Music streaming battle heats up for Spotify

This week's all-star launch of US rapper Jay Z's streaming music service may not have caused its Swedish rivals at Spotify to lose sleep – but analysts predict tough days ahead as tech giant Apple prepares to enter the fray.

Music streaming battle heats up for Spotify
Spotify could face competition from more than just rap mogul Jay Z. Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

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Monday's glitzy rebrand of the Tidal service which rap mogul Jay Z bought from another Swedish firm, Aspiro, for $56 million (52 million euros), was billed as a new departure in streaming: higher quality audio and owned by artists for artists, not record labels and tech companies.

After a day's silence the news was welcomed by the world leader Spotify, despite the barely veiled criticism of streaming companies like itself from US superstars, including Madonna and Alicia Keys, at the launch in New York.

Jonathan Forster, Spotify's vice president for Europe, told AFP in Stockholm that his company welcomed the artists' initiative.

“I like the rallying cry that artists should get involved… We're definitely not trying to keep anyone down,” he said.

Spotify has come under fire from artists like British band Radiohead and US pop star Taylor Swift – who has shifted her catalogue to Tidal – protesting that Spotify does not pay artists their fair share.

Its founder Daniel Ek has hit back, saying it had paid out $2 billion (1.85 billion euros) to artists and record labels since it launched in Sweden in 2008.

With an estimated 60 million users in 58 countries, including 15 million who pay for ad-free music, Spotify dwarfs Tidal, which had just over half a million users in 31 countries when Jay Z bid for it in January.

But the world number one is a minnow compared to Apple in overall music consumption. The US giant, which plans to launch its own service in the coming months following its $3.2 billion purchase of Beats Music last year, has about 500 million iTunes users.

“The Apple music service is the one I'd be running scared from it I was Spotify. At the very least 50 percent of Spotify subscribers also happen to be IOS (Apple) device users,” said Mark Mulligan at London-based music industry research firm Midia.

In a survey published by Midia this week, 62 percent of music subscribers in the US alone said they were likely to sign up to the new service.

While Apple also has to deal with record labels – reportedly failing recently to secure lower licensing fees – Spotify faces an even bigger challenge from YouTube which offers free music videos available on all devices with an internet connection.

“As a market leader you're probably more worried about where people are listening to music on the internet. More people are listening via YouTube which is owned by Google – the biggest internet company of all,” said Olle Aronsson, at the Swedish tech news site Breakit, adding that streaming is still in its infancy, representing less than 15 percent of music sales revenue in the US and Britain.

But Spotify, under fire from record label bosses and artists to cut back on its own ad-supported free music – which it uses to attract paying clients – sees free music as the future.

“We've always thought that 'free' has been a huge part of music wherever you look – historically you had (free music on) the radio and you went out and bought vinyl or cassettes,” said Forster, adding that illegal downloading has made charging for music difficult.

“We also felt that it's about scale. If you're talking about a billion or half a billion users you can start building really interesting free businesses. If you're an advertising business you can tap into Google or Facebook levels of revenue,” he said.

“The global market of people who like music is almost everyone on Earth.”

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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.