Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and their rivals have been working hard on back-end features for labels, managers and artists. But could they be doing more?

The closing panel at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit conference in London today invited the audience of music marketers to suggest a wishlist of new features.

The session was led by Darren Hemmings, founder of Motive Unknown; Sammy Andrews, founder of Deviate Digital; and Wesley T A’Harrah, head of training and development at Music Ally.

A’Harrah kicked things off with his own wishlist. “Spotify business-to-business tools. Expansion of ad-platform tools to further APIs, such as Facebook’s advertising API, or a different tier of Spotify available to businesses so you can be logged in to multiple accounts at once, representing brands or artists, filling up playlists,” he said.

“Even Twitter, which is losing followers, has the option for you to just have multiple accounts saved on one device. And on the back of that, when we look at things like the About tab within Spotify, this is something that’s super-useful to business people. We can see the top five sources of discovery for any artists… we can see Post Malone has got about 1.3m discoveries off of Rap Caviar in the last two weeks, and the fact that this data isn’t being monetised by…”

Andrews broke in, speaking as a beta partner on Spotify’s Ad Studio product. “The features that they’re looking at rolling out there are actually great. The drilldown is US-specific, but there are loads of functions in the UK too. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few months we’re going to see Spotify’s desktop [app] change considerably to let more advertising in.”

A’Harrah said he hopes that streaming services introduce “bare minimum” ad-platform features like lookalike audiences: the ability to advertise on Spotify to fans of a similar band to the one you’re representing. But he noted that if these ads are only being served to free users, the value of their streams will be less than premium customers’ streams.

“We see a lot of returns from that platform when we’re advertising gigs,” answered Andrews, before praising Spotify’s efforts compared to rivals. “At least they’re having a crack at it! Outside of the advertising, we know that their platform could be better. But the other side of this: the data they’re doing and the potential for monetisation there is mailouts to top listeners. Which does not just include the free users… We’ve done some pre-sales directly to top fans. They see some incredible returns.”

“There is a lot of tools and potential to connect, and they are at the very early stages of it,” she added.

Hemmings talked about those other platforms. “I’m not quite so interested in Spotify as an ad platform at the moment. I’ll be more interested when it does the stuff thats applicable to me: more comprehensive insight on response. At the moment it feels like more of a platform for getting eyeballs,” he said.

“I’m much more interested in the data I can get out to learn and apply on a broader scale. The fascinating thing about all streaming services, particularly those with a free element, is you’re addressing more casual consumption… You can pick up all these people, and those sorts of insights is really useful. And the platinum example for that is YouTube… and at the bottom you’ve got Apple, who kinda give you nothing.”

“Well, it depends who you are,” said Andrews. “Say you’re a label or a manager, and you’ve deliberately gone out and got the best deal for your artist in each territory, working with four or more labels or distributors, and you want a global overview of that campaign. Good fucking luck my dear… The services will not release that data, and there are various reasons why… but that means from a marketing perspective, if we want to get that overview, we have to go around and dig that out of the individual services. And if a service hasn’t got any data or insights, you’re almost shooting blind.”

The conversation turned back to Spotify. “Arguably I would rather point someone like Spotify to YouTube and go ‘look’. I get it with Spotify, they’re a company there to make money, they’re not a charity. They have a direct listing coming up, and they need a story, and that story is they have power and control around music… Offering direct data [to marketers] isn’t a thing that is going to make investors throw money at you,” said Hemmings.

“I wish they would give us data that was genuinely actionable. At the moment, it feels a bit like vanity metrics. I’d like to get much more like Google Analytics or YouTube analytics or even Facebook’s analytics. At the moment I feel that Spotify’s service provision on that level falls short. And I have a particular bugbear with the editorial line they tend to push from time to time, which is that they’re delivering weapons-grade [marketing] tools for people like me. Because that’s simply not true.”

The panel also talked about curation of playlists, and the lack of data available for playlist-makers outside Spotify, compared to those working for the company.

“If you’re not the distributor, you haven’t got a clue who’s skipping a track or adding tracks to libraries,” said Andrews. “But as a playlist curator, if you put a track at number three in your playlist and no one wants to listen to it, that’s data you need to know. So tools for curators maybe should be looked at. But it goes back to a data access issue.”

Hemmings talked about the idea of “allowing the chaos of YouTube onto Spotify” including third-party curators having more ability to build their own audiences. “If you think of YouTube as a world where there was only YouTube deciding what YouTube wanted to see flowing through it, it would be a pretty boring world,” he said, suggesting that Spotify risks becoming exactly this kind of bottleneck.

“It’s going to start to feel a little bit like your dad’s endorsing stuff if we’re not careful. ‘Spotify thinks this is good…’” said Hemmings, who suggested that Apple music is currently showing itself more willing to promote external curators and their playlists.

“What you might find is that you do find Apple becoming more of a brand/curator-friendly space, and Spotify will either need to raise its game to match that, or lose out accordingly.”

How well are Spotify’s features to sell merchandise and tickets performing? “We’re more often than not seeing some stuff go through there now, and that’s always made a lot of sense,” said Andrews on the merch side. “And ticketing. Those two tools. We don’t see that replicated across a lot of different services. Those things should be encouraged everywhere: anywhere people are listening to our artists, they should have the opportunity to buy merch and tickets.”

The session finished with some talk about Amazon’s music ambitions. “I’m fascinated by Amazon. It’s fascinating to see the different places they’re focusing on,” said Hemmings. “I think it’s a very interesting thing for music. As Amazon and Facebook potentially try to buy into music, and maybe even try to buy Vevo, it increases the value of music, and we’ll be able to ask for more money for video views.”

“For marketing purposes, it goes back to data, and how we activate that data. Has anyone done an Easter Egg with Alexa where it releases an exclusive something?” asked Andrews. “There is definitely marketing potential around the voice-activated stuff… make no mistake as an industry, Amazon are bloody going for it. There’s all manner of things to be done. But going forward it’s about having the tools again.”

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