Spotify is introducing major changes to its app in an effort to make the streaming behemoth more like TikTok and Instagram.
“This marks the biggest change Spotify has undergone since we introduced mobile 10 years ago,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “This evolution is really about bringing Spotify to life.”
The company unveiled its new user experience at its Stream On event on Wednesday. The redesign promises a more interactive experience that leans heavily into previews and video clips. Underneath the albums and playlists at the top, users will be shown autoplaying previews of music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Clicking on a tab such as “music” or “podcasts” will bring up a feed of recommendations with a look reminiscent of Instagram stories with options to preview more, share, and save. According to Engadget, premium users in the US and Canada will also see Spotify’s AI powered DJ, which will serve up a mix of songs users already like and that the app thinks they will enjoy, delivered by an AI powered DJ that speaks to users in a voice generated by AI modeled after Spotify’s Head of Cultural Partnerships, Xavier “X” Jernigan.
In addition to the UX revamp, Spotify also rolled out Smart Shuffle, an update of the app’s “Enhance” feature that recommends songs to add to a playlist. When turned on, Smart Shuffle will add suggestions to playlists that “perfectly match the vibe” and mix up the order.
Ek said that the inspiration for the change was the evolution of social media, but with a “unique Spotify twist.” And despite the new changes feeling very much like Tiktok and Instagram, he told CBS News he doesn’t want the changes to be seen as an imitator of the other social media giants. "I don't want people to think that we're making this to be like TikTok," he said. "We're making it to be a much more interactive Spotify."
Spotify is the largest streaming music service, with a net worth of nearly $25 billion. And while it remains to be seen if the rehab of the app will be celebrated or reviled by users, the company faces plenty of other justifiable concerns and criticisms.
This week the company touted that its all time payouts to rights-holders of music, an important distinction from artists and creators, is nearly $40 billion. According to Variety, Spotify says it has paid out more than $3 billion of that in the last two years. In addition, the company says the number of artists generating more than $1 million and more than $10,000 annually has doubled over the last five years. Currently 1,060 artists on the platform make more than $1 million and 57,000 make more than $10,000.
While that may seem encouraging, those numbers are a scant percentage of artists on the platform. At present, there are more than 11 million artists and creators on Spotify. And while the company estimates that there are around 200,000 “professional or professionally aspiring artists” (apparently relegating everyone else to the category of “hobbyist”), that means that less than a percent of artists on the platform made $1 million and only about a quarter make $10,000 a year. Spotify pays out in a pool system dubbed “streamshare,” and as the money trickles down, those who hold the rights to a creation end up getting a fraction of a cent per stream (which means that artists/creators may be getting even less, depending on who controls the rights to their creations).
Ek told CBS News:
"We don't pay artists directly. Artists have their deals with their record companies and their deals with their publishers, et cetera. And what Spotify does is we pay out to those record companies and these publishers, and don't know what individual deals these artists may have.”
In addition to barriers for artists and creators becoming marginally successful or even eeking out a living on the platform, Spotify’s number 1 podcast is still "The Joe Rogan Experience," which among other things is a haven for COVID-19 misinformation, antisemitic tropes and other various bigoted commentary, for which the host has a $200,000 contract. Rogan is also far from the only fascistic podcaster on the platform.
And while Ek says the company takes violations of terms of service “very seriously” and removes content that breaches them, and that “the same rules apply to Joe Rogan as it would to any other podcaster,” what constitutes breaking them and what the consequences might be is a pretty murky area. Rogan’s most recent antisemitic comments are still on the platform.
Ultimately, Spotify, like other giant streaming behemoths, is most likely going to do what they feel like and appears to be the most profitable for their shareholders and executives, rather than pay attention to user feedback, whether it's a small or large amount. With nearly half a billion users - 205 million of which are premium subscribers - even voices that carry plenty of weight that criticize the company can get lost in the shuffle. Despite the lion’s share of the market however, switching up its seemingly standard UX for one that feels like so many other platforms and giving up more control to the algorithm could turn both users and artists/creators off. In any case, while it’s never been easier to have access to a seemingly unlimited amount of music in our pockets wherever we go, sometimes we find ourselves pining for when we carried a walkman and a handful of mixtapes.