Spotify rolled out some pretty impressive numbers here at SXSW this week: It added one million paying subscribers in three months, knocking up its paying user number to 6 million (that’s out of its total 24 million users). As the subscription service celebrated a bump in consumers, we swung by Spotify HQ here in Austin, Texas, to talk with Artist Advocate, DJ and producer Yung Skeeter about the other side of the musical equation: the bands — a side that Skeeter is well-versed in, having created beats for the likes of Chris Brown, toured with Katy Perry and held the distinction of being the first DJ to ever play the Warped Tour.
Back in December, Spotify started rolling out a feature that is decidedly more artist-facing: Spotify Follow, which allows fans to follow their favorite bands and other users for updates on their music and more.
As Follow slowly starts trickling out to the general population via the desktop and newly launched Web app, we caught with Skeeter to find out more about its reception, his job as official artist liaison and his pirating past. Check out our interview below:
So how did you become a Spotify artist advocate?
It all happened pretty organically, but essentially, I had been a touring DJ and producer for a long time and I had seen Spotify in Europe and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ Millions of songs on your computer or your phone at your disposal. When they were bringing it to America, [Spotify Artist-in-Residence] D.A. Wallach, who is a friend of mine — we had played some festivals together — had mentioned that it could be good for me to come on board and help artists figure it out.
What he had seen in his own engagement with people was that a lot of artists really focus on their art and they weren’t super comfortable with the technology side of things. Someone like myself with a coding background and at the same time a producer and artist — it was kind of nice to have that voice.
I could go to someone and be like, ‘Oh, you’re touring, it could be great to create localized playlists and engage your fans with those and then increase your marketshare. Or if you’re in the studio and you’re a producer, it could be great to show some of your catalogue, something you’ve produced, and show that side of yourself.’ I was able to speak on every part of the equation.
It seems like lately a lot of subscription services are trying to bridge that gap — bring the artist into the fold. There are a lot of services trying to find ways to give bands data about what their fans are listening to, verified profiles, etc.
I think very quickly artists who are kind of tech-leaning and tech-savvy realize that [Spotify is] a great platform to harvest data and understand where their fans are coming from, how they’re engaging with music, what time they’e engaging with it. So Spotify had to figure out how to facilitate that — and facilitate that while trying to scale 20 million songs across the world. There’s only so many product resources and time for those guys, but it’s definitely been a priority. I’m really excited for the next few months to roll out some of those things that we’ve been dreaming up.
Can you tell us anything about those features?
I think people are already seeing some of the new stuff we rolled out on December 6 — the Follow model (which allows people to follow artists and other users). I think we’re about halfway rolled out now, which is pretty exciting. I’m getting fans and friends following me on Spotify — they’re following my playlists, they’re following some cool brands like The Guardian and Pitchfork.
The Verified system (where artist profiles can be verified) is really exciting and cool for me because I’m a DJ and I’m a curator for my friends, but I have my artist life as well, so we were able to link those together. So now you can go to my Spotify discography page and see all the stuff I produced under my artist name, and then with one click see my personal Spotify profile as well and see all my playlists, things I’ve been starring — what has been inspiring those songs.
What kind of engagement has Follow gotten so far? Are consumers using it?
It’s still pretty early right now; the rollout is still kind of trickling out. Overall, the response I’ve got from artists — which is where I lean mostly — has been incredible. The brilliant part is that if you’re someone like a Frank Ocean and you have two million-plus followers on Spotify you can — in real-time — share the new Tyler The Creator record to your two million followers without a barrier. Whereas on Twitter if you were to post a link to a paid service, there’s a fee barrier. Beyond that, it’s really killer to engage with fans on a personal level on Spotify.
On the consumer-side, I think people have been excited that they can get updates on all of their favorite acts. There’s so much stimulation and noise every day, I miss a lot of my favorite artists putting out albums. So it’s pretty cool for me to be able to follow Frank Ocean when he puts out a new single and get a real-time update.
So I heard that it’s possible for bands to contact you and the artist team and get their data — where fans are listening. Do a lot of bands take advantage of that?
Yes. Someone like a Frank Ocean who maybe hasn’t toured Europe extensively can go and say, ‘Wow, I’m doing really well in Sweden, I had no idea.’ Whereas a booking agent may say, ‘You didn’t sell a ton of records there.’ [The artist] can answer, ‘Well, based on my Spotify data, I’m really smashing it there and it would be really great to go over there.’
It’s also been cool with legacy acts — someone like Mickey Hart who was in the Grateful Dead. I’ve been working with him, and while primarily his audience leans forty-plus — classic Dead fans — he’s been able to reinvigorate and notice spikes in kids 18-22, and that’s been pretty killer. It’s like, ‘Hey kids 18-22 in the UK really love your stuff. Who knew that an American jam band from generations back had that audience.’ That’s the fun part for me as a data geek to be able to say.
So a little on your background. You said you had a coding background. When did you start getting into technology? Back when we were kids there was basically just Napster.
I remember when Kelly Hemmen, the cheerleader in my middle school, got Napster and I was like, ‘How do you know about this? Me and my hacker buddies know about this. How do you know about this?’ That’s when I realized that that was going to really scale and be massive.
I grew up in Davenport, Iowa, which is a relatively small place to be, and at an early age realized that there was a lot more out there. The Internet was so exciting to me because it was this great leveler. The playing field was completely leveled. Whereas I may not have had all the resources to go buy a lot of applications, I could pirate them. I think that’s why Spotify was so rad to me — that I grew up a young pirate. I was just stealing stuff, learning now to make music, learning how to code, doing whatever I had to do to build a brand.