For better or for worse, playlist culture is probably going to dominate music for the foreseeable future. That’s certainly the opinion of the distribution service Record Union, who point out that over two thirds of all the music listened to on Spotify today is listened to via playlists. And they also point out that those playlists are overwhelmingly dominated by the ‘Big Three’ major labels (Universal, Sony and Warner). 87% of all the music on RapCaviar, one of Spotify’s most popular and influential playlists, comes from the Big Three. So in response to this chokehold the majors have on the channels through which we find music, Record Union wants to carve out a space for independent artists. They’ve launched their own playlist, which they’ve called ‘The Most Important Playlist Of The Week’, one reserved for independent artists. We spoke to their PR & Communications Manager Helena Aru to find out more about their plans.
So where did the idea for this playlist come from? And what are the criteria for artists to qualify for it?
We pitch new music to different music services every week. Some of it hits the playlists, but we think that a lot more of the music deserves to get some recognition. The purpose of ‘The Most Important Playlist Of The Week’ is to help more independent music creators, that might not always have a big promotion budget behind them, [find] an opportunity to be seen and noticed.The criteria to be featured on the list is to release a new track via Record Union between Saturday and Friday the week before the playlist is updated (every Friday at 00.00 CET). And the release must be uploaded to our system approximately 10 days before the release date.
Who actually curates the playlist? How do you consider submissions and how does the process of deciding who ends up on the playlist work?
We have an amazing curatorial team who listen to all music that comes in to us. Unlike many of our competitors, we’re at a stage within the industry where we’re not dependent on commercial success for single artists, which makes it possible for us to look solely at quality. In addition to quality, we also want to showcase music that represents our catalogue, with the Nordics and the US as our biggest markets and Hip Hop, rock and EDM our biggest genres.
How can playlists like this one help an independent artist build a career today? Is it important that the music industry builds new infrastructures to help new artists find success?
We see ‘The Most Important Playlist Of The Week’ as a long-term initiative and as a symbol of what we want to achieve within the music industry in the long run. For us, it’s important to be an active part in pushing the music industry forward and to make it more democratic, transparent and accessible to everyone who wants to be a part of it. Not all artists want to achieve global stardom and we don’t aim to create the next superstar. We’d rather aim to redefine what success within the music industry is today. For some artists, success is to finish and release an album and for others it is to be able to make a living out of music. We want to support all artists, regardless how they perceive and look at success. And for that reason, I would say yes, it is important that the music industry builds new infrastructures to help more artists succeed – on their own terms. It can’t be a one-winner-takes-it-all-market anymore.
You pointed out the fact that over two thirds of all the music listened to on Spotify is found via playlists. Do you think playlist culture is a negative or positive thing for the music industry? Some artists have pointed out that because people mostly listen to and look for playlists and not artists, it makes it difficult to gain and retain fans.
We don’t believe that playlists and playlist culture in itself are negative for the music industry, but I guess you can see two sides of it. The positive side is that artists that hit the playlists tend to reach out to new listeners with their music, and it also helps listeners to discover new artists and music. The negative side is that this new listening pattern tends to make artists who don’t hit the lists less visible among the enormous amount of music that is released every day. We believe in a playlist culture as long as it is diversified, but since the three major labels control over 80 percent of the streaming market (IFPI, 2018.) we believe that that is not the case today. It’s not that we don’t like hits, but we believe it would be a win-win for both artists and listeners if the culture of playlists would be more including when it comes to music from independent artists and labels.
Main Photo: Grijlo, currently featured on the playlist. Photo: Hugo Strömberg.