The next successful music app will be one that break’s Spotify’s editorial stranglehold

Consider two things around Spotify: the “tyranny of choice” problem, and the platform’s own stranglehold over all editorial. Time and again, I hear people remark that they fire up Spotify only to stare bog-eyed at the plethora of options and feel completely clueless as to where to begin. Alongside that, I’ve made much mention before now of Spotify’s own tight grip on editorial, ensuring that even if one were to succeed in building a playlist, the reward for managing that is ostensibly Spotify doubling down on your followers to get them to follow its own playlists.

It is easy to understand why this is the case: Spotify does not control the music on its platform, but it can control the access to it in some manner via its editorial, which very much plays on the tyranny of choice issue to make suggestions to consumers as to what to listen to. It is even investing heavily in this area, buying companies to further develop its AI that would improve recommendations. As a company attempting to prove its inherent value, this is a vital step.

What this has led to is a situation in which labels are desperately courting Spotify for inclusion on prime playlists such as New Music Friday. The bottleneck around new releases and their means to get support is massive. Furthermore this means that Spotify is now the sole arbiter of taste around what people should hear, which is a fundamentally worrying development.

I have stated before now that Spotify would do well to adopt the chaos of YouTube, in which anyone can (in theory at least) become a successful curator/influencer. For the foreseeable future, there is little chance of Spotify allowing a more algorithmic approach around the playlists it recommends, meaning we remain in something of a deadlock.

So, what if a third party app were to break that deadlock?

Admittedly, we have been here before in some respects; Playlists.net was perhaps the most notable independent website editorialising playlists, until its purchase by Warner Music. In fact, on that front one might argue that all such indie playlist brands came to be swallowed up in one form or another. Now though, those third party brands struggle for continued oxygen as Spotify has locked out the editorial space. Their follower numbers on playlists may be high, but in our experience the actual engagement may be quite low, with inclusion on such playlists not proving anywhere near as effective as one might think.

Right now, messaging apps feel like the logical space in which such a disruption could occur. We have reached a point where music websites are struggling, largely due to advertising budgets flowing almost entirely through the likes of Facebook and Google, leaving smaller ad networks out in the cold. Alongside that, we have a monopoly around editorial on Spotify, in which only Spotify’s own employees are able to manage playlists, and only Spotify’s playlists (with very limited exception) appear within their editorial area.

With all that in mind then, some kind of messaging app which can establish itself initially as a tastemaker, but broaden to mainstream appeal in due course, might well be the thing that breaks the deadlock here. Draw in curators, establish value and it is possible something meaningful could be developed.

Elsewhere, the likes of Google have developed a fine strategy in inserting themselves between a platform and its consumers, particularly around things like iOS devices, where Google Maps, the Chrome browser and Gmail all see huge adoption worldwide. Conceptually, the approach around Spotify and breaking its editorial would be along much the same lines: sit between the consumer and the platform, reducing the latter to more of a musical ‘pipe’ (i.e. little more than the supplier) and the power shift could happen.

Which begs the question: who is going to step up and take on the challenge?