The Future of My Music Experience

Where I hope Spotify is and is not going…

Dear Spotify,

Your roll out of video and podcasts got me thinking about where you’re heading and, with it, my music experience future (hint: I’m kinda worried about us…).

First, let me just say why this is important to me. I love music. Music to the soul is what an atom is to matter. It is an elementary building block of the human experience, coursing with the rhythms and notes of life giving it the power to shape and change our lives. To bring us up, down, together, apart, what-have-you…This is all to say — I care about my music experience future.

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” — Billy Joel

Next, I’m a big fan — paying customer (you’re welcome!) & heavy daily active listener. And while I’ve been tempted by the entreaties of others like YouTube/Google Music, Soundcloud, or Pandora I’ve decided to stick with ya for a couple reasons:

  1. Switching costs. You lose playlists, tracked songs, artists, etc. But, then again, I’ve switched several times in my life already — from cassettes to CDs to iTunes to Spotify — and in each case my music universe didn’t come crashing down around me. Although the cassettes to CDs may not be fair since I only had ~2 tapes at the ripe old age of 10 before they were supplanted by CDs.
  2. You’ve got spunk. I believe a company who’s livelihood is a great music experience will be more innovative, better quality, and more reliable in the long-term. Companies like Google/YouTube can cut-and-run on music much more easily giving them a certain instability. This means the focus, execution, and innovation all suffer somewhat because the alternative to failure isn’t so bad and it’s relatively harder to attract top talent inside the company unless it’s a highly visible, top priority.
  3. You’ve earned my trust. Facing destruction from failure doesn’t always mean success, otherwise all startups will be successful. However, you clearly have reached the scale and execution to show you’re for real and here to stay. Great team, great product.

That all said, here are my hopes and concerns for where Spotify does and does not go in the next few years so we can keep this thing we have going.

Why I’m Hopeful

So far you’ve done some things really well to get us here:

  1. Discovery. It’s not perfect, but through a harmony of technology and human curation you’ve assembled one of the most robust music discovery platforms. For one, you can often end-up in some deep exploration holes via “Related Artists”, various playlists (weekly discovery, moods, etc) or radio.
  2. Design. Solid design and great consistent user experience whether on desktop web, desktop app, or mobile app. Kudos!
  3. Reliable. Things ‘just work’. Not many apps can say this.
  4. Native add-ons. After a lot of experimentation — I mean we all experiment, right? — with how to enhance the base experience I think you’re finally getting it right with recent native add-ons like local tour dates and lyrics. Going with native integrations vs. the more loosely managed and questionable quality of “apps” previously was a big win.

Why I’m Concerned

In terms of concerns I have one, and only one, but it’s a biggie. There’s no soul!

You see, you treat music as if it’s just some … data! A bunch of database entries that need good organizing, a clean presentation, and voila! What I worry about with launches like Video and Podcast support is that you want to be just another “content hub”. A nicely organized place for content viewing, listening, reading(?), search, and discovery. What this misses, though, is that music is a social experience and best experienced as such. There are few other mediums that bring together people so much in the physical world. How often do you regularly see hundreds of thousands of people come together for a literary reading or even a film screening like they do for concerts and festivals?

Sorry, but I wouldn’t do this for you Medium…

Right now, though, social is an afterthought. Seemingly tacked on because everyone thought their apps had to be “social” after Facebook and Twitter? However, there’s not much mind paid to it. Social features are being able to follow friends to be given a live feed of what they’re listening to at that point in time and collaborative playlists. Apparently you can also “post” to the Activity feed? I only just discovered this buried option while writing this post. You sneak! Been hiding that one from me…

So, in the interest of helping vs. just kvetching here are my top feature requests to help us bring our relationship to the next level…

1. Connecting Offline-to-Online

As a music fan I don’t separate my online (listening) and offline (concerts, festivals) enjoyment of music. To me, music is music and if you want to be my home you need to expand into how you can connect me to these offline experiences more. So what do I need mean by that?

For one, if you’re going to provide a video experience, first bring in music content like music videos or live concerts. Personally, I prefer the latter. If you can show me the tour dates of a band and also high-quality live videos shot at those tour dates all the better. Or, similarly, be able to watch different videos for a certain song — live, the ‘official’ music video, etc. I don’t want some crappy auto-generated video (cough YouTube cough), but do want to see these bands live where the good ones are better than their recordings.

Second, for events and concerts if you had a feed of posts (photos/videos/text) from those events either from my friends or just all attendees even better. What if rather than everyone posting their photos and recordings at concerts/festivals to FB they posted them to Spotify to share with the whole community? Worst case, just pull posts in from Facebook for linked accounts and use signals (location, text, OCR) to classify them and show alongside relevant content.

An aside: Facebook is crap for communities outside your own immediate network and Twitter is noisy (although Moments kinda helps). If I can’t be at Coachella or the next Local Natives show I’d sure as hell would rather go to a hub like Spotify to listen to the band(s) while watching the posts from users who are there to feel as if I’m there.

That’s the power of the internet to connect us in a way such that we feel inclusive in these communities. This is music, not tables of song listings with some nice metadata surrounding it.

I’ll caveat all the above with the fact that no one has done this well yet. Not YouTube. Not Twitter. Not Facebook. Bring the live experience to me when I can’t be there…Reimagine what it means to provide an experiential platform vs. the simpleton hacks and isolation of hi-fi live streaming (YouTube) or social posts (FB/TWTR).

2. Enabling Social Discovery/Connection

Outside of helping to bring the richness of the music experience into the digital experience there’s also helping fans connect. Some high-level exploratory ideas to make that “Activity feed” more fun:

  1. What would happen if there were a discussion/comment board on artists pages or playlists where anyone can post? With the right curation and ranking there are some amazing stories that music elicits from people.
  2. What would happen if rather than artists just making posts about their latest release or tour date they engaged with fans? Building off the above such that fans and musicians, or their reps ;), can engage to find their fans, give them perks, access to tickets/shows, etc.
  3. Can we bring back turntable.fm? For those unfamiliar, turntable allowed users to create co-listening “rooms” where a set of users DJ and program music for everyone else. Not to dive too deeply, but the idea of discovery via social recommendation and co-listening has a lot of potential that got dragged down by licensing costs and too narrow a use case. However, I’d love to give this idea another shot with the scale and existing rights of Spotify. Collaborative playlists gone realtime and on steroids!
  4. Lastly, for those that I am following let us actually, y’know, engage with each other? Bring posting and sharing to the top and give social value to having a community of friends on the platform. I see what they’re listening to — let them know I listened to it too because of them! Let me like it. Let me comment on that song they’re listening to. Get us to post videos doing rock band, karaoke, or whatever. Let us connect around music.

In parting, Spotify, don’t become my content portal. I don’t need, or want, another Yahoo2.0. There are enough people ruining good products trying to be the one-stop shop for content (cough Facebook cough). That’s so 2005. But, I know you, I know you see what they miss — that when you try to be everything for everyone you do nothing well for anyone.

I know you won’t join the rat race to commoditize content by treating it all the same. I know you won’t repeat history and believe you can do everything. Why? Because your future is bright and music is still a big, exciting area for you to grow. Let’s keep this thing going.

Sincerely,

Your public admirer

What I’m listening to now: LCD Soundsystem. They’re back!


The Future of My Music Experience was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.