Ethan Kaplan On Spotify & Music Consumption

image from This guest post is by Ethan Kaplan, the former SVP of Technology at WBR and WMG. He blogs regularly at

I’ve been a Spotify user for a few years now thanks to an early hook up from Daniel. And I love Spotify. It truly is like magic, and really fun to use. However, I don’t find myself using it all that often. Paradoxical? Maybe.

The issue for me is how I consume music. I don’t consume music like I consume information. I curate, digest, browse and meander the stacks as it were. Maybe it is a generational thing, as I do remember going to Tower Records every Saturday morning and doing the same. What it comes down to is that Spotify democratizes music to such an extent that it becomes just files and audio rather than atomic entities known as albums, artists and genres.

This might be addressing a nascent behavior in terms of music consumption, and I suspect it is judging from my younger family members, but I think something is missing.

Try going to Spotify and browsing movie soundtracks. I’ll wait.

Try searching for John Williams. He is not a guitarist, but that is what comes up mixed in with all of the soundtrack work he has done.

And this is not something unique to Spotify, but also endemic to Rdio and Mog. Mog at least has a page of curated soundtracks, but its just as hard to find them “in the wild” as it is on Spotify. The same applies to Rdio.

iTunes to me is like my Tower Records experiences on Saturday morning as a kid. I can browse genres, artists and albums. It still holds precious something I still hold precious, and while I know I’m in the minority (maybe), it does have a huge effect on my consumption behavior. I find myself curating my taste on iTunes, and broadening my taste on Spotify/Mog/Rdio/Rhapsody. I also find myself creating music-as-atmosphere on the streaming services, and music as focus on iTunes.

Spotify hitting the US is way overdue, and my hope is that they fix some of the data issues, and discovery issues and it grows to making music something to appreciate again. The trending toward this is emerging with things like Turntable and Soundtracking (both worthy of more posts), which I feel are more relevant forms of social discovery than the native Facebook integration in Spotify.

My biggest fear though is one of the biggest strengths of Spotify as a technology platform: they could make a new client for searching for photos and nothing much has to change in terms of UX. The user experience of Spotify is not endemically tied to music, and music deserves its own native experience model. Music is unique still, and different than files, photos, videos or software.

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  1. Great article Ethan. I’ve been using Spotify for 2 years now, I can’t even remember the last time I used iTunes. I don’t necessarily reduce my favourite artists’ music to simply audio files though. It is much easier and freer than iTunes and my listening experience is as great as it always was (different though, yes).
    I do agree when you say iTunes holds a curating function. Spotify is now my discovery platform of choice though and I find the ‘search by record label’ function surprisingly useful!

  2. Good post, Ethan. While I’ll haven’t spent a ton of time with Spotify. I think the social aspects of Rdio and have brought back that discovery and surprise that I looked for when scanning the racks at Tower or City Disc back in Connecticut.
    I think discovery is going to play a bigger role in these services especially since they all have basically the same catalog.
    By the way, there is another John Williams who is a classical guitar player and he’s incredible.
    But you are right, these are some of the hard metadata issues that need to be solved in search (ie Various Artists, Soundtracks, Compilations, multiple artist with same name, etc) for the streaming services and I’m sure they will get better over time.

  3. Lots of lols at Mr. Kaplan’s discovery that there are two John Williamses in classical music, the movie composer&conductor, and the guitarist. There are probably lots more name collisions out there. 🙂 🙂 🙂
    My anecdote today is about metadata on Pandora rather than Spotify, but I think the issue is going to be the same. Last night my sweetie punched up some sort of opera station on Pandora. We’re opera veterans, and so it was apparent to us that the metadata, beyond the title of the album, was useless. The actual performers were generally not listed — if lucky, you got the name of the orchestra, but never the name of the singer unless the album title was Pavarotti or Callas’ greatest hits. You almost never got the title of the aria within the opera — you got the title of the opera, the entire two-hour work.
    My sweetie was horrified; I know that digital music metadata tags were designed for popular music and fail badly for classical. It was interesting to see the failure in action. Again, apologies for digressing about Pandora, but I think the subject is relevant to all digital music platforms.

  4. I had a free trial as well with Spotify. I got bored after a few weeks.
    I really like a more personal connection to artists.
    Youtube is everyone’s monster competitor.

  5. Paul – yes, index you can find John Williams that way.
    My mother couldn’t. If you can’t win the mom factor you’re just selling to the same people.

  6. It’s always interesting to hear other users’ relationship with music consumption.
    I use Spotify for the vast majority of my listening – and probably spend about 6-7 hours a day streaming. If I dig a band, I’ll buy direct from them where possible. It’s more meaningful that way.

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