Spotify hits flat notes in its search for original content

A new series of weekly recordings called Spotify Singles shows the streaming giant aiming for original content but limited by its own parameters

For Spotify, as with so many other huge brands (see Starbucks, McDonald’s, Carlsberg and more), 2016 has been a year for original content.

Now, Spotify has launched Spotify Singles – where artists record two songs: one of their own and one cover. The recording takes place at Spotify’s in-house studios and is released on its own playlist every Wednesday.

The idea aims to channel the concept of singles, almost obsolete in the digital world, while giving Spotify another string to its bow as the first port of call in music streaming.

But for content marketers, this version of original content looks distinctly, well, unoriginal.

How original is original?

Although the drip feed of songs is close to the concept of a single, that’s where the similarity ends.

The original song featured on Spotify Singles is an existing song from the artist, presumably taken from their upcoming or recently released album. What makes it original is not the song, but the recording. In essence, it’s a live version of a song already recorded in its ‘official version’ elsewhere.

The content isn’t original, but simply repackaged and presented as new. The obligation to record a cover version of another artist’s song is closer to being original content, if remarkably similar to Radio 1’s Live Lounge.

If Spotify really wanted to push the envelope for original content, it could commission Spotify-only songs from a series of artists. As the world’s leading streaming service, with 40 million paying subscribers and millions more daily users, it surely has the power.

Turn up the volume

Spotify has been looking at spreading its wings with other content throughout 2016, including the launch of 12 original video series in May. The programmes were music-based, including Landmark – a documentary series about big moments from music history – and Trading Playlists, where celebrities swap playlists.

However, some of the feedback from the video drive suggested that the most successful content was TED Talks, which don’t rely on the visual elements and can be consumed as audio. For consumers, Spotify is implicitly associated as being content for the ears, not the eyes.

As well as that, TED Talks are not newly created for Spotify. Once again, Spotify is not seen as a content creator, but rather a platform.

Despite efforts to widen its scope to content creation, so far Spotify remains a platform for content creators to display their work – albeit the largest platform in the world.

The heart of the matter

The value placed on exclusive, original content by Spotify shows the power that talented content creators still have – even if, in this case, there is a strong reliance on platform.

And Spotify is wise to be looking for expansion. For example, it faces competition from the likes of Apple Music (20 million paying subscribers and counting).

But there’s also another factor at play – ironically formed from the same spirit of nostalgia that Spotify itself is playing on by invoking the format of the single.

For the first time in the UK, last week saw sales of vinyl outstrip digital downloads (£2.5 million sales from records compared with £2.1 million online). No doubt the Christmas rush has boosted this, but it still shows that an original product is a valuable commodity.

Despite its efforts, Spotify is aiming for content creation but falling into the role of broadcaster. In the battle to be heard, content creators can be reassured that theirs are still the loudest voices.

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