How Spotify became the cornerstone of music streaming

Iconic Products Episode 011

Since the dawn of the internet, the music industry has faced a myriad of changes and issues.

From the launch of iTunes and the iPod to problematic peer-to-peer file sharing sites like Napster to the emergence of (much more legitimate) music streaming business models, there have been quite a few changes in how people listen to music. 🎧

But one of the most incredible music industry products to come out in the last 15 years is Spotify, the Swedish music streaming service with an impressive catalog and explosive popularity.

listening to Spotify

With all of the competition in music streaming services, Spotify still remains the most-used globally (though Apple Music is making impressive gains, mainly in the US) with 180 million active users, including over 83 million paying subscribers. 👫

How did Spotify, a publicly traded company valued as high as $30 billion, get to where it is today?

Let’s take a look! 👀


Comprehensive catalog = universal listening options

Spotify offers more than 35 million songs, meaning that virtually every genre and region is covered in terms of music preferences.

By having one of the most extensive music catalogs out there, plus including a free version of the service (more on that in a bit), Spotify has democratized the music industry as we know it. 🎶

You could listen to music nonstop for your entire life and never even come close to scratching the surface of what’s out there.

mind blown

That’s an insane amount of music. 😲

But what makes Spotify iconic in this regard is that they understand how overwhelming their library can be – where do you even begin?

This is where excellent curation becomes crucial. 👌

From charts that offer rankings of the most-streamed songs in every country (or globally), to Discover Weekly playlists, which offers every user a customized weekly playlist of suggested songs based on their music tastes – Spotify is essentially guiding users to the content that they want.

Having charts gives users a snapshot of what’s popular all over the world, and helps users discover some new favorites along the way.

This also means Spotify has the chance to further promote content that is “hot” at the moment, through exclusive recording sessions and content from the artists directly. 🔥


Community-building through music

Probably one of the most iconic things about Spotify is the community they have managed to create. 💛

Music is naturally community building – for many, it’s a passion. It can create memories or remind you of certain times in your life. Music brings people together in ways that many other things cannot. It’s an insanely powerful thing.

So with this in mind, Spotify takes it a step further. 🚀

How? Through playlist curation.

By using both technology and people together, they are able to create next-level curation for music that covers any genre, mood, season, occasion, location – you name it.

Spotify has an entire team of music curators across genres and backgrounds, who spend their days listening to music and painstakingly putting together playlists for users.

Want to get a taste of what that’s like? Check out this great video from BuzzFeed that explains the role in more detail.

A great example of this brilliant curation is one of Spotify’s most popular playlists: RapCaviar.

With more than 10 million followers, this playlist has been called a “movement” by The Verge and “the most influential playlist in music…which turns mixtape rappers into megastars,” by Vulture.

Those are quite some claims, but they’re pretty accurate – there are several instances of artists making it to the Billboard charts for the first time because they were featured on RapCaviar.


This further shows that the human aspect of curation is still very much alive and well – having someone who is passionate about a genre or topic curate the music is what is going to create the biggest buzz and have users feel like the content is fresh and dynamic.

Spotify’s commitment to discovery and thoughtful, human-driven curation really sets them apart from other services. 💪

Sure, Pandora created an algorithm to suggest similar songs to listeners, and Spotify has something similar with its radio feature, but there’s only so much that technology can do to bring you new, exciting music options.

But Spotify’s curators aren’t the only ones creating playlists, there are several musicians who also create and manage playlists.

In some cases, it’s just a collection of their favorite songs and what they’re listening to right now (or songs from their current set, if they happen to be a DJ). In other cases, it can be a way for them to promote themselves or their favorite artists. 👩‍🎤

The community aspect also comes from the users themselves. Music can be a big part of someone’s identity, and Spotify has learned to use this in a fun and engaging way.

Unless you’re on private mode, your friends can see what you’re listening to and follow playlists you create.

creeping

There are also end-of-year playlists that give you interesting stats such as most-streamed songs, favorite artists and how much of the year you spent listening to music.

Spotify has used this information to their advantage in their ad campaigns over the last couple of years.

Starting in 2016 with a campaign to thank 2016 for being a “weird” year, this campaign quickly turned into a huge, buzzy success with multiple iterations.

man's not hot

And let’s be honest, they’re hilarious – I can’t get enough of them.

spotify ads

From the location-based ads to the ads calling people out for their listening habits, they give Spotify a distinct voice that users quickly identify and resonate with.

Spotify managed to use its user data in a fun, quirky way – which further adds to the sense of community.


Seamless Spotify experience across devices

Spotify is the only music streaming service that seamlessly allows you to stream your music from your phone, computer, speakers, TV, you name it – all from the app. 📱

You don’t even need a phone to control it. If you have a smart assistant speaker, you can simply ask Google/Alexa/whatever to play a song for you and it will connect to Spotify with ease.

More and more cars are adding Spotify to their list of apps as well. 🚙

jamming in the car

Simply put: you can listen to Spotify anywhere and everywhere, with little to no friction in switching between devices.

And listening to Spotify is going to get even easier soon: Spotify and Samsung recently announced a partnership that will have Spotify natively integrated into Samsung products.

As Samsung’s new go-to music provider, Spotify can reduce even more friction when it comes to switching your music from a speaker to a TV…or to a different speaker. 🔊

Partnerships like these demonstrate that Spotify understands how important it is to offer an easy-to-use and accessible product.

By focusing on the users and their lifestyles – and understanding that people can listen to music anywhere in a variety of contexts – they are ensuring that their product is front and center, always ready when users need it.


A value-adding freemium model

Spotify is a freemium service, so other than the occasional ad and limitations on how many songs you can skip, among a few other restrictions, this means that you can listen to just about any song out there – for free. 😍

This is quite different from, say, Apple Music or Tidal, as they have yet to release a free version of their products.

While I won’t get into the pricing itself, it’s interesting to note that the free version is pretty good in itself – but Spotify Premium really offers users so much more, which makes it a well-justified investment. 💸

For ~$10 a month, depending on your region and whether you’re on a Family plan or a student, you get higher sound quality, offline listening and no more ads.

impressed

By creating an easy, straightforward paid plan, Spotify has managed to create an offer that covers just about any lifestyle and budget.

Whether it’s a free plan or a paid plan, it’s all part of the same aforementioned community and the benefits of both are certainly there.

It’s ridiculously simple – and helps users adopt it as their go-to music streaming service with ease. 👍


New avenues for the music industry

It can sometimes be difficult to keep up with all of the crazy new ideas and partnerships Spotify is coming up with.

A recent example is their partnership with Ancestry.com, the world’s leading genealogy site. You can order an AncestryDNA kit, and once your test results are in, you can visit a website to generate a playlist based on the regions that make up your genes. 🌍

It’s a bit out there, but it can expose users to new musical genres and regions, so in the end, it kind of works – plus the website is kind of fun to play with.

This also extends into the music itself – through a partnership with Genius, while listening to select songs on your mobile device, you can read the lyrics alongside interesting trivia and interpretations of the song your listening to in real-time.

genius lyrics

Spotify manages to create an experience around the music – their users aren’t just listening to a song, they’re being fully immersed in the content. 🎤

But there are more than unique partnerships on the horizon for Spotify.

A select few artists are now able to upload directly to Spotify, à la SoundCloud.

This new feature means that there are tons of unsigned, independent artists who can now share their music with the world without using a middleman.

It’s by invitation only at this point, but it will be interesting to see how Spotify decides to expand on this strategy. 🤗

In any case, it’s a huge deal for the music industry.

Not only are they now going to be competing with SoundCloud, but they are further democratizing the music process, given their clout and influence in the industry.

And all of these partnerships and plans come down to one thing: reaching users (and musicians) in unique and fun ways. 🙌


There are a plethora of things that have transformed the way we listen to, and interact with, music over the years.

And Spotify has been an integral part of that – which has led to them easily reaching iconic products status.

Spotify continues to push the boundaries of what consuming music means, and we’re excited to see what else they come up with in the future!

Keep rocking it, Spotify. 🤘


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Ali Colwell

Head of Marketing at Salesflare
I'm a fintech-turned-SaaS marketing expert who is passionate about design, automation and all things digital. View my full profile here.