Spotify is holding an online ‘Stream On’ event today, to announce… well, we’re not quite sure what the company is announcing, but we’re expecting some new product features; updates on how its tools for artists and ‘two-sided marketplace’ is evolving; plenty of podcasts talk and… well, we’ll find out.
Stick with us, and you will too (and you can watch the full thing via the embedded video below). We’ll be updating this post in reverse-chronological order during the event, then flipping it back to chronological afterwards.
11.10 EST: The stream kicked off with clips of artists saying how much they love Spotify (surprise!) before CEO Daniel Ek’s introduction. “In 2006, the music industry was collapsing. Piracy was killing it,” he says in the historical segment. “15 years later, we are more committed than ever. We still believe in audio first, we still want to be the soundtrack to your life… Our platform is wired for connection. It’s connecting listeners with the audio they love, and connecting creators with the fans who’ll find meaning in their art. And who won’t just follow their career, but will sustain it.”
Ek describes the last decade and a half as “an audio renaissance… and what it is not is a restoration. We’re moving forward, not turning the clock back. People love to look back fondly on the record industry of two decades ago, the era of the record store and FM radio. A time before piracy. I understand the nostalgia, I get it… but looking back, what really strikes me is how limiting it was. The amount of music you could discover back then was limited by shelf space and floor space; by the physical distribution capabilities of music companies, by the personal preferences of a radio DJ; and of course by where you lived and how much you could afford to spend.”
11.15 EST: “More creators are creating and succeeding than ever before,” continues Ek. “20 years ago the music industry was a pretty restrictive club… Back in 2002, just over 30,000 albums were released in the US, and only 8,000 sold more than 1,000 copies, representing more than 98% of sales of new releases. By comparison, in 2020, 1.8 million albums were released on Spotify in the US, and six times as many albums represented 98% of the streams for these releases. So it’s not just the possibility that more artists can be heard by a global audience. It is that more artists are being heard. This means that meaningful income is flowing to more artists than ever before.”
11.18 EST: This is Ek making his pitch for Spotify as a helper for artists and the music industry alike. “With streaming we’ve helped the global music industry go from contraction to growth. In 2019, total revenue of the recording industry was just over $20bn, and more than half that revenue, $11.4bn, came from streaming,” says Ek. Spotify paid out more than $5bn in royalties in 2020, he adds. A new stat, we think.
Spotify had eight million creators on its platform at the end of 2020, double the total in 2018. “I believe that by 2025 we could have as many as 50 million creators on our platform, whose art is enjoyed by a billion users around the world. And that’s not a prediction or a goal. It’s really both a challenge and a great opportunity.”
11.20 EST: Ek repeats Spotify’s ‘giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art’ corporate mission – which, keen mathematicians will have twigged, may be only a fiftieth of the creators uploading stuff to its platform. And now news! Spotify is launching in new countries in the coming days, although the details are coming a little later in the presentation.
11.25 EST: Next up is Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content and advertising business officer, who quickly hands over to co-heads of music Marian Dicus and Jeremy Erlich, and a segment on Spotify’s playlists. And another new stat: “Today, there are over 60,000 new tracks delivered to our platform every single day,” says Erlich. “Last year we added 76,000 artists to our playlists for the very first time. And people discover artists they’ve never heard before “16bn times a month”. Dicus talks about Spotify’s Radar programme to promote new artists then: its first year included 175 artists.
11.30 EST: Erlich talks up Spotify’s marketing programs with artists – cue shots of billboard ads – before Dicus talks about some of the tools. Enhanced albums first, complete with K-Pop stars Blackpink in an interview clip enthusing about the video clips and canvas animations accompanying their last album. The album was streamed more than 1.7bn times on Spotify. Dicus talks about Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish as other pioneers of the format, before moving on to Spotify’s tools for songwriters (which we’ve written about recently).
“Not only do we want our listeners to discover new music, we also want to help artists connect with and grow their fanbases,” she says, introducing a new feature: ‘Spotify Clips’. Essentially Instagram stories on Spotify. “We’ve been testing this feature and we cannot wait to roll it out to all of you.”
11.35 EST: News: Spotify is finally launching a hi-res audio tier. Erlich: “Later this year we’ll be launching a new subscription offering, Spotify HiFi.” Tidal and Deezer’s branding teams are going to be throwing shoes at their computer screens at this point. But Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas are on that screen saying how brilliant the new tier is. Don’t throw shoes at Billie Eilish!
11.40 EST: Charlton Lamb from Spotify’s marketplace team is up next, to talk about tools for artists, starting with the Soundtrap online music studio. Including its educational side. “Today, there are tens of thousands of teachers worldwide that trust Soundtrap to enhance existing programs as they educate the next generation of creators,” says Lamb, before moving on to the SoundBetter marketplace for musicians, producers, songwriters and designers.
11.45 EST: It’s a whistlestop tour of Spotify’s key execs, with Ostroff back to talk about podcasts. “Podcasting is more than a decade old, but where others saw the medium as an afterthought, we saw extraordinary creative and unrealised monetisation opportunities.” FIRST JAB AT APPLE if you’re playing a Spotify launch event drinking game… “We knew we could transform the podcast industry the way we did with music.”
But Ostroff hands the virtual mic on to Courtney Holt, head of studios and video, to talk about Spotify’s original podcasts strategy. Well, to introduce a clip of podcasters saying (surprise! again!) how much they love Spotify. And then Lydia Polgreen, MD of Spotify’s Gimlet subsidiary takes up the story. News: Spotify is taking sports network The Ringer global, and producing lots of local-language editions of existing shows from its studios. “We’re also growing our fiction podcasts, making more movies for your ears,” she says. Spotify is also expanding its SoundUp program to unearth and mentor emerging, diverse podcasters.
11.50 EST: Now some details on how DC Universe podcasts will be coming to Spotify, from David Goyer, the executive producer. Batman Unburied will be a “deep dive into Batman’s unconscious mind, into his dream state” complete with surround-sound experimentation. Goyer promises it will be “nightmarish”, with villains sounding like they’re leaning over you and whispering in your ears.
11.58 EST: Ostroff, meanwhile, talks up Spotify’s new ‘shows with music’ format, its podcasting analytics, and its Anchor app for creating podcasts. Anchor co-founder Michael Mignano (‘head of podcaster mission’ is his job title now) pops up to talk about that. “In 2020, eight out of every ten new podcasts on Spotify were created with Anchor. That’s more than a million new shows launched in the past year,” he says.
And – this could be a drinking game trigger event perhaps, but you’d be blootered before the end of the stream – he hands over to another exec: Sara Lerner, head of strategy for podcast formats, to talk about new Anchor features. A partnership with WordPress to “enable new Anchor creators to quickly and easily turn their written content directly into podcasts… and in the coming months, Anchor is also going to enable more creators to add video to their podcasts”.
There are also going to be features for more interactivity between podcasters and their listeners. “This is a game-changing step for us,” promises Lerner. “Things like polls and Q&As that creators will be able to publish onto their podcast episodes… to get real-time communication from their listeners, directly on Spotify”.
12.05 EST: Chief R&D officer Gustav Soderstrom now (drink! Maybe some water…) says that every 24 hours more than 50k hours of content get uploaded to Spotify. “It would take a person five years to listen to what’s uploaded in that single day.” And he repeats Ek’s claim that by 2025 Spotify thinks it will have 50 million creators on its platform. “Abundance! It’s one of the best things about Spotify: an entire world of audio all in one place. But abundance can overwhelm, with an endless sea of content to explore and only limited time int he day, listeners today face a paradox of choice.”
Soderstrom says tackling this is “all about personalisation… every day, half a trillion events, whether they’re searches, listens, likes or countless other interactions, take place on Spotify, powering and guiding our machine learning system”. He also makes the case for Spotify’s recommendation algorithms not just “looking in the rear mirror” to serve up music and podcasts that sound like things you already like. “We’re building technology that guides the listener out of their comfort zone towards new music and podcasts that retain them, and make them happier over time, even if that would mean less listening in the moment.”
12.10 EST: New playlist features coming this year. “We will add functionality that updates your playlists dynamically. They will become living, breathing collections of music that are fresh and fit your tastes. And we’ll expand our playlists of ‘made for you’ playlists so you have more options to choose from tailored to your mood and interest,” he says.
Some of those new playlists are shown on-screen: an expansion of its Daily Mix family to include ‘Latin Mix’, ‘Indie Mix’, ‘2000s Mix’ and ‘EDM Mix’ – i.e genres and decades – as well as a ‘SZA Mix’ that suggests artists will also get the personalised playlist treatment. Meanwhile, Spotify is working on podcast recommendation tech that will understand the content of shows – e.g. to help people who are searching for ‘cooking’.
12.16 EST: Charlie Hellman from Spotify’s artist tools team is up next, to talk about Spotify for Artists. “Today, more than one million artists and their teams are using Spotify for Artists every month. That means artists representing nearly 85% of all the music streamed on Spotify are on the platform,” he says. Stats to remember: one million artists account for 85% of Spotify streams.
Hellman has some news too. The Canvas feature is now available to all artists – it’s been an invitation-only thing until now. Meanwhile, Spotify’s US-only ‘Marquee’ tool for advertising albums on-platform is soon opening up. “In the coming months we’ll launch a self-serve buying experience in Spotify or Artists, enabling teams to book campaigns as easily as they update their profile. It will start in the US, and this summer we will expand Marquee outside North America,” he says. The UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are first on the list.
12.20 EST: Hellman talks about ‘Discovery Mode’ – the feature where artists or labels can pay to have songs surfaced in Spotify’s radio and autoplay features, in exchange for a lower royalty rate. That caused some controversy when announced, so it’s interesting to hear Hellman’s claim today: labels taking part in the tests have “been able to find new listeners and grow audiences for artists on their roster: during pilot testing, on average Discovery Mode has helped these labels grow streams by 30%, resulting in higher royalty payments for artists opted into the test”.
12.30 EST: Ostroff returns. “Today, more artists are earning more on Spotify than ever before. It’s plain to see when you look at the numbers… Success should be determined only by the popularity and quality of the artist and their music, not by who you know,” she says. “57,000 artists represent 90% of monthly streams on the platform. That number has quadrupled in just six years… Over the last four years, the number of recording artists whose catalogues generated more than $1m a year across recording and publishing is up over 82% to more than 800 artists… and the number generating more than $100,000 a year? That’s up 79% to more than 7,500 artists.”
She adds that nearly 370,000 artists have featured tickets or merchandise on their Spotify profiles “and looking ahead we’re going to focus on powering that revenue stream too”. The stream cuts to some artist clips talking about making sustainable money on Spotify – notable, because this is one of Daniel Ek’s bugbears: the lack of artists saying positive things about their streaming income. Lauv, Cautious Clay, mxmtoon and Alec Benjamin are the featured musicians.
12.35 EST: Ostroff: “We predict that by 2025, from streaming alone the music industry will surpass the peak that it reached at the turn of the century. The music industry is growing again, and it’s growing in large part because streaming is growing. And streaming is growing because Spotify is growing, bringing more and more revenue into the industry.”
She talks up Spotify’s plans to make more from advertising alongside subscriptions in the years ahead. Digital audio listening is matching digital video viewing in the US, but advertising spend on digital audio has yet to catch up, she says. “Podcast consumption has been based on downloads. Advertisers are flying blind, they have no idea if their ad was actually heard. Spotify has shifted podcasting from downloads to streaming, which unlocks that missing data.”
Spotify’s ‘streaming ad insertion’ (SAI) tool has been a big part of its strategy around that. Ostroff says that Spotify’s recent acquisition of ad-tech firm Megaphone is helping it to scale this. “This year we’ll begin to expand streaming ad insertion to leading Anchor creators,” she adds, announcing something called the Spotify Audience Network. “A first of its kind podcast advertising marketplace where advertisers can buy across a network of original, exclusive and independent podcasts.” Ostroff adds that this network will run “both on and off Spotify”.
12.40 EST: Anchor’s Mignano has more news: an upcoming beta test for podcasters using its app to launch “paid podcast content”. And he then hands swiftly on to Alex Norstrom (drink!) the chief freemium business officer. He talks about Spotify’s various subscription tiers, and announces 36 new languages for Spotify’s service: “Romanian, Hindi, Swahili…”
And here comes the expansion announcement: more than 80 new countries are getting Spotify in the coming days across Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria are three called out by Norstrom for their rapidly-growing internet-using populations. He also talks about Spotify’s ambition to reach more than one billion users.
“Every market we expand into, and every innovation we develop, every connection we facilitate, and really everything we do, we do for creators and their fans,” he says.
12.50 EST: Ek is back to wrap up, and talk up the “explosion of the creative economy” in audio. “We decided early to go all in on audio,” he adds. “The opportunity in audio is absolutely massive. It is so much larger than anyone can even imagine. For the first time ever we have the technology to connect the world through audio…”
Oh, and he ups the ante for Apple’s next keynote by handing over to Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama for the finale. No, not a duet (imagine!) – a conversation from their newly-announced podcast. It’s riffing on the odd couple dynamic. “He’s a white guy from a small town in Jersey, I’m a black guy of mixed race born in Hawaii…” It’ll be a Spotify exclusive, presumably as part of the existing deal with Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company.
And then an encore performance from Justin Bieber with some whizzy visuals. You can watch it below! Let’s hope it doesn’t get replaced with an accordion folk tune suddenly…
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