When UK-based Americana artist Yola was announced among the best new artist nominees for the 2020 Grammy Awards, her manager, Neverno Management’s Charlie Pierce, was immediately flooded with congratulatory texts — and requests.
“I had people saying, ‘if she’s at the Spotify party, can I come?’ Pierce says. “I was like, ‘we haven’t even been asked to do that yet!’”
It’s hard to blame the frantic texters. Pierce is referring to Spotify’s Best New Artist party, the annual, star-studded soiree that celebrates the category’s nominees ahead of awards night. For its first edition in 2017, The Chainsmokers and Maren Morris performed at Los Angeles’ Belasco Theater. Now in its fourth year, the event has grown into one of the hottest non-official Grammy parties: At the 2020 event on Jan. 23, all eight nominees — Maggie Rogers, Rosalía, Tank And The Bangas, Yola, Black Pumas, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X and Lizzo ?— will perform for 1,200 industry elites at Los Angeles’ sprawling Lot Studios.
But it’s more than a flashy party. The event has also helped Spotify quietly wield its influence, positioning itself as a major music industry player central to music’s biggest night.
“We are a tech company, but we think of ourselves as a music company, and I think it’s important that during the Grammys ?— when the entire industry is coming out to celebrate artists — we are also present,” says Marian Dicus, Spotify’s vice president, global head of artist & label marketing.
Spotify business lead, artist & label services Sarah Patellos makes a similar point. “Spotify has grown to be a big part of the music industry, and we are able to work with artists as partners throughout the entire year,” she says. “This is just another opportunity for us to solidify our position as being pivotal partners to artists and their teams.”
The streaming service tested several ideas before landing on the best new artist category theme. There was 2014’s “Music + Tech” party, a sponsor deal with Warner Music Group’s 2015 after-party at the Chateau Marmont, and an event to celebrate “creators” in 2016 that involved Missy Elliot and Katy Perry. “We were thinking, what could we really do that would be more meaningful, as opposed to just another event?” Dicus says.
In the end, aligning with the best new artist category was “a natural fit,” Dicus adds. “We’ve done a lot of things to support emerging artists globally,” from its Spotify For Artists tier to artist-specific campaigns, like a funhouse-esque activation in Los Angeles last year to promote Eilish’s debut album.
By the time awards season comes around, “we’ve never had any difficulty” wrangling nominees to perform, says Spotify artist & label marketing manager Ashley Graver. “Because all of these artists, we’ve worked with from the very beginning.”
Darkroom founder Justin Lubliner echoes that point: “We’re excited to be a part of an event for Spotify, and be great partners to a company that has been part of the growth of Billie Eilish since the beginning.”
Spotify doesn’t pay artists who perform (aside from covering their event-related expenses), but some say the opportunity to perform at a popular Grammy week event, for a room of industry insiders, is enough of a draw. “For every new artist, discovery is at the top of the list,” says Black Pumas’ manager, Ten Atoms founder Ryan Matteson. “This one came down to, we’re still in discovery mode, so we need to say yes to the things that are allowing [Black Pumas] to be discovered.”
And as streaming becomes ever more dominant, Pierce says that “building that relationship with Spotify is a really important thing for us” — enough that Yola rescheduled several tour dates in order to perform at the party.
“If you’re working in music and you’re digging your heels in and saying, ‘these streaming platforms are ruining the industry,’ you’re doing a disservice to both your artist and yourself, because that’s the reality of the industry,” she explains. “Either you have to adapt and work within it or you suffer the consequence.”
Tank And The Bangas’ manager, Tavia Osbey, feels similarly. “It is important to nurture relationships with the DSPs because streaming is the new wave,” she says, “and they are the ones that can place your artist on the hot playlist, put them on the top of their browsing list, support their upcoming releases and make sure millions of subscribers are in tune with what your artist is putting out.”
At last year’s event, one music manager put it bluntly to Billboard, saying, “Of course I’ll be at Spotify, have to kiss the ring.”
Ahead of the event, Spotify further supports the category’s nominees — and ties itself to the Grammys ?— with out-of-home ads in strategic places, like the Los Angeles International Airport, where Grammys attendees are arriving all week. When the awards relocated to New York in 2018, Spotify highlighted the nominees (and their Spotify play counts) across the Madison Square Garden plaza, where the ceremony was held.
Each nominee also gets a social media campaign and an official Spotify playlist.
This year’s event will feature an eight-foot shrine for each artist, a professional portrait booth, an In-N-Out truck, and more. And as the best new artist category has expanded from five nominees to eight, Spotify has adapted, too. To accommodate all eight performers, Spotify added a turntable stage and an artist village, where the nominees can relax, eat and hang out.
“The hard work will pay off when we’re at the Spotify party, like, ‘man, this is our first Grammys. And we’re doing one of the best and most high-profile, A-list events that everyone wants to be doing,'” Pierce imagines. “This is really something to celebrate.”