Streaming service address royalty disputes in Q&A with Lars Ulrich and Sean Parker at press event
Today, Spotify held a "What's Next?" press conference simultaneously in New York and London to address upgrades and respond to recent accusations about the miniscule sums paid to artists whose music is available on the streaming service. Lars Ulrich, Metallica drummer and famed commando in Internet music wars, was also on hand to announce that Metallica's entire catalog would finally be available on Spotify. Despite keeping the event under wraps in the weeks leading up to it, Spotify reps did reveal that special guests would be present — peaking with a guest performance from SPIN's Album of the Year winner Frank Ocean.
During the press conference, Spotify announced a new "Follow" section, where you can connect to anyone who might provide you with new music recommendations; not just your friends, but anyone from Barack Obama to SPIN magazine. You can even listen to Bruno Mars' playlist as he makes his new record. Spotify founder Daniel Ek might have stated it best (if also creepiest) when he said, "Spotify knows how much of a fan you are even before you become a follower."
Furthermore, with the upgrade, Spotify itself can recommend artists more precisely tailored to users' taste. Ek took to the stage to unveil solutions to problems Spotify is working on solving. At the moment he says the service is, "great when you know what music you want to listen to, not so great when you don't." The new version fixes that. For example, there's a more robust and front-and-center recommendation system. It may even get nostalgic on you: "Do you remember this song by Kris Kross when you were nine?" he asked. "We think you might like it." A partnership with Songkick will also tell you which of your favorite artists will be touring your area soon, and "Audio Preview" allows you to preview a song you might want to listen to without interrupting the one you're currently listening to. Then, you can save the song for later and listen to it when you're ready without having to add it to a playlist.
To address artist royalty issues, Ek then brought out Napster's Sean Parker and Lars Ulrich of Metallica. After their acrimonious history — you may recall that Metallica sued Napster in 2000, which led to the company's dissolution — Parker and Ulrich seemed to have resolved their issues. They argued that both parties' positions had been misunderstood: Metallica was labeled as the archetypal greedy band when in fact they had always been pro-bootlegging, and Napster had been branded thieves when in fact Parker and his partner Shawn Fanning were just trying to build a license-driven music distribution service. Now that Metallica has taken control of their entire past and future catalog and created their own record label, they can choose how to distribute their music — and that means appearing on Spotify.
But what about the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and all those other bands that aren't yet on Spotify? "People left out are the ones that don't have children yet. Kids are interacting with music the way we were back in the day, so people who aren't on streaming services are going to miss out on that access," says Ek. So artists like Paul McCartney, who has not yet joined Spotify, will miss out on a new demographic of listeners. Ironically, Ek used the cover of McCartney in an example of how the new Spotify will contextualize its music, a discrepancy that Billboard's Jem Aswad raised during the Q&A session. No, it was not a hint of things to come: McCartney still has no intention of joining the streaming service.
For the piece de resistance, Spotify brought out another Grammy nominee: Frank Ocean. "I'm going to play a little song I play from time to time," he said. "It's called 'Pyramids'." He may be grappling with vinyl bootleggers, but at least his latest album, channel ORANGE, is available on Spotify.
Watch footage from the press conference below.