When is an exclusive not an exclusive? When it’s a special edit of a track designed to work across multiple Spotify playlists.
‘No Reason’ is the second single from Bonobo’s ‘Migration’ album, and it lasts for seven minutes and 28 seconds. That’s reasonably restrained for electronic music, but risks being playlist poison in the streaming world, as many playlist editors prefer not to include tracks this long – and when they do, listeners often skip them.
The digital team at Ninja Tune, Bonobo’s label, therefore made the pre-emptive decision to create an edited version, trimming it down to a more manageable four minutes and four seconds as ‘No Reason – Edit’, to improve its chances of being seeded on as many Spotify playlists as possible.
“What we are finding these days is that tracks that are shorter are working better on playlists,” Marie Clausen, Ninja’s head of global digital sales, told Music Ally in an interview for our Sandbox digital music marketing report.
“’No Reason’ [is] seven-and-a-half minutes long. That is never going to work in a playlist. So like for radio where we have a radio edit, we have a Spotify edit that will just be used for playlist pitching.”
The truncated version is not appearing on download services and neither is it on physical versions of the new album; it is purely for streaming playlists.
“We have delivered the single as a two-track song so one is the original, at seven-and-a-half minutes, and the otheris four-minutes long,” said Clausen.
“For everything that is fan-facing, we are using the original version. But when I speak to an editor at Spotify, I point them towards the edited version and make sure everyone at Spotify knows about it. I played them the full song and they really loved it, but they did ask if there was a shorter version.”
Samantha Sissons, marketing manager, added that this was primarily an experiment, but that it will make its way to other streaming services like Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal and Napster.
“We are working on making it available on other streaming services,” said Sissons. “With a seven-and-a-half-minute song, there is a risk of people skipping it and that would affect how successful it is seen as being, and that affects how it goes into all the other playlists. All these things come along, and artists just need time to get used to them.”
The track went to Spotify first as that was the main streaming focus for Bonobo’s album campaign, including a direct mail from Spotify to 200,000 of the artist’s “super-fans” promoting the album and upcoming tour.
“It is important to stress that it is not an exclusive as we don’t believe in exclusives,” said Clausen. “It is something new that the artist is trying. The reason it’s not on other streaming services [yet] is that [Bonobo] just wants to test it out and see how it does. If it does well, I think it will go on all the other services too. It is definitely not an exclusive.”
She added:“Usually we would want to have it on all streaming services. In general, the same mechanisms will apply – that a shorter track will work better on playlists.”
Spotify itself has repeatedly spoken out against the kind of exclusives secured by Apple Music and Tidal, arguing that they are bad for the market and bad for consumers.
There is a wider debate here about the creative process in 2017 having to morph to fit the delivery system, rather than the delivery system having to adapt to the creative process.
The rise of the three-minute pop single in the 1950s/1960s was a legacy of both a format (the 7-inch vinyl single) and the needs of radio stations to squeeze in adverts between songs.
By the middle of the 1960s, artists were pushing back against these limitations, with Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ breaking with convention with its six-minute run-time. That set in motion a chain of events that led to the album-centric 1970s and FM radio.
Now in 2017, the growing power of playlists on streaming services like Spotify is having its own impact on music, albeit – as Clausen pointed out – in a way that’s familiar from broadcast radio.