FEATURE: An Imperfect Figure: Spotify Wrapped 2018: Is It Possible to Get on Top of the Sheer Weight of Music and Ensure the Newcomers and Classic Acts Find a Fair Audience in the Spotify Age?




An Imperfect Figure


IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande (who was declared the top-streamed female artist on Spotify for 2018)/PHOTO CREDIT: Craig McDean for VOGUE 

Spotify Wrapped 2018: Is It Possible to Get on Top of the Sheer Weight of Music and Ensure the Newcomers and Classic Acts Find a Fair Audience in the Spotify Age?


I am beholden to Spotify as much as the next person...



 IN THIS IMAGE: Spotify Wrapped 2018/IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

and would be a much poorer and more stressed journalist if it were not in my life! That might sound tragic but I love how one can get any new album instantly and, if needed, cherry-pick a track from it for their delectation. It is wonderful to have such variety, accessibility and flexibility with our music. Once was the time, pre-streaming/Spotify/YouTube, where one had to rely on traditional methods (buying albums and singles) and a few select websites to get the best new music around. Now, we have a wealth of sites where one can access pretty much any song from anywhere in the world. It is one of the best things about the technological takeover and, as many will know, the popularity and exposure of new artists can be linked to sites like Spotify. I am not saying it is the only tool and way to get discovered but one cannot overlook its impact and role in today’s culture. I use it quite a lot and have found so much new material using it. It is the time of year when all the streaming sites and social media bodies are giving us our statistics from 2018. If it is Facebook then we are told about our most popular posts and all those ‘best moments’.


 IMAGE CREDIT: @KristianKostov_

Spotify is doing the same and providing users with the songs and artists they connected with most this year. It is a good way to find out what was rocking our world and we can have breakdowns of the type of sounds that filled our hearts. Whist it is good to have a statistical analysis of our tastes and discover where our preferences lie; I wonder whether this approach to popularity and user tastes is actually misleading and lead to some worrying realisations. I have seen various contacts on social media publish this results and it does give props to certain new acts. For me, I think there is a big weighting towards older artists and a very limited scope. I have downloaded countless tracks as part of my reviews and interviews – which provides a huge spread of genres and locations – but, in terms of the artists I came back to time and time again; it is a case of the old and established. I sort of suspected that would be the case but it makes me wonder whether one of the two things has led to that inevitability. One might argue a narrow funnelling of older tastes is a result of sites like Spotify not really uncovering the older acts and songs – they are too trend-focused and are more keen to emphasise the new and rising.


 IMAGE CREDIT: @elsbdm

I can see why new artists are top of the agenda: we need to highlight and promote the current generation and ensure we are not just relying on the old and familiar. I accept that but how often does one see a good balance of the older and new – surely, the most economical and sage use of a platform as wide-ranging and powerful as Spotify?! The other debate revolves around the scope of new music and whether it is truly possible to discover ALL of the best and brightest. I am lucky in my position as I get sent requests and songs many people will not have found – or might discover a while after release date. I think I am on the front-line of the wave of new music and can pick what I want to promote and who I want on my blog. I am always sad and have that feeling of guilt when I reject someone because I want to include everyone and do worry, in a competitive market, they will struggle to get a foothold. That is not arrogance on my part but the realisation every artist needs as much promotion and attention as possible in order to compete. Not only are a lot of bygone albums/artists being relegated to happenstance and luck but so much of what is being put onto Spotify is being overlooked. I stated how it is impossible to hear everything good and promising but I do wonder whether more needs to be done so that there is parity and less chance of narrow focus and homogenisation. I realise Spotify have introduced ‘Tastebreakers’; a personalised playlist featuring artists you might like based on search results - is it thorough and accurate enough and does it go deep enough?


IN THIS IMAGE: Drake (he is the top-streamed male artists on Spotify for 2018)/IMAGE CREDIT: @Drake

I think the very fact popularity and place is measured in numbers, streaming figures and graphs is very business-like, empty and worrying. Having seen people receive the results of their listening tastes; what strikes me is how the vast majority are listening (mostly) to artists who are either being included on weekly Spotify playlists or else are fresh and contemporary. I can understand why most people would focus on the approaching breed but is the absence of older artists a sign that we are putting too much emphasis on the new? Also, I know of so many musicians who have their music on Spotify and it can be so hard to compete with the bigger acts. I have speculated before but I think the nature of Spotify means we are naturally drawn to artists they feel are cool and worthy. Naturally, radio exposure and social media brings music to our minds and we then go to Spotify to hear that track/act but does that mean we are lacking in exploration – or is music so hefty and vast that we cannot get a handle on things?! Before I go on, and if you want to know how to see your most-streamed music of 2018; this article - gives a step-by-step explanation.

The most popular artists have been revealed and the results do not really surprise me. As the Evening Standard’s article continues; it seems the most-streamed are the very new and those who are trending:

Drake tops the list for the most streamed artist in 2018 with 8.2 billion streams this year. This has also earned the Canadian rapper the crown for the most-streamed artist of all time.

Thank u, Next star Ariana Grande is recognised for being the most-streamed female artist, and her hit post-breakup song has had more than 220 million streams by itself already, despite only being release in November”.

I do think it is good to have a read-out of the music that we streamed this year but I am concerned there is too much spotlighting of the biggest chart acts and a very one-sided market. Think about so many of the smaller acts who warrant a lot of focus and they are not being afforded the same oxygen and celebration. The same can be said of older music and making sure the current generation have that mixture of the finest new cuts and the best of the past. How do we go about ensuring Spotify and the end-of-year statistics are not too predictable and each subscriber is given a proper opportunity to broaden their horizons?


 IMAGE CREDIT: @cy_halling

One might say the results of each user is appropriate to their own mind and not directed by playlists/promoted artists but you only need to look at the most-streamed artists from various genres to see a correlation between popularity and the fact they have received the most marketing – either because they are trendy or doing well in the mainstream charts. I recognise the artists rising high on big radio stations would have that mirrored attention on Spotify but, when you go to the site, how do you go beyond that and discover artists lower down the pecking order? So much of the trending suggestions concentrate on a very particular type of artist and there needs to be more menus and compartmentalisation. I am keen to know what is popular on Spotify but, when I am there, I am eager to uncover some rising artists that might not be that commercial but are producing something truly exciting. If we had drop-down menus by genre, location (country/city) and could provide lesser-heard/less-mainstream artists a better chance of being discovered then it would provide a more rounded listening experience and make it easy to get to grips with the sheer volume of new music. By the same token, how about doing weekly playlists by genre and focus on a bit more on artists who could truly benefit from Spotify promotion. It is vital for mainstream acts to get a big say but I think they are less reliant on Spotify than many of the underground artists who are years away from getting the same radio and chart exposure as the big guns.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @nadineshaabana/Unsplash

I asked whether it is actual reasonable to create an equal balance and not be drowned by the weight of music out there. The Spotify end-of-year breakdown (or ‘Spotify Wrapped 2018’ as it is known) is a useful thing to have but I think time should be spend organising things a bit more. I concede it is too much to ask that every artist finds its way to every subscriber. It is not possible to hear everything you’d like and things will slip through the net. The thing is, I am discovering so much great music by luck – it is shared by a follower of a follower on Twitter or some such – and it has been on Spotify for ages. I would like a more organised site that keeps a track of all the new upload and can tailor suggestions to what I like and want to hear. At the moment, there is a rather meagre version of that and I feel some retuning and development could make Spotify this all-conquering site where we could still keep the cool and mainstream hot in the timeline but would mean people are able to use a bespoke search engine to narrow things down and use the menus to more easily discover new and existing artists that fit their tastes. I think you can easily have a few different playlists and options that means your experience is more varied and less directed.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Talking Heads (a classic band who are not as widely promoted as modern mainstream artists - meaning many young listeners are missing out)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The problem with older music is that it is not new and has been played endlessly. I feel too many sites consider classic artists second to the new wave and feel people should mostly listen to what is fresh and forward-thinking. I disagree and feel, for people to become more rounded and knowledgeable about music in general, more emphasis needs to be placed on musicians who have come before. I listen to a lot of older sounds on Spotify but so many are going there and instantly gravitating towards the new. Unless they have heard a particular artist from the past on the radio and have been compelled to stream their work; is there any mechanism in place to ensure discovery is not only about trending and what is deemed ‘relevant’?! Like a menu for new artists; having dropdowns for years/genres etc. would make it easy for anyone to access songs they have never heard or those that slipped the mind. Maybe playlists by year/decade would ensure a better of old and new and make these end-of-year breakdowns less predictable and narrow. Perhaps those suggestions would cost a lot and take a lot of time but I think, the more we go to Spotify, the less we are broadening our tastes. Most of my non-commercial discoveries have arrived via radio and social media rather than a platform like Spotify.


 IMAGE CREDIT: @valeriebuvat

I do not think this is right and, when I got my Spotify Wrapped 2018, it proved two things. For a start, it was not as eclectic in terms of older music as I’d liked (as there is not the device in place to point my in various directions) and most of the newer artists I streamed were as a result of P.R. companies or artists coming directly to me – I would not have discovered these wonderful rising musicians were it not for people not related to Spotify. I know it is harmless fun seeing who we all streamed in 2018 and, in fact, promoting the results not only give a nod to artists and boost their fanbase but it is an interesting social experiment. What I am finding from those who are sharing their 2018 is how similar the results are and how many are listening to same thing. Maybe that is coincidence but I think too many of us are being directed and influenced by very narrow playlists and very few of us are venturing too far beyond the popular, exposed and trending. Music is a vast and wondrous ocean and, whilst it is easy to get buried and staggered by its size, I think all of us can boost our musical horizons and make new discoveries if such big and powerful outlets like Spotify make a few tweaks so there is more parity, broadness and age-balance (between the new and old). It has been a great 2018 for music and I hope, as a resolution for next year, Spotify introduces some new touches and innovations that mean the rising, mainstream and older...


IMAGE CREDIT: @lauranhibberd 

HAVE an equal say.