Spotify has been coming under pressure over its ‘Discovery Mode’ test, which lets artists choose tracks to get a promotional boost in its autoplay and radio features, in return for a discounted royalty rate. Yesterday, the streaming service hailed some supporters from the distributors world: Believe and its TuneCore subsidiary, as well as DistroKid.

Spotify’s webpage for Discovery Mode is highlighting endorsements from Believe CEO Denis Ladegaillerie (“highly innovative and beneficial for independent artists”); DistroKid CEO Philip Kaplan (“a groundbreaking music marketing tool because it doesn’t require any upfront budget”); and TuneCore co-head and chief revenue officer Andreea Gleeson (“maximises the reach of the music, based on the merit of the music – not because a gatekeeper said so”).

There is also a case study of how Believe used the tool for 33 tracks by Argentinian artist Natalie Perez over three months. “14 performed exceedingly well and helped Natalie grow her daily listening base in the U.S. and Mexico by 57% across Spotify,” claimed the company.

As always, it’s very important to look at the wider context here. Last month two members of the US Congress wrote to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek with some pointed questions about Discovery Mode, questioning whether it might “set in motion a ‘race to the bottom’ in which artists and labels feel compelled to accept lower royalties as a necessary way to break through an extremely crowded and competitive music environment”.

Spotify was given until 16 June to respond, although as far as we can tell, that response has not yet been made public. Pending that, yesterday’s flurry of endorsements is clearly part of Spotify’s campaign to pitch Discovery Mode as a boon to the independent music sector.

However, here too there has also been opposition, with US indies body A2IM coming out strongly against the tool recently. “Discovery Mode allows money to be a deciding factor as to which music is surfaced to listeners. Discovery Mode tilts what had been a level playing field for artists. Discovery Mode misleads listeners who believe they are being presented with music based exclusively on their established preferences,” it claimed.

The fact that Spotify is marshalling support and amplifying the views of Believe, TuneCore and DistroKid suggests that it sees Discovery Mode as here to stay, rather than as a test that can be quietly retired in the face of criticism from bodies like A2IM and interest from politicians. Case studies of artists doing well out of it will understandably be at the centre of that strategy.

What those case studies don’t yet answer is the all-important ‘race to the bottom’ question: about what the impact would be if Discovery Mode takes off to the extent that near enough every artist opts in. Spotify’s response to the congressmen may shed more light on its answer to that though. It’s vital with any big tech platform to look ahead for both intended and unintended consequences of new features and policies – Spotify and its Discovery Mode included.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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