Spotify is “Part Of” but not “The” (Part 1)


It was the summer of 2009.  I was in San Francisco with some of my musical friends at the time.  In between the running around and concerts we took the Oakland Bay Bridge to “Oaksterdam”.  This blog is not about marijuana.

I had rented a car and drove up from San Diego for the weekend.  That trip was filled with “ok my turn”, to which each of us got a round to put in a new cd.  I remember looking down at the pile of cd’s that were scattered in the front cabin of the car.  It was joyful, for more ways then one.   

It hit me.  I said: “I can’t wait until all of this music is on my iPhone.  Not just 5 gigabytes of it, all of it.”

I was holding a iPhone 3Gs and at the time this was a pretty bad ass phone.  It had video capabilities and was really the first full on computer I carried around in my pocket.  No, this is not a blog about Apple, Steve Jobs or the iPhone.

One of my friends heard what I said and replied

“Have you heard of Spotify?  Might just change the music industry forever.”

This was the first time I had ever heard of Spotify.

At the time I was in between helping a few bands, doing some consulting gigs and taking on my first full-time management gig with a band called, Versant.  This would require me to visit Sweden in the fall, well winter.  Its always winter over there.  Eight months of the year.  It was very cold and very snowy.  No, this blog isn’t about Versant, Sweden or the incredible hotbed of music that is-all-the-everything in Sweden.

This is where I first played with Spotify.  Everyone was using it over there.  Most of the musicians I was dealing with at the time were using the free version.  Maybe 95%+ of them.  (I’m leaving the 5% for the off chance that one of them was actually paying for it.)  Most of them were using Spotify like a radio station.  Spotify was what Americans used MySpace for and now most of us use YouTube in the same way.

Spotify had a simple interface.  You searched the deep library of tracks and clicked play.  I remember thinking that this was a ripoff of iTunes.  The interface was similar, some of the tricks of search and playlist generation were the exactly the same.  I distinctly remember being underwhelmed and not caring for it at all.

I’m definitely one of those people that loves new things, loves trying new things and have had a grasp on technology as long as I remember.  This blog isn’t about me but my early experience(s) of playing with Spotify were nothing more than “meh”.

Fast forward about a year.  I started working with a company out of Gothenburg, Sweden called Flagstone.  They had helped Versant, a baby-baby band at the time that I was managing, get some promotion locally, regionally and nationally.  They’re a full service artist management company and some of the best people I’ve met in the music business so far.  They used Spotify to send me playlists of tracks out of their catalog that would help us in pitching songs to networks or music supervisors.  This required me to get a Spotify account and even use a VPN to access it.  I was hesitant because it was another account to have.  In fact, I’m not quite sure I even agreed.

Here is where I was at with all things Spotify….

  • The artists that I was working with were using the free version(s).  They were NOT paying for it.

  • The site didn’t work in the U.S yet.  Once I tried to login from the U.S. it said they weren’t ready and would be available soon.

  • I was already using Pandora, Last.FM, MySpace, YouTube, iTunes, HypeM and Pitchfork for all of my music needs…not to mention the occasional CD.  I didn’t “need” another service.

  • It was common knowledge that Spotify was working with all four major labels to try and get licensing worked out so they could use their catalogs.  I remember thinking ….This can’t be good.  Labels are drawing straws now.  Why can’t they work it out with iTunes….What is Apple gonna to do about this… 

  • Right after I had returned to the U.S. Apple bought “Lala”.  This was surely going to be the Spotify killer I thought.  I remember even hearing whispers that Apple might just buy Spotify.  Steve Jobs never really thought much of streaming services.  He thought people wanted ownership over there music libraries.  This made sense to me then and makes sense to me now.  What if I go camping?  What if I go to a place with crappy internet?  I’d at least have my library of songs on my computer or some of it on my phone. FWIW – Apple closed Lala and started planning out iCloud and iTunes Match (yet to be released).  

  • I read articles saying that Spotify had paid out a nice 7 figure payout to all of the labels, that they were working with in Europe, for ALL OF THE MUSIC they had played in the previous year.  This amounted to a very small distribution to the labels, and even more so to the artists. 

  • It was also clear that Spotify was having difficulty closing a U.S. deal with the labels and Daniel Ek (Spotify CEO) missed 2 or 3 targets launching…

Early on I was not a fan.  I was reading that they weren’t paying out much.  I didn’t like the Spotify interface and it seemed improbable that they would get in the U.S.

This wasn’t American bias, or me being stubborn.  I played with it and saw better solutions two years ago and nothing has changed between now and then.  This is just one mans opinion.  iTunes and Amazon give me everything I need.   

I really thought Spotify would just fall in a long line of music start-ups that would never make it to the U.S.

$100,000,000 later in funding and Spotify’ had a valuation of $1,000,000,000 and deals with all four major labels materialized.

On July 14th, 2011, Spotify launched in the United States.

I was wrong.  I still don’t use Spotify.  

More soon…

(Part II will be next week)


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