Spotify talks playlists, skip rates and NF’s Nordic-fuelled success (#SlushMusic)


“I would once and for all like to kill the myth that it’s just about something called skip rate.”

Spotify’s Nordic head of shows and editorial Daniel Breitholtz was keen to make something clear in his speech at the Slush Music conference in Helsinki today: the streaming service’s editors aren’t ruled by skip rates when adding and removing songs from their playlists.

Breitholtz said that he’s heard labels of every size talking about skip rates – Spotify defines a skip as a listener jumping away from a track less than 30 seconds in – as the main metric that matters for its programmed playlists.

“That is simply not the truth. Yes, skip-rate is a metric that we editors take into consideration on how to move on songs, but it’s just one metric out of many,” he said.

“We’re also looking at saves. How many people are taking songs from our playlists and putting them into their own playlists? How many people repeatedly listen to the same songs within the playlists? For how long are people listening to the song? What is the completion rate? What is the historical data about this artist? There’s a bunch of stuff that we take in to consideration.”

Spotify now has around 140 music editors working across the world, programming more than 4,500 of the streaming service’s own playlists, from Today’s Top Hits down to the more obscure local and/or genre-based playlists.

Breitholtz addressed another common view of Spotify: that its big playlists are controlled by individual gatekeepers.

“There is a big misconception that it’s just a one-person show, running the whole things. That’s totally not the case. We take decisions as groups regarding the bigger playlists,” he stressed. “The decision on where we put a song, in what playlists, is based on historical data, but also in all honesty on the gut feeling of the editors.”

But also on the listeners. “Every track we have is ultimately at the mercy of you the listener, the fan. It’s all about the data we get on how you listen to the song in our playlist,” said Breitholtz. “That’s the foundation from which we take all the decisions on where do we go with the song in this playlist universe of Spotify.”

He also presented a case study of how a song can move through Spotify’s playlist ecosystem. American Christian rapper NF’s ‘Let You Down’ was picked up by an editor in Spotify’s Nordics team at a point when the artist was averaging around 300k daily streams, 90% of which were from the US.

The track was placed in two of the smaller pop playlists in Spotify’s Nordic territories, with the metrics (not just skip rates, remember) instantly suggesting that people were really enjoying the song. Spotify’s editors moved it to bigger playlists, still in the Nordic region.

“Not that many people were listening to the song yet, but everyone who did loved it. We could tell from the data,” said Breitholtz. ‘Let You Down’ continued to be placed in bigger playlists, including the biggest ‘Hot Hits’ playlists in Sweden and Denmark.

“We put the track in there without the track having that many streams, because we knew the data is there: the users that have heard it are telling us they love it. This is going to go well or it could even be a really big hit,” he said.

“The performance there was also insanely good, which led to a bunch of other playlists throughout the world trying the song out, and one thing led to another and it was added to Today’s Top Hits, which is the biggest playlist in the Spotify world,” he said.

“To me, this is really the essence of the power of playlists: that an American artist, previously pretty much unknown in most parts of the world, could have a hit in the Nordics that very quickly spreads through all over the world.”

NF’s track is currently the ninth most-streamed song on Spotify globally, with more than 131m total streams so far, and the artist is now averaging 5m daily streams compared to the 300k he was getting at the start of the campaign.

“Maybe some friends at Universal Music will kick my arse for this, but all this happened with a song not ever being pitched by the record company, by the publisher, the manager, anyone. It was just a very good song that found its way through the power of playlists.”

Breitholtz also briefly talked about Spotify’s other stable of playlists: the algorithmically-personalised likes of Discover Weekly, Release Radar and Daily Mix.

“Those are based on your listening behaviours, and should mirror your music taste. If they are not working for you it’s not our fault! It’s you! How you are listening to music,” he said.

Nordic head of content partnerships, artist, label services and studios Johan Seidefors also spoke during the session, running through some of Spotify’s tools and partnership opportunities for artists: targeted emails to superfans, video exclusives, merch sales through artist profiles and so on.

Seidefors said Spotify’s ‘Fans First’ initiative, where artists’ keenest fans are invited to intimate concerts, is picking up steam, with more than 300 having run so far from the Foo Fighters, who played to 300 fans in Stockholm, to rapper Silvana Imam, who played to 70 of her biggest listeners.

“It’s not a competition, you can’t win these tickets and you can’t buy them. The only way to experience them is to be a fan,” said Seidefors.

He also highlighted Spotify’s ‘Pre-Sales’ feature, where artists can pre-sell tickets to upcoming concerts to their superfans – as identified by Spotify’s data – before a general on-sale.

One example is Finnish artist Cheek, who announced his retirement along with a farewell concert, and worked with Spotify on the pre-sale of tickets.

“As a matter of fact it was fucking amazing. He sold 16,600 tickets in a few hours. In this case the artist, off his artist page is selling 16,600 tickets straight to the fans, in a very personal way,” said Seidefors.

He also talked about the Spotify Singles initiative, where artists record exclusive live and cover tracks for the streaming service. The emphasis for the 100+ singles so far has been on the US and UK, but a purpose-built studio in Stockholm will soon ensure Nordic artists join in too.

Written by: Stuart Dredge