Impeccably bearded Canadian hip hop superstar Drake released a new album last week. Entitled “Scorpion”, it's so far garnered mediocre reviews for its ponderous 25-track length and saccharine production.
Despite this tepid reception, the record has smashed streaming records. So far the velvet-voiced ex-soap actor's latest has reportedly already broken the record for most US streams for one week and the most streams in one day, reaching platinum status in process.
Pretty impressive, no? Well, he did get a little help along the way from Spotify.
The freshly listed Swedish music service decided on the day of Scorpion's release to inundate its 170 million monthly active users (as of the end of last quarter) with recommendations and visual hints aiming to drive the listeners towards Drake's latest.
Just take a look at Spotify's playlist page from Scorpion's release day last Friday, via Pitchfork:
We get why Drake's face was attached to the New Music playlist, but it's harder to understand why he'd be associated with the Ambient Chill. Brian Eno, the Canadian is not.
Cue outcry from customers who felt betrayed by Spotify's indiscriminate pushing of its most popular artist, their indignation perhaps best surmised by Twitter user Spochadóir :
Spotify: hey, we make playlists catered to your unique tastes.— Spochadóir. (@creamygoodness_) July 1, 2018
Spotify user: listens to 18 hours of Mongolian throat singing, Icelandic drumming bands and a peruvian death metal band.
Spotify: pls listen to drake
Aside from petty snarks at Drake's music, this episode reveals some of the inner tensions at the heart of the new media economy. In short, advertising is no longer just a rented interstitial space that breaks up content such as a television show, but a terror twilight of influencers and recommendations, where the line between paid-for and created-for has become increasingly blurred.
Take this Drake episode.
Premium Spotify users have been sold on the promise of an advertising-free platform. It's front and center in the promotional page for Premium, as depicted in this graphic from its website:
Now, Premium doesn't promise an advertising-free Spotify platform, which is evident from a quick read of its Terms & Conditions. But the pitch to prospective subscribers is clear: adverts are a distraction, you deserve an uninterrupted listening experience.
Why Spotify think this idea doesn't extend to the user experience of its product, is bizarre, to say the least.
Of further curiosity is the reasoning behind even pushing Drake's record in the first place. As far as we can tell, Spotify does not accrue higher profits from a stream of Drake's music versus the millions of other artists on the platform.
It makes sense for Netflix to push its own content over shows licensed from broadcasters, because exclusive content is a unique selling point and reduces its dependency on established incumbents. But Spotify is playing a different ballgame. The music-streaming platform is simply a vehicle for content it has no ownership over, primarily because of reported long-standing anti-competition agreements between Spotify and its major label suppliers.
Perhaps Spotify thought we couldn't have enough of a good thing. After all, Drake is popular for a reason, not least his excellent turtlenecks. However, its unabashed cheerleading of the Canadian mope-hop star may give its investors some food for thought.
One of the key drivers behind Spotify's investment thesis is its access to user data. For instance, it's mentioned several times in this bull case for the company's shares by Good Water Capital.
We should all know the logic by now: by harvesting more data about your listening habits, Spotify's algorithms can generate superior bespoke playlists, which keeps you hooked on the platform, which generates more data, which feeds the algorithms etc. etc. This a) stops users leaving the platform, as they'll have to reset their musical profile with a competitor and b) perpetually sharpens the instincts of its recommendation algo, attracting new users.
This model underpins the world's most successful platform companies, such as Google's moat to end all moats, its fabled search algorithm.
Spotify, in promoting Drake so wantonly, may have severed the implicit bargain between company and user: we're here to delight you in return for your data (and some money). As to the question of whether users are as willing to trust its recommendations now that the spell has been broken, we'll have to wait and see. Spotify might believe it won't make a tangible difference. After all, Apple's music offering recovered from surreptitiously funneling U2 onto our iTunes in 2014. A crime, some Alphavillains believe, to still be up there with the greatest corporate scandals of the modern era.
In the end, Spotify's pimping of Drake might be as simple as “this guy is popular, and by getting more popular he will help drive revenues higher”. But if that was the strategy, then perhaps the Swedish streaming service needs a rethink. After all, people use Spotify because of its convenience and promised personalisation, not because it knows better than us.
We contacted Spotify to ask about the Drake fiasco and at pixel had not yet heard back. If we do, we'll let you know.
Grand Theft obsolescence - FT Alphaville
Drake plans to use his alleged secret son to sell sneakers, according to Pusha-T - Vulture
The most vicious lines from Pusha-T's new Drake diss - Vulture
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