Streaming-based music services like Spotify and Apple Music have exploded in recent years. Before these music platforms, song discovery was limited to the artists we already knew, behind-the-scenes leaders went unknown and acknowledgements were reserved for lead idols.
Ultimately, the system of the music industry was disorganized. Artists, creators, music festivals, concerts and even brands were missing the opportunity to understand their audiences and attract new fans.
Then streaming revolutionized everything.
Streaming created a smarter music industry cycle. From music creation and discovery to the way listeners engage with the industry, streaming improved music to the benefit of everyone involved (creators, entertainers and fans alike).
Creation - Understanding What Fans Want
As we now know, the music you listen to says a lot about you. It can tell you whether you’re likely to attend concerts, exercise regularly, try new things or recommend a brand to a friend.
Or as Spotify puts it: “You are what you stream"
Yet, before the advent of streaming, the music industry couldn’t grasp how music behaviour reflects who we are.
On-demand music platforms opened the door to real-time data.
In particular, Spotify transformed listening patterns into tangible insights, including users’ moods, personality traits, purchasing behaviours and brand sentiments.
You could say Spotify knows fans almost better than they know themselves.
Now artists, concerts, music festivals and brands can leverage this data to make even more informed decisions on what to create next, who their audience is or who to target for an upcoming festival.
Discovery - Finding Up-and-Coming Artists
In the days of records, CDs and even 99 cent songs, the out-of-pocket expense hindered listeners from finding new music, meaning the risk to new entrants was high.
But streaming-based services have removed the barrier to music discovery. They even went one step further by putting systems in place to support incumbent artists.
With over 140 million music fans on its platform, Spotify will leverage its clout to catapult both the careers and fanbases of budding talent.
At the end of October 2017, Spotify launched RISE, which is “a program designed to identify and break the next wave of music superstars”. The program will begin in the US, Canada and the UK, announcing 4 emerging artists every few months (16 artists per year).
Furthermore, Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist “combines machine and human curation to surface soon-to-be-discovered artists to over 400,000 new fans”.
Spotify’s investment in the future of emerging artists indicates the exponential growth coming to the music industry, starting with streaming platforms' support of new entrants.
Listening - Content on Demand
Music enthusiasts back in the day didn’t just listen to music, they took pride in their music collections, comprising of countless records, tapes and CDs.
Then the introduction of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store transformed music collections into online libraries. This shift completely changed the way we listen to and purchase music.
Now, no one wants to pay 99 cents each time they refresh their library with a new tune. Listeners want music at their fingertips and they value access of ownership. This sparked the transition to subscription-based music.
Over the past few years, growth in music streaming services has been astounding. Spotify boasts over 140 million users and Apple Music now has 30 million subscribers, not to mention the strong followings of other streaming services such as Pandora, Tidal and SoundCloud among others.
These platforms provide today’s listeners exactly what they want: content on demand.
Continued Listening - Fan Affinity & Smart Recommendations
Previously, the music industry’s best guess on new music that fans might enjoy was music from the same artist or similar genre.
“Oh, our music festival attendees are listening to Kiss and Aerosmith? They must also love Def Leppard!” Wrong.
Advances in streaming algorithms allow us to see why the line drawn between Kiss, Aerosmith and Def Leppard is presumptuous.
To help music lovers find their next song and favourite artist, Spotify combines collaborative filtering and recommendation engines among others. The trick to collaborative filtering is that it recommends new music based on similarity between users, not between items.
The system identifies similar users based on usage (the songs they have in common). Any songs in the listening history of “similar user 1” that “similar user 2” hasn’t heard yet, becomes a possible recommendation for “similar user 2” and vice-versa.
So if a comparable user listens to a particular Arctic Monkey song, the Kiss/Aerosmith fan will likely have the indie band's "Do I wanna know?" song follow their Classic Rock playlist - not Def Leppard.
The algorithm is designed to avoid music assumptions, which is brilliant considering how much songs vary even between songs of the same artist. Consider the case of Taylor Swift. At the beginning of her career, we would have categorized her as a true country singer. Since then she's transitioned away from the fiddles and twang into upbeat pop and edgy love songs (with many genres in between).
So the geniuses behind these algorithms fixed this indeterminate genre and song variation phenomenon.
But that's not all music streaming can do. When finding your next song, they take into account the recency of your music played (no one wants those songs from your "Screamo" phase to resurface). Outliers also get filtered out (like the “Wheels on the Bus” song your child begged for you to play).
This recommendation engine makes playlists like Discover Weekly and Release Radar possible, allowing listeners to easily find new songs and artists to organically build their fan bases.
Along with the algorithm genius, the ability to follow artists makes it easier for creators to connect with their most loyal fans. According to Spotify, leveraging streaming fans is precisely how Lorde and Hozier got their start.
This has revolutionized song recommendations and artist affinity as we know it.
Celebration - Acknowledging the Geniuses Behind-the-Scenes
Music streaming has even begun to change the way we celebrate music.
When you listen to a song, how much do you know about those involved with its creation? If you’re like most people, you know only the artist and featuring artists.
So then, how are we supposed to acknowledge the stars rocking it behind-the-scenes?
The Grammys and the AMAs awards the frontrunners, which is great. But this further purports the unacknowledgement of behind-the-scenes creators.
Enter Spotify’s Secret Genius Awards.
Spotify’s Secret Genius Awards are the Oscars for music. Except, where the Oscars awards both behind-the-scenes work (ex. “Best Film Editing”) and recognized idols (ex. “Best Actor”), Spotify’s Secret Genius Awards exclusively awards the lesser-known creatives. This sends a bold message that the music industry is deeply invested in all music talents (including those unseen efforts).
This progressive recognition would not be created if it weren’t for Spotify’s motivation to build a strong relationship with the entire music industry.
What's to Come
We've come a long way since the days of records and CDs. With the advance of music streaming, the future for the industry looks bright.
In the coming years, concerts will be filled exclusively by die-hard fans. Music festivals will no longer find fans based on headliners, but will find headliners based on fans. New artists will be free to carve their own niche, knowing that programs, discovery playlists and recommendation algorithms will build their fanbase automatically. Behind the scenes creators will pour more passion into their work, inspired that their efforts won't go unrecognized. Not to mention that listeners will have an even easier time finding and following the music they love!
And best of all, the music industry is designed to get smarter with time. All thanks to music streaming.