As early as last year, the default response to seeing anyone listening to a traditional MP3 file on their mobile device was to forcefully advise them to subscribe to Spotify. The music streaming service’s most basic package is free - although that doesn’t allow you to download music or bypass any adverts - and gives its users access to an extensive catalogue of artists.
Spotify also announced at the turn of the year that it had topped 15 million paying subscribers, although far more continue to opt for the platform’s free service, with the amount of free users thought to be in the region of 45 million.
There’s actually a fair amount of tension between Spotify’s free and paid users. Many of those subscribing to paid packages felt that Taylor Swift’s decision to remove her new album ’1989’ from Spotify would be the catalyst for more artists to move to strictly paid-for-sites like Tidal, where free users are avoided. Basically this means that users who don’t purchase a subscription package are threatening to damage the playlists of those who do.
Tidal received considerable press coverage prior to its launch. Its tactics, however, which were to get a packed stage of multi-millionaires to convince the world that they were being hard done by - seemingly under the guise of ‘hardworking, up and coming artists are being destroyed by free streaming services’ - didn’t really do much to inspire. This has forced Jay-Z to continually defend his investment in the media.
Although Tidal hasn’t materialised into a serious competitor for Spotify, the Swedish company’s senior-management team know that Apple Music will stage more of a fight. Yet in July, just a month after Apple Music’s release, Spotify had only suffered very slightly, and was still ranked as the 13th top-downloaded app in the App Store. This meant that it had only gone down a couple of places since Apple Music’s release, still remaining above Twitter and Netflix.
This led Digital Music News to state that it was as if Apple Music ‘had never happened’, due to the minimal impact it had not only on Spotify, but Pandora and YouTube too. The service is, however, just a few months into its launch, and the 11 million trial subscribers it’s attracted is nothing to mock, even if the real work will be to convert the trialists into paying customers.
Spotify does, however, have an an ace up its sleeve. Fresh Minds - which on the face of it just looks like a standard playlist - uses Machine Learning to bring together the music industry’s newest, most exciting artists. In an interview on Fast Company, Brian Whitman, who works as a Principal Scientist at Spotify, claimed that after using Fresh Minds for a while, unknown bands which he had once never heard of had slowly made their way onto his main playlists.
Fresh Minds doesn’t use Netflix’s model of basing a recommendation on the shows or albums you’ve previously watched. It instead mines music blogs and sites - like Pitchfork and NME - to predict the bands which are tipped to become more popular, then putting them into a ready-made playlist for the user. This is seen as breakthrough due to the fact that normal recommendation engines - which basically say that if you like Miley Cyrus, you’re probably going to like Taylor Swift and Rihanna - are useful, but altogether too obvious. One problem that continues to rear its head, however, is that some of the bands and musicians identified by Fresh Minds don’t have their music uploaded on Spotify. This will, of course, put emphasis on the streaming service to persuade them to do so.
It is naive to suggest that Apple Music won’t have the ability to incorporate a similar system. But as the first-mover, it should give Spotify considerable clout, and, in turn, persuade those interested in Apple Music to stay loyal to them. Spotify will be treating Apple Music as a real threat to its future. Its acquisition of Fresh Mind goes to show that its making plans to react accordingly, which should allow it to continue to prosper.