When streaming proper -- Spotify -- first arrived stateside, music fans were presented with a vast catalog of music and a relatively intimidating point of entry to it: the search bar. Many froze. (I did.) We've come a long way since then, as popular playlisters have filled the role of digital disc jockeys and hybrid human-computer curation has begun to ease fans into this ocean of music. No more, or far less, cliff diving these days.
Headlines of late have devoted their space to the highest-profile artists, all of whom have, not shockingly, found massive success through streaming, via coordinated promotional campaigns and exclusivity deals. Kanye West, Beyonce, Drake, Chance the Rapper.
(The first two were exclusive to Tidal, the latter two to Apple Music -- all but one, Beyonce, are now available on the other major services.) You may notice that these are some of the most popular artists in the world. So what about the lesser-known, the "long tail" artists, who have been so enabled by the availability and affordability of creation and recording technology? What about actually hearing what they're making?
"I think we are really onto something in terms of democratizing the overall discovery process," says Stefan Blom, Spotify's Chief Content and Strategy Officer, in an interview. He's referring to the aforementioned playlists, as well as Spotify's Discover Weekly and Fresh Finds products, both of which point listeners towards new and "underheard" music.
In a blog post today, the company is touting some big numbers from these discovery tools: "Discover Weekly... has connected 40 million [unique] listeners with nearly 5 billion new songs in less than a year," and that those featured on "Fresh Finds start with less than 100 monthly listeners and end up with tens of thousands of listeners on average." As well, the company points to its in-house playlisting team, which recently announced it is generating a billion song streams each week. (Those 5 billion new plays have been worth, taking the average per-song streaming rate of $0.007, about $35 million for the recording business.)
Going out-of-box for your discovery is recommended, and there are plenty of options. The Yams, a new startup, may end up being the best for those long-tail artists; you provide your phone number, they text you a hand-picked playlist of music you "didn't know" you love, put together by "experts." Magic Playlist is pure machine -- enter a song, get a playlist of similar work -- and as such is unlikely to surface emerging artists. Playlists.net might be the most useful; even a cursory scan of the site shows playlists like "Missed Music," "Banned on BBC," "Future Pop," "Fresh Indie Finds."
Apple Music has done its work in this area as well, taking users' likes and surfacing playlists created by their team of editors in its "For You" section. (I have, after months of listening, have yet to see any new discoveries for me.) YouTube's Music app does a decent job as well, when on its "radio" mode, of surfacing artists from all tiers of popularity.
Spotify is planning on expanding its efforts, too. The company's recently launched video vertical will, Blom says, soon feature snackable discovery too. "You'll definitely see us doing more audio and video productions that sort of surround the music experience," he says, saying discovery would form a portion of those intiatives.
With so much wealth concentrated at the top of the digital economy, "niche" artists have no doubt been wondering when they would see this great digital experiment turns its eye towards them. Now, it's at least glancing in their direction.