Spotify Playlists Are the Future of Music, But Not Everyone Is Happy
The radio star may be dead and buried at the hands of video, but playlists look to have saved the music industry. Where record labels once boasted of having their artists heard on radio and reviewed by music magazines, the new push is to get artists’ songs into curated playlists hosted by streaming services, like Spotify and Apple, where they can then be played in gyms, high street stores and Uber rides around the world.
The shift seems to be working: revenues are skyrocketing, with the money record labels make from streaming surpassing income from the sale of more traditional formats.
“Getting on one of Spotify’s biggest playlists — New Music Friday or RapCaviar — is vital when you’re breaking a new pop act,” says Stuart Bell, co-founder of public relations company Dawbell, “It’s the equivalent, 20 years ago, to a good single review in Melody Maker, or, 10 years ago, making the Radio 1 playlist.”
Some 10,000 tracks are said to be uploaded to streaming services daily, so it makes sense that a spot on a playlist is the new trophy in the music world. At the same time, Spotify has topped 100 million paid subscribers while posting record-breaking growth. According to a study by the EU’s Joint Research Centre, placement on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist can be equal to $117,000 in revenue; being added to Today’s Top Hits, a list with 23 million followers, is said to be worth between $116,000 and $163,000. Such charts are now one of the key tools used by labels and managers to track success.
Even so, it’s not all fun and games for artists.
“It feels like the artist is dead and the playlist is king,” says one music manager, “I have a band that has a record all over the radio at the moment; they’re getting four-star reviews and selling really well on their tours, but because they’re not playlisted, it’s considered a failure by the label.”
Spotify’s algorithms, which sort and promote the most-played songs on its platform, have also impacted songwriting in a major way: shorter tracks with leaner intros where hooks arrive more quickly are a new norm. In 2015, less than 1% of songs were less than two and a half minutes long; now, more than 6% are.
“Playlisting also rewards ‘vanilla’ music — that’s a huge downside,” says one senior music industry executive. “If an abrasive band like, say, the Pixies were coming out now, they would be penalized by algorithms because the skip rates would be too high — people let playlists run on in the background when they serve inoffensive, bland music they can’t be bothered to turn off.’ If you look at the music Spotify has broken, it’s all chill-out stuff. That isn’t art, it’s wallpaper.”
With Spotify in an ongoing with the artist community about pay, this latest revelation looks to add fuel to the firing of the platform’s rift with its creators.