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Beef Of The Week #411: Drake haters v Spotify

By | Published on Friday 6 July 2018

I think it’s fair to say that Spotify went big on the arrival of Drake’s new album ‘Scorpion’ last weekend, heavily pushing both him and his mediocre musical offerings via its playlists and platform.

The big push didn’t go unnoticed. Which I guess is the point of a big push. Drake fans were presumably pleased to find their idol’s face popping up all over the Spotify app. But those less enamored with the weirdly popular, platinum-selling, original dominator and record setter of the streaming age found the OTT Drake-peddling rather annoying.

Some on the social networks mused that so OTT was the big Drake push, that it all felt rather like advertising. Which is fine if you’re a freeloader on the freebie version of the streaming service, but for those paying a monthly fee, the idea is that that financial commitment ensures the Spotify experience is ad free.

One premium subscriber messaged the streaming firm’s customer support to make that very point. “I just messaged Spotify customer service on their website and told them I wanted a refund since this is advertising and I pay for premium with no ads”, he wrote on the music pages of Reddit.

And the mini-moan worked, it seems. “They have now refunded my last payment” he added, providing a screen grab of his conversation with Spotify’s customer service reps. “Complain, take your money back, and let them know you will cancel if they pull this shit again. Money talks. Money walking away talks”.

Cue a flurry of other Spotify subscribers demanding refunds for having to look at Drake’s face so much. Though most weren’t as lucky as the original Reddit poster, with Spotify insisting that the Drake promo was editorially-driven and therefore not advertising.

To be fair, we didn’t get any TV licence fee money back that time the BBC went totally OTT on U2 having a new record to sell. Nor did Apple provide any refunds when they forced another new U2 record onto everyone’s iPhones. And being forced to look at Drake’s smug face – or even being forced to listen to the opening bars of one of his tedious tunes – can’t possibly be any worse than having Bono’s sanctimonious wafflings and warblings inserted into your brain without any kind of forewarning.

Though part of you wonders why in the streaming age big pushes of big albums can’t be a little more targeted. I mean, for starters, targeted to those playlists where Drake naturally belongs, rather than scattered across all sorts of playlists where neither he nor his music makes any sense whatsoever.

But also targeted to the individual user. Because wasn’t that one of the big sells of the big shift to streams? That these new fangled streaming platforms were going to help you individually find the music you love, whether that’s former favourites you’ve long forgotten about, or new artists and new tracks that you don’t love yet, but the machine will do the matchmaking, because the machine understands.

In the early days of the streaming market there was lots of talk about whether machines or humans should do the curating on these emerging platforms. Of course there’s a bit of both on most of the big streaming services today, though for music marketers it’s the small group of human beings in control of the biggest playlists that matter.

Faced with the prospect of having an AI or a genuine music fan in control of what you listen to, it’s perhaps tempting to assume the latter is always going to ‘get’ you better. And when the streaming services first started to gained momentum, it seemed like they were really missing a trick by not hiring the services of all the mainly human music programmers working in the radio sector, who knew how to compellingly curate some tunes for people to enjoy listening to.

Then Apple and Spotify went into overdrive recruiting that talent, subsequently getting much more into the playlist curation game, pushing their own human made lists of songs ever more to the fore in their apps and platforms. And so more elements of the radio listening experience began to appear on the streaming services. And the labels responded by pitching to the playlisters at these companies in exactly the same way they pitched to heads of music in the radio world.

But then, however good the playlist and the playlisters, what about the truly personalised listening experience? OK, maybe the machines weren’t quite as good at that as we hoped. Opinion always seemed very divided about Spotify’s Discover Weekly, though some love it, and it definitely does a better job than most of the earlier personalised playlist set-ups. Plus, of course, this tech is getting better all the time and the data that tech can crunch ever more bountiful.

Which makes me wonder whether the era of a small number of human-curated playlists being so influential in the steaming domain may – in the end – turn out to be relatively shortlived. And if so, the frenzied pitching of tracks to that small group of humans may also be a temporary blip in the evolution of music marketing.

Of course major labels with big releases will always want to go big, and streaming services wanting access to the big names behind those big releases may feel the need to comply. But maybe in the future the machines can intervene a little, so that Spotify and Universal can go big on Drake in the feeds of those who appreciate his special brand of mediocrity, while keeping him the fuck away from my streaming experience.

Forget the humans, bring on the machines I say.



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