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This week, Spotify will hold its ‘Stream On’ event in Los Angeles. Last held in 2021, it’s the company’s equivalent of Apple’s famous WWDC keynotes, announcing new product features and setting out its vision of the world.

One of Stream On’s main announcements has already leaked. Bloomberg reported that the event will see the launch of a new homepage for Spotify’s mobile app, replacing its existing carousels of music, podcast and playlist suggestions with a TikTok-style vertical feed of recommendations.

It’s an evolution of a test first spotted in November 2021, which was later officially announced and expanded to more users in April 2022. It was like TikTok’s ‘For You’ feed, but with audio clips and Canvas videos – the looping clips that artists already upload to Spotify to be used instead of static artwork when their music is being played.

What’s being announced this week is an evolution of those tests. This piece was going to be a set of predictions for how it would work and what that would mean, but it’s been made much easier by the fact that on Monday, the new feed appeared in my Spotify mobile app. Here are some thoughts.

It’s THE homepage, and it’s about cards, not just videos

I had wondered if Spotify’s new feed would be its own sub-section of the app accessed through a ‘Discover’ button. But no, it is THE homepage, replacing that existing carousel-based user interface.

It’s the first thing you see when you open Spotify, albeit still with prominent buttons to access the search and library features. The feed *doesn’t* consist of videos, but rather ‘cards’, one at a time, which include several interaction elements.

For example, my feed included a ‘Popular new release’ card focused on the new album from Caroline Polachek, with its static artwork; clips of five tracks (moved through by tapping on the card); a play button to play it, and a plus button to add it to my library.

Other album cards for Billy Nomates, SZA, Gorillaz and the Dandy Warhols used Canvas videos for the track clips. There were also cards for some of Spotify’s playlists including its most popular frontline brands (‘Hot Hits UK’ and ‘Today’s Top Hits’) as well as picks tuned more to my recent listening (‘I Love My ’90s Hip-Hop’ and ‘Alternative 90s’.)

There were also cards for the latest episodes of podcasts that I listen to.

This is more than just a TikTok clone

Be prepared: Spotify’s UI change will be widely interpreted and summarised as a “TikTok ‘For You’ clone”. Actually, though, there’s more to it than that. Spotify and TikTok don’t have the same goals with their discovery feeds.

When you launch into TikTok’s ‘For You’ feed, the app wants to keep you watching, swiping through video after video. The feed IS the experience, and it’s geared towards keeping your eyeballs on it for as long as possible.

There’s not really much value in that for Spotify’s new feed. Spotify wants you to listen to the music and podcasts that it’s recommending. It wants you to tap through to listen in full, and it wants you to engage (with the plus button) by adding things to your library.

It really is a discovery feed rather than a consumption feed, if that makes sense. Its success may be measured by how quickly you tap away from it, rather than how long you spend on it. This is less a ‘TikTokification of Spotify’ than it is a ‘clipification’ of the service: using audio and video clips – previews – as its gateway to listening.

It’s not so different from what Netflix does with preview clips, in fact. And quite different – even if the UI is similar – to what TikTok is doing with its ‘For You’ feed. But talking of clips…

Will artists be able to upload more than just Canvas videos?

Canvas is a well established feature for Spotify now: many artists and labels are creating and uploading these looping clips as part of their workflow, egged on by Spotify’s claims that these videos increase sharing, saving and overall engagement with the music.

The new homepage feed’s cards can work with static artwork, but clearly this is designed as a video-heavy interface. You can expect that to be about more than just Canvas clips.

Spotify has been experimenting with other forms of short-form video by or featuring artists for some time. Interview and behind-the-scenes clips have been used in its flagship playlists and in ‘enhanced album’ playlists of musicians, for example.

For its end-of-year ‘Wrapped’ promotion in 2022, Spotify also encouraged artists to upload 30-second videos of themselves thanking fans for listening. No music, filters or logos, just direct-to-camera thank-yous.

Join the dots. Spotify’s new homepage UI is going to be video-heavy, and the company has built functionality for artists to upload video messages to fans – used purely for Wrapped 2022… so far.

It would make sense if this feature was opened up for year-round use, with artists able to upload clips of themselves talking about their new music; answering fan questions; teasing their new music videos or concert sets… And for these videos to then appear in the new homepage feed, alongside the Canvas clips.

The prospect is something to think about for artists and their teams, anyway: whether the kind of short-form vertical videos they’re already making for TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Snapchat and other social platforms will now be a key part of their Spotify workflow too.

A boon for artist storytelling, or a burden in the form of yet another platform to service with short videos? Given the recent debates about artists and social-media burnout, the reactions will be interesting on that question.

Will there be promo slots in the new homepage feed?

Spotify loves to tell investors and analysts about its ‘two-sided marketplace’ strategy, building tools that artists and labels (and podcasters) can promote themselves with, some of which they will pay to use.

Will this strategy extend to the new homepage feed? It would be very surprising if it didn’t. Imagine a card that’s a paid ad unit, injecting tracks, albums and podcasts into the feeds of the fans judged by Spotify’s algorithms to be most likely to enjoy that content.

Some of Spotify’s advertising initiatives have been controversial. Discovery Mode, where artists and labels can choose tracks to be promoted within its radio and autoplay features in return for a lower royalty, has elicited stern attention from politicians in the US for example, based on accusations that it’s a new form of payola.

Paid slots in Spotify’s new homepage feed should be less of a hot potato, as long as they’re clearly labelled as such. Watch for an announcement of any such feature tomorrow, anyway. On past form, it’s likely to launch in a small number of markets on an invitation-only basis before rolling out more widely later.

Is that it for Stream On?

Clearly not. Stream On won’t just be a single-announcement event. You can expect some other new features to be trailed; updated stats on Spotify’s creator community; some big-vision statements and likely plenty of earnest explanations about why it’s good for musicians.

Talking of stats… In March 2021, Spotify launched its ‘Loud & Clear’ website as a defence of its role in the streaming economy, with a range of figures about its payouts and artists’ earnings. It then updated the site with its latest stats in March 2022.

It’s now March 2023. Time for a Loud & Clear refresh? We’d expect it to be either trailed or fully unveiled at Stream On tomorrow, if it’s getting an annual refresh. At the very least we can expect new figures for Spotify’s total payouts and some deeper dives into artist earnings: for example breaking down how many artists’ music generates more than $10k, $100k, $1m etc of annual Spotify payouts to their rightsholders.

Stream On will likely also see some announcements around podcasts and partnerships. Spotify’s exclusivity deal with podcaster Joe Rogan is thought to be ending this year, so could a renewal be announced? If it’s not being renewed, of course, don’t expect that to be trumpeted during the event.

Given Spotify’s recent reorganisation, Stream On will also be useful for understanding the dynamics of the company’s senior management team: who the key figures are now around CEO Daniel Ek, based on their prominence during the event. It all kicks off at 10am PT tomorrow, when we’ll see what Spotify has up its sleeves.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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