One of the most successful artist managers in the world, Simon Fuller, has expressed serious concerns over the future of music streaming services.
Speaking exclusively to MBW, the British exec conveyed his worry about the modern industry’s “obsession” with streaming data and playlists, warning that “the identity of artists is being lost and the ability to break through is harder than ever”.
Fuller believes that platforms like Spotify will increasingly struggle to distinguish themselves from their competitors on ‘curation’ alone – suggesting that a price war may be set to break out between streaming’s top companies in the coming years.
Earlier this month, at Spotify’s Investor Day, the company’s CEO, Daniel Ek, told analysts of his confidence that Spotify was creating an “ecosystem of mutual discovery for millions of artists, billions of fans and the entire music industry”.
Ek explained how Spotify’s curation/playlist programming would be at the centre of this mission, adding: “There’s really no other company that has this as their sole purpose – there’s nobody else doing what we’re doing.”
Fuller, however, is somewhat less sure.
The XIX Entertainment founder has managed everyone from The Spice Girls to Annie Lennox, Amy Winehouse, Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood during his career – and continues to monitor the music business from an intensely artist-focused perspective.
“Alarmingly for the music streaming companies, if everyone is streaming the same music in the same ways, accessible by any device, surely ultimately the only differential will be price, ubiquity and ease of access. I am not sure delivering great playlists alone will be enough to win that war.”
“One industry challenge close to my heart is music streaming,” Fuller told MBW. “There are now so many content platforms, the greatest challenge will be how to delineate between so many different sources of content.
“More than ever these massive powerhouse companies will need to define their identity and have a true point of difference. I believe the consumer needs to hold a genuine positive feeling for the source of their content.”
He added: “Alarmingly for the music streaming companies, if everyone is streaming the same music in the same ways, accessible by any device, surely ultimately the only differential will be price, ubiquity and ease of access. I am not sure delivering great playlists alone will be enough to win that war.
“There needs to be a more genuine connection and understanding of music lovers and the people that create music than is currently being reflected.
“Commerce alone and the drive for paid subscription is a precarious path; the consumer needs to ‘feel the love’.”
Fuller’s comments come just eight days ahead of Spotify’s scheduled flotation on the New York Stock Exchange.
The exec is not alone in his opinion that exceptional playlist programming isn’t a strong enough differentiator for Spotify et al: last week, Jimmy Iovine warned that the leading streaming platforms were currently too similar – “all charging $9.99 and everyone has the same music”.
Fuller’s current projects include a new superhero-themed Spice Girl movie, in addition to Abba’s much-discussed digital comeback as well as the creation of Skam – a teen drama being shot for Facebook in Austin, Texas.
“The identity of artists is being lost and the ability to break through is harder than ever.”
The exec is still very much in the world of artist development, too – working with a new pop band called NowUnited whose members come from 14 different countries.
Fuller has concerns about the ability of modern artists to use streaming platforms to form a lasting impression on their audience – as well as the impact these services’ key playlists are having on industry A&R.
“A potentially troubling byproduct of music streaming and the obsession with analytics and playlists, is that a tempo of a song can be deemed more important than the song itself,” he told MBW.
“The identity of artists is being lost and the ability to break through is harder than ever. I believe it is the passion for an artist that drives the power of music, not a playlist that sits comfortably in the background.”
Added Fuller: “I am hopeful that with so many screens in the world, the importance of visuals together with music will become more important again.
“Whether it be the Sex Pistols or The Beatles or the visual art of Pink Floyd or the individual power of Prince or Michael Jackson, without exploring the visual accompaniment to music we lose individuality and point of difference.
“There is so much that the music industry needs to do to invigorate and appreciate the creativity of exceptional talent. Music has and always should be aspirational.”
“passion for an artist drives the power of music, not a playlist that sits comfortably in the background.”
With Fuller’s comments still ringing in our ears, here’s another interesting stat: Spotify says its current track catalogue is over 35 million songs, with 20,000 pieces of content being added to its service every day.
This means that Spotify’s library of music is growing by a million tracks every 50 days, or 7.3m tracks each year.
At this run rate, Spotify’s catalogue is likely to top 50m songs by 2020.
Something to ponder, then: does such a mass of music leave room, as Fuller puts it, for enough new artists to “break through”?Music Business Worldwide