The Future of Music Streaming

I remember being in my university dorm room back in 2008, buzzing that I’d just received a Spotify invitation; this, after all, was the future. The real surprise was just how long it took to happen. MySpace was the original music discovery service of choice and by 2008 that had long been a ghost town. Spotify however gave me every song I could possibly want to listen to (give or take a few) with one simple search. I remember the first few weeks being very overwhelming, I mean where exactly do you start…? Knowing my university self I’ve no doubt it was with the Arctic Monkeys or the Libertines so I wasn’t really discovering anything new – I owned their albums anyway.

As someone who really loves music I’m ashamed to admit that I was rather clueless about it all before about 1993; Spotify was a wealth of music waiting to be discovered. My parents weren’t big music fans so I’d not really had a musical education as some others have. If I remember rightly, I decided to simply type in years from the 70s and 80s and go from there. Early on I remember spending night after night listening to Chuck Berry albums and Tarantino film compilations. I know I shouldn’t make the comparison but I felt like a Northern Soul DJ, discovering tracks album tracks for the first time; it was a rush.

I’ve been a loyal Spotify user ever since, eventually migrating to a premium service when the free tier became almost unusable. One thing I have to say is that it really represents great value for money: £10 a month for almost any song in the world, that’s incredible. I know the artists don’t get much comparatively but it’s supply and demand and I’m yet to be convinced that many people would pay much more than £10 a month – it seems fair to me. I also, perhaps naively, believe that if the music is good enough it’ll get found and they’ll earn the big bucks anyway.

So it was with a heavy heart that I cancelled my Spotify subscription and signed up to Apple Music last month (it saves me £30 over the next 3 months!). The launch was met with great fanfare, particularly the launch of Beats1 (Worldwide. Always On. Ad infinitum). Their host choices really do say a lot about their direction: Zane Lowe; Ebro Darden; my personal favourite Julie Adenuga. All 3 are very much into the urban music scene (perhaps that’s a bit unfair to Zane Lowe – he’s actually quite eclectic) so they’re going for early adopters, influencers in the 14-30 age range – exactly the right market. Their focus also seems to be on ‘cool’ taste makers. Some of their first artist shows have included Nas, Disclosure, Drake, A-Trak, St Vincent, Rebel Sound (Chase & Status, Shy FX, David Rodigan, MC Rage!). I’ve no doubt there are so many more that I’ve missed out but they illustrate my point: Apple is determined to stay cool and relevant and, like all good companies, they understand that at their heart they can never be cool. No company is and they just borrow the cool factor off people in the same way Nike does.

As we see with Apple more often than not, they have their service right. It’s similar (the same!) as Spotify but they’ve also brought something new and exciting to the table, their Beats1 radio station. Other competitors – Deezer, Tidal, Grooveshark (RIP), Pandora – were all fine but felt like poor relations to Spotify: why bother changing service when there was no real benefit and, equally, as a consumer why not join the trusted market leader? There are those who believe Apple is a product of marketing and, whilst I don’t disagree, there’s a fundamental connection between product and marketing that doesn’t exist in other companies. That’s why they do so well.

This is the first time that Spotify have really been challenged in their own backyard, so what do they do? They could take Apple on for the same market of 14-30 urban influencers or they could decide to focus on different genres and therefore a different audience. There are lots of rumours about their video service, so I’d be interested to see how that pans out. Videos these days are really pieces of art, no longer just a video to go along with the song, and they often expand on the narrative which is a bit of change. This is probably best shown by Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ or Kanye West’s 34 minute film for ‘Runaway’. However, to me, this whole video service is easily activated and copied so it certainly wouldn’t convince me.

In conclusion, music streaming has redefined the way we enjoy and access music and Apple’s move into music streaming is no surprise; it just underlines the fact this is a fully matured industry so the competition for subscriptions is about to intensify. Marketing will play a fundamental role in that evolution. The bar has been raised so now is the time to be thinking about how people will enjoy music in 5-10 years not just the next 1 or 2 years. This means that marketing and product need to be more intertwined than ever, with marketing providing the audience insights and product development teams building solutions that satisfy customer needs. Building out from there it’s just as important to ensure you have a singular, compelling message that’s quickly understood and appreciated. Once you’ve got all of that you’re then looking at capturing eyes and changing behaviour which is where planners and creatives really come into their own.

If I was to make a prediction it’ll be a straight fight between Spotify and Apple Music. Currently Spotify has a better app experience but Apple Music has the more innovative proposition, so Apple are up by a couple of points on my scorecard. I have no doubt Spotify will come back swinging but it won’t be long before the fight moves into the radio industry – watch out Absolute, XFM, Capital and Kiss 100.

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