Snapchat and music: ‘We ultimately want artists to be compensated for their work’


How is Snap, Inc working with artists and labels on music campaigns? The parent company of Snapchat hasn’t talked publicly often about its music strategy, but its VP of partnerships Ben Schwerin gave a keynote at the Midem conference in Cannes tonight, accompanied by Geffen Records president Neil Jacobsen. The pair were interviewed by Billboard and Forbes journalist Cherie Hu.

“Really our business is about empowering people to express themselves, and very early on we saw that artists like Ariana Grande, Calvin Harris and DJ Khaled were using Snapchat to connect with their fans in a very personal way,” said Schwerin. “55% of our audience is under 25. That’s a demographic that’s increasingly hard to reach anywhere else, and when we see these artist stories… it really feels like an ephemeral, mobile version of these iconic rock documentaries [from the past].”

Jacobsen talked about the way artists have let their guard down on Snapchat, and communicated “I look at Snap in a lot of the ways I’d look at MTV. It feels the same as MTV did to me in the 90s: it’s a young demographic, and being able to get to a user base like Snap’s, where it understands that under-25 demographic, much like I feel we understand that demographic, is really special.”

He added that there’s a lot of talk about streaming at Midem 2018. “But for me, the future of this business lies in augmented reality. I’m really trying to get in front of what that space is going to look like, and what it’s going to be for my artists… the lens, and how they’re able to play with that toy, which is such a fun thing that they don’t think much about, but is so powerful… That is everything to me.”

3bn snaps are created every day on Snapchat, but what role is it playing around music and superfans? “We really believe in the power of live experiences, particularly live music,” said Schwerin, noting that AEG and Live Nation were two of Snap’s earliest partners. Geofiltered lenses have been part of that. “Drake came to us and said ‘I want to create unique filters over all my shows’ – I think it was 50 shows on the tour,” he added. “I used to work with U2, so I was on tour with them for a couple of years, collecting these beautiful tour posters… and I sort of think of what we’re doing as being that experience for a new generation.”

Jacobsen talked about DJ Snake launching a sticker pack, while Jacobsen said Snap is always open to trying new ideas with music. “We hate saying no,” said Schwerin. “We’re fortunate enough to have a really talented group of engineers and product designers who can make these things spring to life.”

The pair were asked for the tangible impact of Snapchat campaigns: do they translate to streaming royalties or ticket sales? “In a way that almost nothing else does,” said Jacobsen. “Snapchat is global: it’s not a geo-fenced thing… it happens everywhere… I’ll put a global Snapchat lens on the table, and will watch it explode. We’re top 10 in Shazam in 35 countries in 10 seconds flat!”

Schwerin talked up the power of musical lenses, and tied that into talk within the music industry about “the democratisation of distribution… but we really care about scarcity. If we can highlight a couple of songs every week, and make them available to all of our users around the world, we can really make a big impact… A third of our community uses lenses every day… People talk about augmented reality a lot, and sometimes it sounds like a tech demo in search of a use case. But we’ve said we’re going to use augmented reality because it’s emotional, it’s fun, it puts a smile on your face, and that’s what you want to share with your friends.”

Hu brought the conversation back to the idea of scarcity. Can independent or DIY artists get involved with the company on a partnership basis? Schwerin plugged Snap’s Lens Studio, which people can use to design their own AR lenses for Snapchat, and suggested that this can be a powerful tool for independent artists. “Why this has worked so well in music is that musicians are visual artists. When I think of Nirvana and Guns’n’Roses I think about the album covers or the videos on MTV as much as the music,” he said. “You can’t separate the two.”

Jacobsen showed off a lens created by an emerging artist signed to Geffen, Yungblud, who drew how he wanted it to look on paper, before it was turned into a Snapchat lens. “You can’t do it for them, it can’t be handed to them: it’s the great creators that I think are going to cut through in the future… He designed it himself!”

Facebook now has user-generated content licensing deals for music, which include Instagram. Could those kinds of deals be in Snapchat’s future too? “We have over the past couple of years built strong relationships with rightsholders, and those are continuing to evolve,” said Schwerin

“We’d like to have music be an even bigger part of the app. And we’ve also been an artist-friendly company from the beginning – we’re based in LA!… We ultimately want artists to be compensated for their work. We’ll see where this goes. Broadly we want to continue to build stronger relationships with rightsholders, and we want to see how music evolves on Snapchat.”

Written by: Stuart Dredge