Spotify's Gary Liu on Metallica, tackling piracy, and winning over Thom Yorke

Gary Liu: Spotify's global director of ad product strategy
Gary Liu: Spotify's global director of ad product strategy

Spotify, the music streaming service built by self-professed music lovers to bring songs to the masses, has seen its profile grow considerably over the past 12 months.

This year alone the brand has experienced commercial highs such as its global partnership with Coca-Cola, and brand lows following the very public criticism of the site by Radiohead's Thom Yorke. All, Spotify confirmed in August, for a company that has never recorded a profit.

Spotify's global director of ad product strategy, Gary Liu, is a music lover, aiming to bring brands closer to their consumers through better branded content.

Marketing: How does Spotify as an ad platform add value to brands?

Liu: "Over the course of 2012 we’ve spend time talking to the users to find out what matters to them and why they care about music and Spotify.

We want brand participation on the platform to be a value-add, not a distracter or something that disrupts music listening.

"The two primary things they told us that they use music to express who they are, to create an identity that is themselves, and they believe the easiest way to share their identity is through music.

"I can you send a playlist of the songs I’ve been listening to for the past two weeks and that will give you a sense of who I am and what I’ve been feeling. That’s how our users communicate with each other in general.

"We want brand participation on the platform to be a value-add, not a distracter or something that disrupts music listening, but that at its ideal helps users discover great music and experience great content.

"The brands that work with us the best create content that is unique to the Spotify platform and allows their consumers to engage with the brand, but not to that they’re receiving an ad."

So how has this worked in practice?

"Reebok decided that it wanted to have a musical identity and for that to be a moment of a person’s day, which would be during consumers’ work outs.

"Reebok then built an application platform called the Reebok Fit List, which allows a user to log in, select what kind of exercise they’re about to do, choose the intensity of their work out and choose their favourite band, which would then feed into our data and create a completely unique work-out playlist that is at least the length of the individual run of exercise.

"The application takes songs that are from or like a person’s favourite artists, and songs that Reebok believe are going to fit in with a users’ work out type that have been built into its algorithm, while the intensity is worked out by another set of data working out beats per minute.

"Then consumers take that work out playlist and they can use it any time they want. In the app itself there are a bunch of playlists curated by Reebok athletes around the world that can be accessed too. It means that people are constantly coming back to that platform to engage with Reebok."

How much attention do you pay to competitors such as Deezer or Vimeo?

"We don’t pay any attention to those competitors. Not from an arrogance point of view but because the one thing we still need to beat in the industry is piracy.

"There is still a significant amount of music piracy in the world and it is still one of the primary reasons the music industry isn’t making as much money as it should, or as much as the artists deserve. And we will not be done until there’s literally zero piracy in the world.

"We love the fact that there is a lot of competition out there because it means there are more and more opportunities for people to walk away from piracy."

How do you deal with artists publicly withdrawing their music from Spotify like Thom Yorke did on Twitter? 

"We have conversations with them. It really is just about educating artists. Spotify and the slew of services that have appeared over the past five or six years are still very new and artists are still learning about how to use them.

"So when something like that happens we really want to talk with the artist. It’s not about convincing people something that isn’t true, it’s about working with people to help them understand our product.

"At the end of last year, Metallica made their entire catalogue free on our platform for the first time. And this is the band that spearheaded the kind of lawsuits that got Napster shut down.

"Metallica came to us, they said they believed in what Spotify is doing, they believe this is the future and that they believe that Spotify is genuine. Pink Floyd and The Eagles came onto our platform, and these are previously artists that had felt the same as Thom Yorke." 


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