9 Aug 2014

Spotify: how Tom Waits is like Disney & why it’s the future

Not content with 10 million active users, Spotify has set its sights on being able to tell you what music you like. And the small matter of world domination, says the MD of Spotify Nordics.

“Where there’s a speaker, we want you to have Spotify.”

Jonathan Forster casually drops the phrase into a talk at Way Out West music conference in Gothenburg, Sweden.

We shouldn’t really be surprised. It’s a been a good year for Spotify: their most recent figures show they have 40 million active users in 57 countries around the world. Another 10 million dish out £10 a month to be able to use it offline, and with no adverts.

The numbers are nothing compared to Youtube’s one billion unique users a month. But it shows that the Swedish tech firm have gone a long way in bringing people round to streaming, rather than owning, their music.

The company’s acquisition of The Echo Nest, which applies data analytics to music, in March earlier this year has also opened up big possibilities.

Spotify recommends

At the moment, 53 per cent of streams on Spotify are initiated by users themselves – most of us know what we want to listen to.

But Mr Forster said on Friday that with the help of Echo Nest’s analysis of who likes what kind of songs, Spotify wants to get better at recommendations, which would put them ahead of their rivals.

“We can and should do a better job of helping people listen to music when they’re not sure what they want to listen to,” he said.

On its website, The Echo Nest has a running tally of how many “data points” it has collected about over 35,000,000 songs.

At the time of writing, it stands at well over a trillion. Looking at everything from instrumentation, to tempo, to pace, the company found that Tom Waits has a lot in common with Disney soundtracks, said Mr Forster – and they weren’t just talking about Heigh Ho.

The company also has “taste profiles” which grade people’s listening habits based on how much new music they listen to, or how diverse it is. They recently surmised that fans of country music are most likely to vote Republican in the US (not entirely surprising), and that Rihanna was more likely to be listened to by Democrats.

Spotify has its own huge database from its users – for example, there are over a million playlists in the UK with the word BBQ in the title – and the possibilities for the joint venture are huge.

Spotify in stats
Peak listening hours: 3pm to 7pm
Average desktop use: 77 minutes
Average mobile use: 60 mins
Average multi-platform: 127mins
10m paid subscribers, mostly aged 18 to 25
40m active users worldwide

Payments to artists

Along with releasing all its user data, the Swedish streaming service has been keen to big up its industry credentials, and announced that 70 per cent of its revenue now goes back to the industry.

It has come under pressure from artists, most famously Thom Yorke, for the little that they pocket from the service. Streaming services in general have been blamed for the decline in paid-for downloads.

“If you’ve been doing really really well under the old model, I understand that the new model is scary,” said Mr Forster, who also pointed out that Billy Bragg has come out as an unlikely supporter of Spotify.

But he added: “I don’t think we even think that we’ll ever have paid people too much… We just want the industry to grow.”