Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek addresses a press conference in New York, December 11, 2013. Credit: Getty Images
In the past you had to pay for music or download it illegally. Not any more since the advent of online music streaming.
Since 2008, Spotify has allowed users to stream music to their phones and computers for free. Great news for music fans, but detractors see Spotify as a threat to artists' livelihood; Radiohead's Thom Yorke recently called it "the last desperate fart of a dying corpse."
But free content is key to the music industry’s survival, Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek tells Metro.
Metro: How does your mission today differ from when you launched Spotify?
Ek: It's the same. We started the company because we saw that people were listening to more music than ever before, but at the same time, the music industry was going down. Why was it imploding? Because of piracy. So how do you beat piracy? People had tried legislation, suing individual users. But the only solution that would work in the long term was creating a better product than piracy. So, when [co-founder Martin Lorentzon and I] started, our mission was to create such a product, because we believe that by doing so, we can get music in the hands of every single person in the world, and at the same time, it will make the music industry what it used to be and more.
Record labels are still not big fans of Spotify. Do you have sympathy for them?
I don't think there's a single record label that has a problem with us. They've worked with us for four-five years now, and I'm sure they wouldn't partner with us if they didn't like what we do. Right now we're their second-largest revenue generator after iTunes. What you're probably referring to is artists having controversies over what they perceive as a loss of income because people listen to them on services like Spotify. My answer to that is that we're in the early days of streaming. We haven't figured out a perfect model yet, but things will change. In Sweden we had this exact debate a few years ago. It's died down now, because as Spotify grew – we now account for 70 percent of all record revenues in the country – the Swedish music industry has been growing. That means that the record labels are paying out more money to the artists.
YouTube content boss Robert Kyncl's vision of his site is a talent factory for ordinary people. Do you want Spotify to go in the same direction?
We don't want to become creators of music. Record labels are great partners, and by the way, artists can also upload music to Spotify on their own. What we're focusing on is getting more music uploaded so that more people can enjoy it.
One of your staff members put an unknown singer named Lorde on Spotify's playlist, turning her an instant star. Do you want to formalize this process of Spotify as a kingmaker?
Yes, we want to help artists, but we don't want to be kingmakers. What we're about is democratizing the music industry so that your friends are your kingmakers.
Isn't creativity, and as a result music-making, in danger of dying out if we're just used to downloading and not making it ourselves?
I disagree. The great thing from the past decade is that you no longer have to make expensive records to get your ideas out there. I do agree with you, though, that people should spend more time thinking about new ideas. But what the internet does is democratizing the music industry so that everyone can share their ideas.
Just an analogy: I have a friend who I got to know about 10 years ago. He has very big feet and has always had trouble finding shoes. So, several years ago he said to himself, "Maybe I should produce my own shoes”, and he did. People told him it was silly because, they said, people don't have these sized feet. But he put it online, and now it's a really big business. It turns out there were all these people around the world who also have really big feet. The great thing about the internet is that, whether you have a good or a bad idea, it doesn't matter, because you can reach the entire world population. There's a market for everything. Take country music in Sweden, for example. Catering to such a small market would have been impossible 30 years ago. Now you can do that and reach a global audience as well.
But where will the money come from? At the end of the day, all these users just want things for free...
I think customers will pay for quality. People are willing to pay more for an Apple product because they perceive it as being higher quality. And look at news media. You can get news for free, but even so I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal because they provide depth and analysis that I think it's worth paying for. And I subscribe to magazines, too, because I value the fact that there are people who spend hours thinking about what news really means. I think we'll see lots of different business models.
When you go home at night, do you listen to music or do you say to yourself, "I can't hear another note, I just want to read the Wall Street Journal?”
I listen to music all the time. When I was four, I started playing the guitar, and when I was five, I was handed a computer. These are things I've lived with my entire life. I love music, and that's the reason I started Spotify. I make playlists for my daughter when I'm with her, and dinner playlists when I'm making dinner.
And do you still play the guitar?
Of course I do! I don't have a band anymore, but I play a lot with friends.