Today, at a press conference that culminated in a Frank Ocean performance and an unexpected onstage love-in by Sean Parker and Lars Ulrich, Spotify debuted a number of new features, revolving around discovery.
CEO Daniel Ek entered to “Rock the Casbah,” the Clash bouncing off the exposed brick walls. Despite it not even being noon, several attendees already had beers in their hands.
“At Spotify, we think of ourselves as punks, the type that are against the establishment,” Mr. Ek informed the crowd. “We’re really punks because we’re restless and we really hate it when people tell us this is just the way it is.”
Lest you assume that means Spotify wants to undermine the poor, beleaguered music biz any further, Mr. Ek rattled off a few stats. The company pays out 70 percent of all the money it takes in to rights holders, and they’ve thus far paid out half a billion dollars. The amount paid out, he added, has doubled over the last nine months.
The company now has more than 5 million paying customers, and 20 million active users. One million of those paid subscribers are in the U.S. “We’re growing, but we’re growing in a way that benefits the whole system,” he said.
The batch of updates introduced today is meant to help users discover new tunes, rather than just listening to whatever pops into their head at the moment. Open Spotify, and you’ll now land on a “Discover” screen share. Suggestions aren’t just based on whatever you recently listened to, either, Mr. Ek said. For example: Spotify would know that Kris Kross topped the charts in Sweden when he was a kid, and so “Jump” might pop up.
See something you like? Add it to another new feature, your “Collection.” No more playlists that’re just albums, in other words.
Also added: A new “follow” section, so you can subscribe to “anyone in the music graph” whose tastes interest you, whether that be your hipper-than-thou neighbor down the hall or your BFF. Mr. Eck demonstrated by following Shakira and Barack Obama. Any playlist they share, you can share with your social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr) or just with your Spotify followers.
This sounds like a pretty attractive proposition for artists and the labels who’re trying to their names out there. Another new feature that’s likely to have record execs perking up their ears: Artists will be able to deliver new music straight to their followers. As soon as a single drops, they get a ping. That’ll make it easier to begin the long climb to the top of the pops.
Then we got another surprise: The Metallica catalog is now available on Spotify. To mark the occasion, out came Napster founder Sean Parker, followed by Lars Ulrich, of the famously Napster-hating Metallica. They hugged.
So what convinced The Man Who Killed Napster to sign onto Spotify, a company backed by Mr. Parker? Turns out now that he’s got tweens, Mr. Ulrich is beginning to understand there’s an entire generation raised on streaming media. And hey, the product was easy to use.
The pair made a big deal of how they’re now pals, and really they had more in common the whole time than they realized. Metallica, a band that’d gone to a lot of trouble to protect its music, felt the control being ripped away, and that just turned the whole dynamic into a street fight. “If you fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you,” Mr. Ulrich explained his reasoning.
For a moment, Sean Parker looked a little tense, sitting there in his cardigan. Lars Ulrich might be basically a rich, middle-aged dad at this point, but he still looks like he’d hit you over the head with a beer bottle under the right circumstances.
Then Frank Ocean came out and performed “Pyramids.” Guys: We know the music business is your business, but maybe cool it a little on the celebrity shock and awe. Remember how that worked out for Airtime?