So the other day we woke up and Drake was reading the breakfast news. Then we poured our morning cereal to find Drake on the milk carton AND the cereal box. Then no sooner had we stepped out the house did we see Drake delivering the mail. We stepped on the bus and guess who was driving it…
OK, that’s an exaggeration but only a slight one.
We noticed a good number of our favourite artists recently calling out Spotify for the fact that Drake was on the cover of the Fresh Gospel playlist. Not just that, his track Finesse was featured front and centre as track one.
At first we thought it was an honest mistake. Spotify curators don’t always get it right. Then we thought they were pivoting the playlist to reflect the intersection of Christian and mainstream artists, a bit like the Speak Into Chaos playlist. But no matter which way we looked at, the Drake track stood out like a sore thumb.
QUICK HIT: At time of writing, the Fresh Gospel playlist on Spotify has over 5,000 followers
But when we checked Twitter and the Spotify homepage itself we saw the true extent of the problem. Drake’s face was everywhere. It was like those weird nightmares you have where the scary clown is both behind you, in front of you and parachuting in from above you while trying to squirt you in the face with the stupid fake flower on his lapel. There literally was no escape.
Fresh Gospel, Best Of British, Ambient Chill. Whether it’s relevant or not, you’re listening to Drake today, I’m afraid. Or at least having to look at his face as the playlist cover.
The issue was so irritating for some users, they were threatening en masse to cancel their subscriptions to the service and demanding refunds. Nonetheless Drake has broken all streaming records, with 300 million plays in a single day across Spotify and Apple Music.
The thing is, we don’t have beef with Drake per se. Don’t flatter yourself mate, this issue is much bigger than you. The thing that worries us more is the fact that it’s possible for an artist to throw enough money at a streaming service for it to force their music down the throats of its users.
You’re probably thinking: chill, artists have paid for media placements for years. True. The thing that rattles our cage slightly is that when playlists are presented as being based solely on merit, you question the entire credibility of the service when things like this happen. And although they reached their desired aim with this campaign, it still left a bad taste in the mouth for many.
Spotify likes to trumpet the editorial decisions it makes when putting its playlists together. Most recently, this was mentioned when the company made the decision to remove R Kelly from its curated playlists. But how much integrity do these playlists have when they can be influenced with wads of cash?
Ads not the problem
This might surprise you but we actually like display ads on Spotify – even on the Premium version. We subscribe to the service and on the Mac OS version of the app for instance, there’s a display banner ad at the top with ideas of playlists for us to listen to. There’s an option to hide them but we never do. Sure, they should be better targeted to serve us ads that suit our music tastes but at least as subscribers we have the privilege of making them visible or not.
Problems arise when it’s not clear where money has changed hands to bump up an artist’s tracks on our favourite playlists. It’s creepy, it’s untrustworthy and we down right don’t like it.
Take a trip over to Instagram and you’ll see how much things have changed over the past year or so. Influencers are under pressure from the UK ad watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority. They now have to declare whether they are being paid to promote a product. All in all, it makes things more transparent for users because they can make an informed decision of whether they want to buy the product or not, by looking at it through the lens of independent endorsement or paid influencer ad.
QUICK HIT: Apple Music has now overtaken Spotify for paid subscriber numbers in the US
Maybe it’s time the same thing started to happen on streaming services. They can’t be a law onto themselves. And as purveyors of good music here at the Sound Doctrine, we think the cream should always rise to the top, not some smelly, dodgy-looking cheese that’s paid to be there. We fear for the music industry if it becomes a pay-to-play world in this way. Let the users decide what they listen to and stop playing God with our playlists.
Anyway, we must dash. Drake’s arrived with our Dominos Pizza delivery.