Midem Panel Examines Rise of Streaming, 'Astounding' Consolidation of Curators With Concern & Celebration

Adam Wissing
Thaddeus Rudd

"There are 12 people that control the playlists that have global impact," said Mom + Pop Music co-president Thaddeus Rudd.

It used to be that labels and managers had to court radio programmers to get their singles on the air. Now, it’s a whole different kind of courting as streaming becomes ever more important with top curators holding the keys to accessing playlists that can make or break a song. During Day 1 one Midem, executives from indie labels and digital platforms addressed curators' growing clout as they celebrated new avenues for breaking artists and songs during a panel titled “Streaming Services: The New A&Rs?” 

“The consolidation of curators has been astounding,” said Thaddeus Rudd, co-president of U.S. indie Mom + Pop Music, referring to top services like Apple Music and Spotify. “There are 12 people that control the playlists that have global impact.” 

The notion that so much power -- because playlists not only break songs but provide audience numbers for artists -- is amassed in such few hands is definitely a source of concern for labels. Music business consultant and panel moderator Lara Baker asked if it was career destroying to miss out on key playlists.

“It’s not career destroying, but it’s very important,” said Rudd. 

Panelists pointed out that despite that power consolidation, playlists are not the only factor in breaking artists and songs, but they do provide extra exposure that simply didn’t exist before. 

“Our biggest challenge is when we have an artist perform well [on Spotify], and there’s no face [associated with the artist],” said Patrik Larsson, A&R and label manager for Playground Music in Scandinavia. “Even though we have a ton of streams, it doesn't necessarily translate to following on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.” 

At the end of the day, there is old-fashioned work and plans involved in breaking an act, and the people behind the playlists want to know about that too. 

“There are real people sitting there making those playlists,” said Larsson.

The best way to reach those people is not through the radio promotion departments, but through labels’ digital teams. Even so, says Rudd, “The editors of Spotify and Apple have shown a supreme independence from their label liaisons. They don’t want to be pressured.”

That’s much different from the give and take of radio, where factors like shows and radio festivals can influence spins. But now, streaming is also influencing what radio programs.

“I’m delighted to say that in the U.K. there’s much more attention given to what happens outside of broadcasting,” said Pete Downtown, deputy CEO of 7Digital.

“It’s a beautiful thing to be based on merit instead of who you know,” said Oscar Huglond, co-founder and CEO of indie Epidemic Sound in Sweden. “Our experience is there’s a level playing field.”