Spotify Needs A Win. | Gradient

Spotify needs a win.


Spotify needs a win. At this point, it’s in danger of becoming to music what Pizza Hut is to pizza. It’s always an option, but definitely not the place you go for really good pizza, for the best pizza.

Let’s recap: the past few months in music have been as good as the past few months in politics have been bad. There was Lemonade, of course. A Moon Shaped Pool landed last week. Kanye’s release of Life of Pablo. Rihanna had ANTI. And this week, Chance the Rapper dropped Coloring Book. 

These are all weird, wonderful releases from a handful of the most popular, influential musicians in the world. They bend genres and rocket them forward. They blur the line between pop music and substantial music. They were commercially and artistically successful. And, most notably for our discussion, none of them dropped on Spotify.

It hasn’t been all gloom for Spotify. Drake’s Views wasn’t initially on Spotify, but made its way over there the week after its release. Life of Pablo and ANTI likewise eventually showed up on SpotifyAnd this year, Spotify has secured non-exclusive streaming rights to albums like Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered, James Blake’s The Colour in Anything and David Bowie’s BlackstarAnd of course, Spotify still has the largest library of streaming music on the internet — 30 million strong and counting. The company reportedly made $526 million last year — that’s not nothing, if not quite enough to go toe-to-toe with companies like Apple. 

But what Spotify doesn’t have — and hasn’t had in a while — is the sort of exclusive, “appointment listening” release that the music industry is coming to rely on. If somebody tells you they haven’t heard the new James Blake yet, you tell them they really should. If somebody tells you they haven’t heard Lemonade yet, you slap them and perhaps alert the proper authorities. Apple Music and Tidal are securing vital, must-listen releases, leaving Spotify to scoop up the leftovers after the initial social media fawning has subsided, and your mom finally decides to figure out what this Drake thing is all about.

Some of this wound is self-inflicted. Spotify’s been caught in a very public tussle over artist royalties, and whether or not it’s even financially worth it to musicians to stream their music on Spotify — given the piddling returns (in 2014, word leaked that Pharrell had collected a mere $2,700 for the 43 million streams “Happy” netted on Spotify). Spotify’s laziness in upping those revenues allowed TIDAL to make an ostentatious, grandstanding display of fairness. Apple Music, in the meantime, got into a public feud with Taylor Swift and eventually backed down, agreeing to pay artists more; the two seem thick as thieves these days.

All this made for thorny PR battles over at Apple Music and TIDAL at the time — TIDAL, in particular, can never quite shake the sense that the whole operation is mighty delicate — but they’ve ended up with the biggest wins of 2016, no contest. Spotify is in danger of losing its place as the de facto music streaming platform on the grounds that it has yet to capitalize on the new music economy — based not around traditional release dates and singles, but drama, surprises and — maybe most vitally — money for artists.

Earlier this year, Spotify’s head of communications, Jonathan Pierce, told The Verge:

“We’re not really in the business of paying for exclusives, because we think they’re bad for artists and they’re bad for fans …Artists want as many fans as possible to hear their music, and fans want to be able to hear whatever they’re excited about or interested in — exclusives get in the way of that for both sides. Of course, we understand that short promotional exclusives are common and we don’t have an absolute policy against them, but we definitely think the best practice for everybody is wide release.”

This is true in one sense. But deliberately or not, Pierce is ignoring the two key facts. First, artists like Drake and Beyonce know that “as many fans as possible” are going to listen to their music no matter where it’s released. And second, if Apple Music is willing to pay to make sure those fans are coming to them (they reportedly gave Drake a cool twenty million for exclusive streaming rights) nobody really loses. Nobody except Spotify.

Things aren’t desperate for Spotify, not by a long shot. But they need a win. Let the drying husks of PureVolume show; Spotify needs a win.

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If you have spent any time watching television in the last decade you have most likely heard one of Mattew’s songs on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, One Tree Hill and many others. His insightful writing and voice have drawn comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, and he is on the short list of songwriters who skillfully weave the deeply philosophical and the vivid utterly human without ever losing sight of either.

To get his new album Cold Answer, (which features the three songs from him you heard on this episode), visit

Subscribe on iTunes.

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Subscribe on iTunes and Stitcher.

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