Is music-streaming the new radio? At least one Spotify executive has escalated the idea to declare radio’s obituary.
“Radio is of the past – it’s not relevant,” said Austin Kramer, the global head of dance & electronic music at Spotify, during a panel on playlists at Paris Electronic Week. “We are getting information [on tracks] 24 hours after their placement [on playlists]. Radio can’t do that.”
The former SiriusXM staffer added: “Being from radio, it’s sad to say, but that’s really the truth of it. There are certain companies in the US like CBS that say they do look at Spotify. I think it’s just a matter of time before radio either adopts that philosophy and admit they are looking at things like Shazam and Spotify, or they die.”
Speaking on the same panel was Emmanuelle de Hosson, digital account manager at Warner Music France. She said that not only is radio being trumped by streaming on a label promotion level, but that the shift towards streaming in France could undermine the quota system that has previously defined French radio (whereby a defined percentage of tracks played have to be by French acts and another percentage sung in French).
“It is really changing at the moment because before you really had to have a single playing on NRJ [the country’s major top 40 station], for example, to have a hit,” she said of the French market which has recently added streaming data to the charts for the first time. “That’s still true, but not entirely. Now we have playlists, we have more space to expose our tracks. On radio, they cannot play all your catalogue.”
She continued, “It’s really a new way to work on promo because sometimes, and it has happened this year for Warner, you can have a track that is not played by radio but you can have success on streaming. So now you can take that [evidence] to push it on radio. That is really a new way to work with promo – as it works contrary to how we did before. Radio in France has to push the local repertoire, but in streaming you see you have more and more international [repertoire]; so that changes how we work catalogue, too.”
Beyond the central point about streaming’s growing importance and, perhaps, radio’s shrinking importance in some respects, both Kramer and de Hosson expanded on how playlisting strategies are being used to build audiences and introduce new acts.
“We are not just putting Warner music into the Warner playlists because [listeners] need all catalogues to go into playlists,” said de Hosson. “You are building a playlist and you want to have the most subscribers and streams on your playlists. When you have a huge playlist, then you can push the emerging acts into it. But it has to fit with the playlist. That is very important.”
Introducing new tracks to playlists has to be handled carefully and closely monitored and repositioned in the running order of the playlist accordingly. In the days when compilation CDs were dominant, Queen would only license their music on the condition that it was track one and disc one, for example. But hyping a new track on a playlist and pushing it to the top of a popular playlist could end up killing it.
“If you add a track to a playlist you can very slowly move it up the playlist so you can slowly increase the streams,” suggested de Hosson. “If it’s an emerging artist, you cannot push it at the top of the playlist. As a label, you usually want the number one track on a playlist; but if you have a [new] track at the top and you get a lot of skips, so it’s not a good decision. You have to wait for the right time to have your track at number 1 just to avoid that skipping and to maximise the streams.”
Kramer said that new acts believe this is their fast track to success and he has to disabuse them on this notion, suggesting that a slow, but steady, build is the only way to go.
“What I am always amazed at is all these DJs ask for the top placement in a playlist but that’s actually detrimental to their success and the longevity of the record,” he said. “If you force it down people’s throats, it better have been justified by data. That is what we live and die by. I can’t just do a playlist by myself and not be justified by data.”
He added that putting a new track at the top of a big playlist “gives you higher streams but it also gives you higher skips. You are forcing the listener to make a decision within 30 seconds; that’s not really fair to a new artist. Maybe [a new track] can sit at the top in a smaller pop list just for kicks, but it’s really not helpful for the record.”
Skips, then, are streaming music’s kryptonite. Against this, getting users to save tracks to their own collections is the holy grail as this is how new tracks end up getting multiple plays.
“There are more saves on a record when it’s popular obviously; but if it’s on one of our main playlists then it gets saved like crazy,” said Kramer. “This could be the users hitting the plus sign on the client or dragging the track into their own playlists, which is highly beneficial. That is what you want as an artist.”
Kramer also revealed how a new track can be accelerated up a playlist, which involved Spotify staff keeping a keen eye on play data. He cited the example of Gryffin’s ‘Whole Heart’ that this week started to catch fire on the streaming service, saying how he has been monitoring its performance on the electroNOW playlist (which has 3.15m followers).
“‘Whole Heart’ was lingering at the 42nd or 43rd slot for the last two weeks and now today, based on last week’s data, it has climbed 25 spots,” he said. “I have never seen that type of growth before.”