Apple’s contribution to streaming is still relatively small, evidenced by the fact that it’s still possible to have a number one without being on Apple Music.”
What’s not possible is for Ministry to make money from its compilations – where the majority of tracks’ streaming rights belong to other labels – on Apple Music. Or on Spotify and other streaming services, for that matter. Apple Music’s “curators” section includes playlists from Resident Advisor, DJ Mag and NOW among others, but the business relationship is unclear.
“Music services who espouse the value of curation, and their support of independent labels, need to put their money where their mouth is,” said Presencer.
“We’ve established ourself as the best in the world at selecting dance music, whether it be in our club, on our label or on our compilations. Surely that has a value, and is not something that comes for free?”
“The major labels have no interest in exploring this because the model that they have promoted values content ownership alone. So it is up to the Apples and Spotifys of the world to help us find a way through, if they really mean what they say when they tell us that they want to.”
With Easy Love available on Spotify but not on Apple Music, is that a sign that Presencer thinks the former is more likely to deliver on this front?
“Not really. Spotify have not established a model for valuing curation, and as such our compilations will not appear on their service. They don’t seem to be making any moves to rectify that situation. I am more hopeful about Apple,” he said.
“They make the right noises and say they want to help, but they now need to step up to the mark. I think Apple have the ability to do things differently, because they’re the richest company in the world and because they can make unique creative decisions. They just need to focus on the problem and help us try to solve it. Spotify is more difficult: it’s a much more marginal business, with no room for manoeuvre.”
Presencer said he would like to see both rightsholders and streaming services recognising the value of external curators – the implication being that either (or both) might set aside a portion of their streaming revenues for those third parties.
“Compilations help people to discover music, and if people are following compilation brands on streaming services, hypothetically that is incremental revenue,” he said.
“Ideally we would like repertoire owners to take a view on the value of being on compilation playlists, and we would like music services to take a view on the benefits of having well-known curators on their services.”
Further reading: Flipping the playola debate for streaming music playlists