In 2015, Spotify rolled out its first major end of year campaign
called “Your Year In Music”, which involved an interactive website where users could dive into their own music listening data from the year (top songs, artists, etc.). Stink Studios, formerly Stinkdigital, helped create the campaign and website, an extension of the data-driven signage (also created by the company) installed around New York City and Los Angeles to highlight hyper-regional listening habits. Stink Studios won a number of Webby awards
for the campaign and helped set the data-driven template for what’s become the company’s most beloved marketing effort.
(An aside: I never particularly enjoy data-driven advertisements like the ones that are plastered across the MTA, as they often hold strange marketing-oriented assumptions about the neighborhood and its people. For example, Stink Studios, summarizing the campaign on their website,
says: “Who knew hipster Williamsburg was home to so many Beliebers?” The assumption that Williamsburg didn’t listen to Justin Beiber doesn’t make fucking sense. He put out one of the most popular albums (Purpose
) in 2015. By 2015 Williamsburg already was a hyper-gentrified neighborhood fully displacing many of the “hipsters” that called it home only a decade prior. And,
perhaps most importantly, Spotify is by far the most mainstream method of music consumption. This data doesn’t reflect vinyl sales, Bandcamp purchases, pirated albums, or any number of ways “hipsters” are probably listening to music not available via a Spotify playlist. The 2015 campaign’s myopic messaging would seep into later programs it helped inspire.)
In a year when other tech giants were taken to task by the government, the market, and the public for their privacy practices, it’s hard to imagine anyone would respond with such enthusiasm if Facebook, Twitter, or Google started sending out annual summaries of everything they’ve got on us.
That’s largely because Spotify feels different. Aside from some disputes over royalties
that haven’t significantly hindered the company’s growth, Spotify is outwardly tame.
Weiss hits on the idea that Spotify’s data deep dives allow listeners to recontextualize their consumption habits in ways that, while clearly more useful to a marketing department, are fairly innocuous. Yet, the reason I highlighted that section above is that this marketing campaign helped reveal a rift between how listeners and artists understand the company.