Spotify's Mia Nygren on Streaming's Fastest-Growing Market: Latin America
The Spanish-speaking Swede on podcasts, equal pay and wooing users without credit cards.
Mia Nygren has a clear mandate: "I'm responsible for the monthly active users we have in the Latin American region and how fast we grow," she says with her trademark no-nonsense style.
It’s no small task: 21 percent of Spotify’s 180 million global users are Latin American, a number that doesn’t include U.S. Latin users or users in Spain. And the video-obsessed market has presented Nygren, 45, with an array of unique challenges, from figuring out how to price streaming subscriptions in high-inflation economies to finding ways for the region’s "unbanked" population -- those without bank accounts -- to subscribe without a credit card.
So far, so good. "Latin America is outpacing the growth of all other regions in the world," says the Swede, who has lived in Spain and Brazil and speaks in slightly accented, though grammatically perfect, Spanish -- and fluent Portuguese.
Nygren moved to Spain from Spotify’s motherland, Sweden, when she founded Mobile Hits, a company that sold music content for mobile phones. After a stint at Universal Music, she took a job in 2011 as Spotify’s head of business development in Europe, and transitioned into Latin America in 2013. Married to a Spaniard, the mother of two stepped into her current role in 2015 and moved to Miami in 2016, growing the office from five staffers to nearly 30, which required them to move from their original Coral Gables location to a hip WeWork space in Miami’s upscale Brickell City Center while they wait for new offices to open in a to-be-announced location.
"I came with huge self-confidence, but I didn’t expect it to grow so fast and the adoption to be so quick," says Nygren, who also grew her total staff in Mexico, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires from 60 to 85, including eight playlist editors across the region.
You have grown by huge margins. How did this happen?
We have to acknowledge that this part of the world is enjoying a very fast smartphone adoption. So we came from low numbers. There is also an increase in what we call the "financial inclusion." There are more people in the region that can access and pay for Spotify because we’ve developed a lot of payment options, [even though] Latin America is pretty unbanked. We have different payment options, such as credit cards, debit cards, cash options through vouchers or gift cards. For example, in Mexico, we have partnered with [convenience store chain] Oxxo for prepaid options. We announced the possibility of paying with debit cards in Brazil. It is very important for Spotify to democratize access to music and, through a wide offer of payment methods, to allow access to a larger quantity of people.
Also, the Latin American population is very young. More than 50 percent is under 30, where we have our core audience.
Even so, the last 12 months have been especially explosive.
When we started out, there were other favorable things for us, and there has been a domino effect. When we launched in Latin America, we already had the mobile version of Spotify available, and Latin America is very mobile-driven.
What makes the Latin American user different from other Spotify users?
The Latin American user is highly engaged, and the region is tremendously diverse [in terms of music]. The sound and talent has always been incredible. This is not new. What is new is a platform like ours allows the region to be completely borderless in its consumption.
Banda MS, a regional Mexican music band, is the most-streamed Mexican act ever on Spotify in Mexico. How did this happen?
We’re always looking to find audiences that are not yet on the platform, from a user perspective and from a creative perspective. Last year in Mexico, we saw that the regional Mexican consumer was slightly underrepresented. So we did a huge amount of work to change that, with artists like Banda MS [and other regional Mexican acts]. We worked with them to make sure they understood the platform. We taught them how to use Spotify for Artists so they can leverage the decisions they take in making music. We’ve also been doing a lot of interesting campaigns in an effort to communicate off-platform, like digital campaigns and billboards. In Brazil we’re doing an enormous campaign right now with Pabllo Vittar.
Another big story this year is J Balvin, a Colombian, becoming the most-streamed artist on Spotify worldwide.
Part of this story is this borderless consumption and the fact that you have so many users in Latin America. If you have more than 20 percent of the monthly users in the region, and consumption is happening here, that is a muscle that can propel any talent from Colombia, from Brazil, from Mexico, from wherever they sit, to the global charts. We do part of the work. If the story is working on a local level, if the user is accepting [the track], it will move up and be part of more and more playlists. But obviously, the labels [and] the promoters are doing their part.
At one point, I heard talk about a renewed focus on video. Is that still a priority?
It will always be part of what we want to do. But we also do a lot of development and original production when it comes to podcasts. We think that’s a very interesting part for us to lean into. We launched our first Spotify Original podcast around the World Cup. [Others include a podcast on] the student massacre in Mexico in 1968 and its effect on culture; Una a la Semana, which is about music anecdotes; and Eleição Na Chapa, about the Brazilian elections, in partnership with [local newspaper] Folha de São Paulo. El Chapo, a Vice News production in English and Spanish about the Mexican drug lord, launches Nov. 1.
What is your approach to inclusion?
There is a “Swedishness” to what we do in the sense that, equal pay, for example, is a cultural and legal norm since generations back. For me, this piece is so natural and so tremendously important that I cannot understand why there is any kind of differentiation. That said, we have to make an effort if we want to have women on the staff side and on the platform. In leadership positions in Latin America, 57 percent of those are women, which is higher than the global average. We’ve done a super cool initiative in Brazil called Escutas Minhas, or Listen to Her. It’s a social-initiative campaign where we have female artists talking about women in music.
How do you deal with pricing in the region, especially with fluctuating currencies and devaluations?
In order to meet market demands and conditions, we continuously review our pricing in each market while looking at many variables. We charge in local currency, and we have a local price point that we adjust to local markets. We are [now] increasing our price in Argentina, for example.
What Latin music trends do you see on the horizon?
We’re going deeper into trap. That genre is being consumed a lot, and what’s happening in Argentina, in particular, is very important. In Mexico, we see more things going into pop. And then, also, the fusions of different genres. Latin music is not a genre. Latin music is music in the Spanish language.