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Spotify interview: The source of the stream

The Local’s Thanh Dinh catches up with Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, the Sweden-based music streaming service that is making friends with everyone from the armchair music fan to Bono.

Spotify interview: The source of the stream

Daniel Ek is a difficult man to track down. The co-founder and CEO of Spotify is busy travelling around the US and UK on business, though he is keeping schtum about who he is meeting. [U2 perhaps? It has just been announced that the band are to unveil their new album on Spotify this week].

Founded in 2006, Spotify is quickly gaining a legion of loyal fans and it is easy to understand why. The music-streaming program gives users instant access to a huge catalogue of music from all over the world. Free of charge. Music connoisseurs can listen to Chilean pop rock group Kudai one moment, Cantonese sensation Andy Lau the next, and a quick hop around the world later, they could be sampling the delightful voice of Turkish singer Emel Sayin.

Unlike the majority of peer-to-peer music sharing, Spotify’s beauty lies in the fact that it works with music companies and rights holders so that its operations are wholly legitimate. This explains why Spotify has been welcomed into the fold with open arms by both producers and consumers of music alike. Just this past Wednesday saw Daniel EK attending the Brit Awards in London, mingling with the crème de la crème of the music industry. This would never have been the case for the likes of Napster or Pirate Bay.

So it was with great satisfaction that Daniel Ek, very much the man of the moment, took some time out to answer our questions.

You are often described as a serial entrepreneur, are there any other things you are also guilty of?

Right now, with all the travelling I’m doing, not getting enough sleep.

Spotify is a brilliant idea but let’s be honest. Have there been any ideas that you’ve had that didn’t work out?

Plenty, but luckily none which are business-related.

Who has most inspired you?

I’d have to say French electro kings Daft Punk. I still get goose bumps when I hear Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

Go on, give us a peek into your music collection, who are you listening to right now?

There are some fantastic artists coming through such as M.I.A., TV On The Radio, The Ting Tings, Fleet Foxes and The View. Bruce Springsteen’s latest is awesome and I’ve just started listening to Lily Allen’s new album, which just hit Spotify.

Spotify was yours and Martin Lorentzon’s brainchild, did it come about quickly from a chat you both had or was the idea a long process development?

It’s something we’d been thinking about for a while. One thing that became obvious to us post P2P was the fact that people consumed more music than ever from a bigger diversity of artists. The influences in terms of what they were listening to were coming more from friends than from radio stations. They were consuming music like crazy but weren’t necessarily paying for that music. The underlying demand for music was bigger than ever. [The reason] we set up Spotify was to cater for that demand but to also, at the same time, create a functioning revenue stream.

What do you make of the success so far?

We love the fact that so many people have taken Spotify to heart and are enjoying the service. Our ultimate aim is to provide the world’s biggest catalogue of music that’s quick, simple and fun to use.

What has been Spotify’s biggest challenge since start-up?

Well obviously signing the various record deals was a huge step for us. We want to be the alternative to music piracy and to have the support of the record labels, both the majors and independents, to allow us to realise that aim.

Since then, probably dealing with the surge in users has been one of our biggest challenges, as well as adding on average 10,000 tracks a day to the Spotify catalogue. Putting all the world’s music in one place is a big job.

Who do you see as your biggest competition?

Depending on who you speak to, we will be compared to different services. In the UK, we get compared to Last.fm; in France a lot of people compare us to Deezer, while in the US a lot of people see us as similar to Rhapsody or Napster. I honestly believe that we don’t have a main competitor on that level as no one is currently offering what we are offering in terms of an ad-supported model and a subscription model as one.

What has been the best decision you have made for the company?

Hiring some of the best people in the business. Everyone’s extremely passionate about what we’re trying to achieve here and that passion is evident in everything we do, from adding as much music as we can every day, to keeping the service running smoothly, to keeping users abreast of all the latest news on our blog and Twitter.

So with all the techies behind Spotify, are your Christmas parties a fun affair?

We’re unbelievably lucky at Spotify to have a hugely talented mix of people on board. It’s fair to say our techies give the sales & marketing team a very good run for their money in the partying stakes.

What have you got planned for 2009?

A whole bunch of stuff. We’ve got some unbelievably cool exclusive content available for our users coming up over the next few months, plus we’re also going to provide our Spotify Premium subscribers with some special extra services. Watch this space.

MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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