Spotify’s Head Of Music Jeremy Erlich Talks All The Changes Coming To The Streamer

This week has been a very busy one for Spotify, as the Swedish streaming music giant held its Stream On event, which serves as its own version of Apple’sAAPL
annual WWDC event. The showcase allowed the higher-ups at the company to reveal what they’ve been working on, what changes are coming to the site, and why any of this matters.

Many of the new features and updates are focused on music discovery and helping more musicians make good money via Spotify–something the behemoth in the industry has been criticized for since day one. While the company didn’t provide magic solutions to all the issues that are regularly raised or even ones that will appease everyone, several of the most notable changes coming do seem like they’ll be highly valuable to both listeners and artists alike.

I spoke with Spotify’s Head of Music Jeremy Erlich shortly after the Stream On event and got his insight regarding why these changes were implemented and how they’ll affect the millions of artists trying to be heard and earn some cash.

Hugh McIntyre: Something that excited me most was the focus on discovery, both for listeners and for artists trying to be discovered. What made you decide that that was one of the more important things to focus on?

Jeremy Erlich: It’s always been what we’ve prided ourselves on at Spotify from the very first days of the playlist. Spotify has been synonymous with discovering new music and helping make that connection between artists and fans, and we felt it was time to innovate on that. It’s not to say our playlists aren’t still really powerful–the personalized playlists are working extremely well. How do we push that even further to allow more connections between artists and fans? Whether it’s on the user side, the new discovery feed, which we hope leads to more… I always equate it to falling into a rabbit hole of an artist’s creative vision, or tools that artists can use to help push their music on platform to their fans.

It’s just layering on more ways for people to discover and rediscover. I think both discovery and rediscovery are equally important. I’m excited as an employee and as a user to play around with all the functions.

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McIntyre: I love going down those rabbit holes, I do it all the time. There was a long list of features–there’s a lot in here. Is there one new introduction that you think will be most impactful?

Erlich: I think the new home feed will probably be the most impactful. I think it’s really going to change the way that people scroll through music, and I think it’ll be a very positive change. I think it’ll lead to more discovery and more fandom. So I’m excited about that.

We’re going to connect the dots. There’s a discovery feed that can lead to consumption. You can discover quickly and then consume for a long time. If we get that right, that’s a really, really powerful tool.

I’m personally excited to see how the Clips functionality evolves, because obviously we in designing the feature have some certain use cases in mind, “This is how the artist talks about the song, this is how they go into the discovery process.” What I think will be great is when you put it in the hands of artists and their creativity comes to life. I’m sure there’s gonna be some kid somewhere that finds a really, really novel way to use it, which is going to break the system and make it go viral.

Working in the field we do and being able to work with creative geniuses…you give them a tool box and then they build the car and they build it in ways that our imagination never lets us go. I’m really excited to see how people use it.

McIntyre: The home page… I think that’s easily the topic that’s going to generate the most conversation. It already has, for obvious reasons.

Erlich: For sure.

McIntyre: Why was now the time to change that up? I can’t even imagine how long that’s been in process.

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Erlich: We know that the younger generations really skew [toward] the visual formats. They skew towards quick snacking–like mini feeds–until they fall into something that they like. That’s not how our home page was built, so it was reflecting the things that we saw, the behaviors that we saw in the market.

We’ve been talking about a version or elements of this for a very long time. The engineers have been working day and night to make it reality. Spotify is a company that tracks and measures how people use the platform so I’m sure it’s going to be a continually evolving way to feed content to people until we find that place which leads to the most discovery and to the most consumption, which is our ambition.

McIntyre: One of the features I’m excited for is the ability to preview everything in New Music Friday and Discover Weekly, all those playlists, because that’s how I consume them. I skip through and I sample, essentially. What led to that change? Is that how other users are doing it, or is it more about the shorter attention spans?

Erlich: No, I don’t think it’s the short attention span, because we don’t want to be a platform that boils down to 30-second clips. We believe in the song, we believe in the album, and we believe in the artist as larger, larger and larger concentric circles. What we want is to give the most opportunities for the most songs to be heard and then be fully consumed. It reflects your habit.

We’re all typical consumers, and I do the same–I’ll go through New Music Friday and I’ll listen to 30 seconds and then I’ll skip it. We’re building something that reflects how people are consuming already versus trying to change people’s behaviors significantly. But the goal remains the same: discover a song, discover an album, discover an artist.

McIntyre: You’ve talked about the home page redesign and Clips, and it all seems to be pointed at a younger audience. I wonder if that’s in the hopes of bringing them from one platform where they’re discovering music to another.

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Erlich: Yeah. We want to be the home for music discovery. Others have done a good job at…I wouldn’t say encroaching in our lane, but walking in our lane and creating products that work and driving music discovery. We want to make sure that our product is just as good for that functionality.

That said, we really want to build meaningful and deep discovery. We don’t just want people to snack through music as an after product. If you look at Clips, it’s really a tool that’s made for artists to express themselves. It’s not a purely UGC tool where music gets plugged in, it’s an artist expression tool versus just a short-form video tool, so I think it’s just one more way to create discovery and [another] way for artists to express themselves.

I’m really enjoying the feed and I’m kind of older. Generally, younger people discover and consume more music, so we have to cater to that audience.

McIntyre: At the moment, you go to Spotify to discover and listen, but artists go to other platforms to promote and to help discovery. Is there a hope that people will spend more time on Spotify, thereby there’s a need to make it a marketing and promotional hub as well?

Erlich: We’ve always had the view that through our marketplace tools, [we can] create more marketing and promotion tools for artists. The ones that we do have in the market, such as Marquee, are extremely efficient because essentially you’re advertising or promoting to users that already love music and want to discover music. When you use broader social networks, you don’t really know what you’re getting. When you’re on Spotify, you’re a music fan, so it’s a really efficient place to promote.

We always want people to spend as much time as possible on the platform. I think it means they’re either consuming artist content or consuming music, or listening to a podcast, or soon to be listening to more books. That’s a metric we love to maximize, time spent.

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McIntyre: Another thing I caught is the focus on how many artists are earning a living or making a million dollars from Spotify. Those numbers are incredible. What made you want to communicate that in such specific terms?

Erlich: It’s a long road to the broader mission of having millions of artists living off their work, but when we go through this exercise and we update Loud & Clear, we look at the stats too, and we’re like, “Holy shit, this is pretty good.” Obviously, we’re not there yet. There really is no “there.” I’s always going to be [about] making it better for artists and making them be able to have a more sustainable living, but we felt a certain amount of pride in those numbers, and then realizing that it’s actually a very measurable impact we are having on the creative community, we wanted to share those. I think they’re important numbers to have out there.

There’s also a ton of misinformation out there about who gets paid what, so to the extent we can, instead of anecdotally telling the story of someone we’ve helped, we’ll be like, these are the numbers, look at them today, but also look at them last year and five years ago, and look at them in five years, and they’re always going trend in the right direction. Because that’s where we put our focus, and when Spotify puts its focus on something, it generally makes it happen. Once a year, we commit to these goals of making it easier for artists to make a living, and we share those numbers.

McIntyre: Are there actual internal goals, like, “By this year, we’d love a million artists making $10,000?”

Erlich: Yes. They’re not that specific, because I think there’s a numerator and a denominator in that equation, and we can only really focus on the numerator. We have goals as to subscriber numbers and advertising revenue, and now we’re starting to have goals around fan commerce. There are specific dollar amounts that we’re trying to achieve.

As the teams that are building these products and fueling them and getting artists to buy into them, we hold ourselves up to a really high standard of what we want to achieve every year, and the numbers are generally pretty dizzying in our goals. Sometimes we’ve knocked ’em out of the park and sometimes we re-adjust. But it is our mission.

A lot of things we announced around fan commerce, around merch and ticketing… It’s a whole new revenue stream that we can feed into artists and grow that market, and I think it’s going to be an exciting time to be an artist, and they’re going to find more and more ways to tap into their fan base and to monetize them in whatever way they see fit for their creative vision.

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