Founder of Topsify, Playlists.net, Artists To Watch Records & ex Warner Music.
Streaming since 2008.
We’ve all read the reports, after years of decline the music industry is going through unprecedented growth thanks to streaming and the major labels are all showing double digit growth and profits. All of which lead Goldman Sachs to predict that the sector will be worth $28 billion by 2030. Canny. Although I think it will be more like $50 billion.
Anyway this also means that VC’s who don’t really understand the sector are starting to throw big money into music startups.
First of all you have United Masters who have had $70m investment from Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz and others to “replace record labels” – yeah right. If you watch their introductory video on their site, they make a big deal about “translating data into actionable guides in plain English”. So in other words exactly what Spotify, Kobalt, Stem, Bandcamp and even Topspin before it was acquired by Beats in 2014. yes 4 years ago, nothing new to see here folks. If you read this blog post from investor and now board member, Ben Horowitz you will see it starts with some Kanye West lyrics then rolls into a Steve Soutre story about him seeing Run DMC 30 years ago. All very rock n’roll. I can’t help but feel that this whole investment is just an opportunity for the Silicon Valley VC’s to hang with the cool kids in the music biz and I dunno, maybe get a photo with Kanye or someone.
Then last week it was rumoured that L.A. Reid has raised $75m from private equity sources to start a new record label. You don’t need $75m to start a label, even if you are L.A. Reid who has an undeniable track record of success. The rumours are that he’s opening offices in one of the most expensive parts of LA, Beverly Hills and he’s looking for hires. My betting is that half of the $75m at least is going to go on salaries, bonus structures, office space and other luxuries. But then again if someone is going to give you a big pile of cash then it’s better than spending your own right?
It struck me that I’ve seen loads of “top 10 albums of 2017” blog posts this year (even though who listens to albums any more right?) and they’re all pretty much the same. So I thought it would be a bit of fun to list my top 10 Spotify playlists of 2017. Couple of quick points….
When I say top 10 Spotify playlists, I mean the top 10 playlists curated by the Spotify editorial team around the world. Not third party Spotify playlists.
These are my top 10 playlists and therefore subjective to my personal tastes which are mainly pop and dance. So as brilliant as I know Rap Caviar is, it doesn’t feature in my list.
So with that said, here we go in reverse order….
10) lowkey riddim Laid back beats.
9) I Love My ’90s R&B the first track is Pony by Ginuwine. That’s all you need to know.
8) Left Of Center Alternative and experimental pop from mainly emerging artists.
7) Friday Cratediggers While MINT is the king of dance playlists I prefer Cratediggers for the lesser known electronic gems.
6) Chilled Pop Hits An eclectic but always fresh sound curated by the brilliant Spotify UK team.
5) Brand Nu Disco My favourite sub genre, in one handy playlist.
4) Anti Pop Formerly known as Keep It 100 this playlist has recently been rebranded and is full of edgy songs across all genres but with a mainly urban and dance edge.
3) Chilled R&B Relaxing urban vibes all the way in this beautiful playlist.
2) Creamy Tracks Warm and melodic electronic tracks.
1) Pop Rising This playlist is a fantastic mix of established and emerging artists. Often it’s curators do the record labels’ job by picking the track that’s most likely to succeed from an album & seeding it in here. If there was one playlist that defines the “Spotify sound” then this is it.
Each year Spotify launches their own Christmas playlists section in Browse. This year it’s called Season’s Greetings and has 23 playlists in it of which 19 are Spotify curated and 4 are curated by record labels. The record label playlists are as follows:
Christmas Time – Topsify (Warner Music) 176,594 followers
Winter Warmers – Filtr (Sony) 6,018 followers
Winter Wonderland – Record Club (Universal Music) 972 followers
Too Cool For Yule (PIAS) 2,961 followers
What’s interesting here is that Universal didn’t choose to include (each label can nominate one playlist for inclusion) their hugely popular Christmas playlist with 338k followers. Instead they chose a much newer playlist from their sub playlist brand that I had forgotten ever existed, Record Club.
Also, Sony didn’t include their even bigger Christmas playlist Christmas Songs with 745k followers. Instead they submitted a new playlist with relatively low follower numbers.
Looking at the branding of all the playlists you will notice they all follow similar design guidelines and perhaps more importantly they all have unique playlist names and themes. So my best guess is that Spotify had some strict naming guidelines that probably stated that a playlist name couldn’t be similar to an existing Spotify playlist. This will also explain why Topsify’s 100 Greatest Christmas Songs Ever (created by yours truly) was changed to simply Christmas Time.
Since both Universal’s and Sony’s big Christmas playlists have been around for years and have big follower numbers I think that both majors decided not to include these in Browse as they would have to rebrand and instead chose to retain creative control and market them independently. So instead of changing their name and branding to comply with Spotify’s Christmas genre guidelines they decided to opt out so they could keep their identity.
Was this a wasted opportunity or should they have rebranded/renamed to be included in Browse?
Well looking at the follower numbers for Sony and Universal’s stand ins, Winter Warmers and Winter Wonderland I think they made the right choice. Winter Wonderland has only 972 followers so it clearly didn’t benefit from being in Browse. Similarly Winter Warmers only managed 6k followers. The fact that the label playlists are buried at the bottom of the browse category wouldn’t help either. Lesson learned for Christmas 2018 I guess.
UPDATE: For everyone who commented on social media that follow counts don’t equate to consumption, yes that is right to a certain degree. However given that follower counts are the only public indicator that Spotify has of playlist popularity I use them as a very general measure of a playlists reach. And while it’s true that high follower counts can contain dormant listeners it’s rarer for a playlist with a low follower count to have really massive consumption. A playlist’s age and capacity to appear in search results are other important factors that play into popularity. I could go on but that’s a post for another day.
If your new release from a major breakthrough artist such as Cardi B is featured as the image of Spotify’s biggest global New Music Friday playlist with 2.4m followers, is namechecked in the description AND is featured on the playlist cover…wouldn’t you make sure the song is available globally on release day to maximise this kind of exposure that money can’t buy?
Not so for Cardi B’s new single Bartier Cardi which doesn’t get a global release until the next day (a Saturday). Talk about a missed opportunity. Not only does nobody outside the US get to listen to the song on the day that the New Music Friday playlist gets the largest number of listeners but it means it also gets missed off all of the other local New Music Friday playlists around the world.
However the good news is that it’s available worldwide to stream on artist and label friendly YouTube….
This week Rihanna tweeted her thanks to her fans for making her the most streamed female artist of 2017 on Spotify. Understandable maybe as of course she’s a global megastar. However the fact that blew my mind is that she didn’t release an album in 2017. Yes, despite having no new music at all in 2017 she was the most streamed female artist of the year. Mind blown.
This is huge. Think back to a few years ago when CD’s or digital downloads were the most popular way to consume music…this would never happen. In fact it couldn’t happen as shelves in retailers were always devoted to new releases as were the digital storefronts of iTunes etc.
If I fire up Spotify now, here’s what I see on the homepage….
5 of the 6 featured playlists that are presented when I open the app are made up of mainly catalogue (except Hot Hits UK) and there’s a very good reason for this, the public are consuming these kind of playlists like crazy. The appetite to discover or re-discover classic songs from the past few decades is just massive. One of the most popular playlists that I created at Topsify was 100 Most Uplifting Songs Ever and the consumption stats on this would regularly blow my mind.
My thinking is that this resurgence in catalogue is of course due to the availability and ease of on-demand streaming. With one click we can all now access these incredible playlists of classic songs and because we’re not paying per song or per CD then we’re more likely to explore and try new (old) music. And of course we’re all programmed to respond and listen to music that’s familiar to us so the nostalgia factor plays high in the popularity of these playlists.
Coincidentally Spotify’s Will Page published an article this week entitled. Does The Music Industry’s Definition of ‘Catalogue” Need An Upgrade? It’s an interesting read.
Side note: Taylor Swift was the second most streamed female artist in 2017. This won’t take in account her new album which she withheld and only released on Spotify a couple of weeks ago (and a subject for another blog post in itself) and also shows how popular her catalogue is given that her last album release was in 2014.
I’ve been looking through my old blog and found a post I wrote on the day Spotify officially launched in the UK.
Take a look at the desktop interface from then. No Browse, no charts, no playlists even. The way to navigate was via a search box or by choosing genres and decades which then presented albums/songs to you. Still, the experience was groundbreaking at the time and it was obvious to me that it was going to create waves in the industry.
Here’s my original blog post for that day announcing the official launch.
Yesterday I celebrated my last day at Warner Music.
Going from a business I created in 2009 when Spotify was also a startup to joining a major record company in 2014 – it’s been an amazing ride.
Establishing Topsify as Warner’s playlist brand globally across all platforms and establishing a streaming strategy for a major record company has been immensely rewarding and I’ve had the best time doing it.
I’m also especially proud of the innovation around the Artists To Watch Records label that has generated over 50 million Spotify streams with zero budget. I don’t know of any other record label that’s achieved this.
My next step will be to launch my own venture again, 3 years in a corporate was great but I have that entrepreneurial itch to scratch. More news on that to come.
Huge thanks to my Warner family and especially my Topsify team for making these 3 years as awesome as possible. The next chapter is going to be even more exciting…
Founder of Topsify, Playlists.net, Artists To Watch Records & ex Warner Music.
Streaming since 2008.