When the Consumer is Not the Only Customer



How Spotify wants to be “the best thing that ever happened for artists.”

DA Wallach
DA Wallach

After my first discovery of D.A. Wallach ’07 through his music I became very confused. Googling his name constantly turned up the result that he was Spotify’s “artist-in-resident.” While I was familiar with the concept in the world of painting and visual arts, gallery space is limited and being given some form of work and display place security is comforting, the notion of an artist-in-residence for the music industry made little sense to me. Musicians appear not to suffer from the same scarcity of space to share their work as visual artists. With venues like Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes, what is the point of a creative residency?

It turns out, in this situation I was largely misconstruing what this meant. He was an artist, and he was employed at Spotify on the basis of his art credentials, but his work there was not artistic in nature. As a musician he described his work as collaborative with the design and corporate team at Spotify to advocate for the experience of the other user: the artist. One of his major projects at Spotify has been with the Artist Services Team, a corporate component Wallach seemed to put forward as the flagship in Spotify’s moves to be “the most artist friendly music company that has ever existed.” As well as serve as the contact for artists looking to put their work on Spotify, Wallach described that the service afforded to artists also includes “more opportunities to sell the fan tickets, or merchandise, or experiences.”

The business of selling “experiences” to the music fan might be the thing that gives Spotify the ultimate edge over it’s competitors. Spotify is a music streaming service whose revenue comes from the ad-supported, free-to-use service and an ad-free paid subscription. In this way it differs from iTunes which operates on a more traditional business model were a purchase is forever. Spotify allows music to be downloaded by a paying subscriber, but if a subscription is cancelled the music becomes unplayable, paying removes the audio ads between songs and the downloading of music allows for offline music listening.

The idea of purchasing the music itself is not a part of the Spotify model. In a day and age of piracy, week-to-week hits, and “sharing” (thanks, Zuckerberg), the money has changed locations. iTunes’ revival of the single song might not be quite enough, especially if somebody can do one better and offer the same ability to mix/match and make playlists for free. By fully integrating the “experience” component of the artists efforts, Spotify can cash in on click-through fees in a way that iTunes can’t. You can’t share a concert (Ok, you can, sort of, but I doubt that X-Pro II filter is ever going to be able to really catch what it was really like to see somebody vomit paint on Lady Gaga. Even watching the video for “G.U.Y.” on repeat won’t earn me tickets to SXSW and a time machine) and you can’t share a t-shirt. Wallach’s work at Spotify seems to be creating an ideal partnership; one good for the manufacturer and the retailer, and one good for the consumer by centralizing a marketplace.

Will Harrington ’16 (harrington@college) wonders what filter would make Spotify’s green logo really snap.