Leaving academia was never easy, and finding your path is not easy. I've had a clear vision of what I want to do, and let myself explore other options as well. So when a job that would allow me to spend all day with data came along at Spotify, I quickly put together a CV and made my very creative (dare I boast) cover letter in form of a Spotify playlist. I had several shortcomings, among them was programming skills, but I figured those can be easily acquired as I've done nothing but write syntax for the past 10 years, so I declaired my shortcomings and hoped for the best. Needless to say, it went horrible once I was placed in a tech screening, having left SQL untouched for 9 years, and I'm guessing what looked to the interviewer; I left my logic back in 2007 as well. I was not offered an interview with the remaining crew. Understandably so. However, that doesn't stop me from answering the question I've been waiting to answer.
Why did you apply for this position?
One might ask oneself why a neuroscientist seeks a position in the music streaming industry. I know I would, and furthermore I would have wanted to know why a neuroscientist wants to be a part of my product.
It all starts in 2000, the fall. Sitting in the computer room at school (long before cellphones could surf) we would sit and listen to Napster. It was revolutionizing! I remember that fall, Christina Aguilera (or who ever was pretending to be her) had released the song "will the real slim shady please shut up" on Napster. And we all went bananas over it. To start off with, without Napster, artists had to rely on their record companies to release songs to the masses, with Napster they could just spread creative works without a middleman, which created drama as you can imagine since many artists chose to release songs and remixes not approved by their record labels. Many unknown artist found fame, and my generation found a new way of listening to music. But it didn't last for long. The music industry fought back the digital music model for as long as they could, and took Napster down in the process. Metallica was one of the biggest bands to sue Napster for lost income, and here is the creator of Napster on the MTV music awards wearing their t-shirt. If you were a teenager back then, this was one of those OMG moments that made it to pop culture history. If you're born after 97, this picture makes very little sense.
To understand why the music industry was against digitalization you have to go back to 1998. A single album cost on average 10-19 dollars (much more if it was a collection and much less if it was a single). And keep in mind inflation. You had no way of knowing if the songs on the album were good or bad, you just had to rely on the artist (if you didn't want to spend 20 minutes in line at the music store to skip through the intro's of 10-15 songs on the listening stations). Nobody could afford to listen to music the way we do today. But the profit margins were enormous for the industry, artists were still largely underpaid. The industry did most of the production and distribution, thus they could justify costs. So when Napster came along, it allowed people to mass consume music, and its system was easy to use and navigate through. But soon enough, it was taken down.
It created a void in a new generation who didn't horde cd's and vinyls, but wanted neat and organized libraries of music in their ipods and computers, and thus Spotify was born. A service that provided what Napster once did, only this time, it had the backing of the music industry who had come to its senses. And the best part was; just like Napster, it provided the music for free (with ads).
It filled a void, and did so with elegance, spreading the love of music all over the world. But with any great idea, weather you are first or the first to execute it well, competitors will try to do it better. Neonode made the first touchscreen phone, but does anyone remember them now? And that it where Spotify is at the moment.
For now Spotify is a leading brand with loyal customers, and satisfied employees. But at the market, it's running away from its competitors, who are swiftly learning and using strategies to catch up as the labyrinth keeps getting smaller.
It is time for the running to stop and for Spotify to start going on a hunt, transcending to new markets. In such case, they really should learn from companies such as Pfizer who have invested in a wide variety of ventures outside of traditional medicine because they have their horizon on a marked 20 years ahead in time. I have no doubt that Spotify does as well.
The major difference between Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music, the three largest streaming services, is that Spotify has tapped in to what made Napster famous (or infamous). How many 14 year olds own a credit card? How many of them own a Facebook account? The core of Napster was that the music was free, available and simple to access. If you have to commit to a payment plan before you even know what the service is, what's the point? Free trial, and free are not the same and any consumer will tell you that much.
I've had Spotify free since the very start and have seen its changes over the past few years. It has become more restrictive, creating a transitional motivation, but still allowing those who don't mind it to continue being free listeners. Although I respect that decision, I think it has missed its point, and the key demographic that uses free. Since I don't know their data, all I can do is speculate. If any of the other services are ever to catch up, they need to stop thinking about profit in terms of money, and start thinking about long term relationships with clients, because let's face it; no matter how many Madonnas you have, if nobody is there to listen to her more than just for one album, you haven't got a streaming service, you have a record store.
So, my reason for applying to Spotify is to become a part of a movement that filled a void in my generation and the way we listen to music because the alternatives at the moment are trying to take us back to a time in which you had to be confined to what the industry wanted you to experience. The alternatives are not thinking about a 15 year old version of me, who wants to discover music, but doesn't have a credit card, or a 70 year old version of me who can't afford to revel in music unless I can stream it for a few dollars a month. I've discovered loads of new brands through the ad filled Spotify. Pairing up with brands is not bad, just make sure to hot the free demographic!
In the future, music will have less middle men, and I truly hope more profit margins for the artists, but for now, I just hope my children't don't have to grow up in the narrow musical landscape I had to endure.