Did Spotify just become a record label?

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Spotify’s much-anticipated press conference in New York yesterday brought an avalanche of announcements – revamping the platform to such a degree that Daniel Ek dubbed it ‘New Spotify’.

However, there was no update on the company’s subscriber numbers.

Amongst the freshly-unveiled features were Spotify Now on iPhone. With one tap of the finger, it promises to find music that suits your mood, your activity and the time of day.

Not just music, though: Spotify announced that it would also be adding video clips and audio shows (aka podcasts) to its offering.

As such, it has signed multiple media partnerships – including entertainment, news and clips from the likes of ABC, BBC, Financial Times, Condé Nast Entertainment, Comedy Central, ESPN, Maker Studios, NBC, TED, The Nerdist and Vice Media.

These new features were introduced by a confident Daniel Ek, who directly referred to declining revenues in physical and downloaded music with pride. (Gone are the days when he wasted energy denying Spotify’s cannabalising effect on downloads, it appears.)

“Spotify now represents half the global market in streaming dollars, but we’re also growing our market share,” he said. “Streaming is the growth in music, and Spotify is the growth in streaming.”

The biggest chunk of the conference was focused on Spotify Running, within which came an announcement that is sure to get record labels talking.

Spotify can now respond to a runner’s pace to mould an on-the-go playlist to suit their activity. As well as integrating Spotify Running into the fitness app RunKeeper, Spotify also announced a partnership with Nike + to further push the service.

But Spotify Running won’t just offer users licensed catalogue: Spotify has started directly commissioning music that it thinks will encourage optimum exercise amongst its listeners.

Or to put it another way… Spotify is ‘signing’ its own music.

Spotify Originals is a new strand of Spotify-created content that the company will host exclusively on its service.

It includes radio-like programmes presented by artists such as Icona Pop, Jungle and Tyler The Creator – plus a ‘Dance Move Of The Day’ skit from Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls brand.

But it also includes music. Original music, commissioned and paid-for by Spotify – presumably with no label involvement.

Obviously it’s bit of a push to say Spotify is becoming a fully-fledged record company; these deals were likely more akin to a production music purchase by a broadcaster.

But it appears that Spotify is now paying for, distributing and marketing music content. That’s certainly dipping its toe into the world of managing music rights.

The Swedish company is doing so with what it calls an entirely new music format.

If you read yesterday’s piece on MBW with ex-Google Maps creator Lars Rasmussen and his new recording software Weav, you’ll have a good idea what this is about. (Although Spotify’s equivalent appears to have been built in-house, they’re oddly similar ideas.)

“We needed to go to the creators and artists and work with them to create music made for running.”

Gustav Söderström, Spotify

To work with its Spotify Running platform, Spotify has created tracks that respond to a runner’s tempo in real time as they play.

This is ‘interactive music’: as a listener’s heartbeat triggers a new beats-per-minute pace, so new aspects of the same song suited to that tempo are unlocked.

“We’re not trying to sneak simple beat-stretching past you,” explained the firm’s Gustav Söderström. “We’re talking about a new format where the composition itself seems to magically rearrange to fit your current pace.”

Six tracks were shown in total at the press conference: The Chase, Lock The Flow, Seasons, Epic, Blissed Out and Burn.

The latter is especially intriguing, because Burn has been created for Spotify by superstar DJ Tiesto.

Although his recordings are usually released by Universal, Tiesto remains in control of his masters via his own label, the appropriately-named Musical Freedom.

It’s therefore highly likely that his exclusive track was cooked up in a direct deal between Tiesto, his representatives at Red Light Management and Spotify… with no label interference.

Spotify’s Söderström said the six tracks were designed to soundtrack “captivating journeys – ensuring that you will have a very different experience every time you want to go for a run.”.

He explained: “Runners kept saying that certain songs made them feel like a hero or light like a feather. But that feeling, that running high, only lasted for a minute-and-a-half, until the next track came along and they lost it.

“Thinking about this, we wondered: when a user finds that running high, why couldn’t it last the entire run?

“In order to do this, we had to go beyond just curating the music that’s already out there. We needed to go to the creators and the artists and work with them to create music that was actually made for running.

“We were fortunate enough to work with some of the best creators of immersive and captivating music in the world; great DJs, composers, full-scale orchestras and movie score producers.

“We took on the challenge of designing music that was specifically made for running; music that not only keeps your pace [up] but actually helps you sustain that running high…

“But this raised a whole new challenge: how do you make a single track fit the pace of millions of people who run at different tempo? Or even a single runner who changes tempo?

“The answer was to create a completely new track format; a track that can actually play at multiple BPMs, depending on your pace.”

Enter Tiesto, who said he knew “a lot of my fans work out to my music”.

“This was a unique opportunity,” he said. “Most of my music these days is at 128 beats per minute, too slow to run to. So to find the right sounds and the right pace at 160bpm was the hardest [thing] – also keeping the runner engaged through the session, make it sound interesting all time… it was quite a challenge.”

Clearly, if Spotify has signed this music directly it’s done so to help keep control of an experimental format in its very early stages.

But the fact remains that if users are pouring these tracks into their ears as they run, then they’re not using that time on Spotify to play licensed music from record labels.

In the midst of fraught licensing negotiations with Universal and Sony, it’s an interesting message from the Swedish company: if we want to, we can work with artists ourselves.

And we don’t need your permission to do so.Music Business Worldwide

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