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THE DSP VIPS:
JEREMY ERLICH

Spotify Global Co-Head of Music Jeremy Erlich is understandably grinning behind his mask these days as his platform remains the marketplace giant AND is stretching into new territory. With the new-artist RADAR program flourishing, podcasting and hybrid programming expanding the streamery’s reach and a splashy new set of charts tantalizing industry insiders, there’s plenty of lingonberry syrup on Jeremy’s meatballs. But you’ve got to take the sour with the Swede, and he probably wishes he could delete whatever playlist we stepped out of.

Let’s start with the charts you’ve just rolled out.
We’re really excited about the charts. They’re something we’ve been talking about for a while, so to see them out in the open is great.

We’re very transparent with data. You can see your stuff on a daily basis through Spotify for Artists. But I think the ability to stop and celebrate with artists about their achievements—both on a singles and album basis, which is incredibly important from a cultural standpoint—is an awesome thing. And the reaction’s been amazing.

A member of our team, [Head of Creator Product Marketing] Sam Duboff, came up with the Top Debuts charts. I call them the Duboff charts now. He said, “Why don’t we do weekend debuts, like movie box-office charts?” We loved the idea, and Top Debuts has gotten a great reaction, too. I don't want to give away too much, but we have a lot more coming on the charts front.

What about the response from the industry?
On the Monday we launched, the most common text message I got was “finally!” I think everyone at the labels and in the creative community is excited. It’s no secret that there’s an incredibly strong focus—maybe “obsession” is too strong a word—on charts and chart positioning, and Spotify is the biggest platform out there; we’re the most global. And we have the most-engaged fans. Spotify has always been a significant data point but one that people had to piece together. It’s not often that you find these initiatives that are just all-around wins, where the artists, labels and our team are all happy. And I’m excited to dig deeper; what we launched was really only the beginning.

And you’re planning to have more territory-specific charts, to show the biggest songs in specific regions.
Exactly. We started with just U.S. and global charts, but the plan is to expand to different territories around the world and continue evolving that product. We’ve been brainstorming what else we can do with it.

Is there any secret sauce to the chart methodology beyond the tabulation of streams?
It’s all relatively straightforward, and we think that’s the power of it: how often a song is streamed. Of course, we make sure it’s all reflected accurately, that there’s integrity in the data and no one is able to game the system.

Let’s talk about how user activity, as measured by these charts, is evolving—and how you feel the playlist in the Spotify ecosystem is changing.
Our view is that playlists are a very important avenue for people to discover and consume music, but it’s one of many. We always look at the percentage of editorial streams (“lean back” and “lean forward,” as the labels call them). But our playlists are designed to maximize user experience; the better they are, the more time people spend on the platform. Anecdotally, we know people spend infinitely more time on our platform than they do on all other platforms. That shows the strength of our curation abilities.

There’s what I call fully human editorial and fully algorithmic editorial, and then there’s everything in between. That’s really the strength of our platform. Our view is that we need a playlist for every user, for every moment. A lot of that has to come through personalization.

Rap Caviar, ¡Viva Latino!, Hot Country, Today’s Top Hits, etc., are what I would call our cultural-flagship playlists. Those represent the most important songs at any given time. We want music fans to create community discussion around them—it's special to be on those playlists. People crave these moments of common experience, which I think are so important for society, for culture and for music—what’s going on in the world and how you share it with your friends.

On the full-personalization side, let’s say I’m going for a run. I love The Game and 50 Cent. When I listen to The Game radio, it's because I want to hear the ’90s classic hip-hop I love. That’s the other end of the spectrum: music that’s perfectly tailored to me. There’s an interview with Daniel [Ek] where he talked about man and machine working together. To me, everything we do around machine learning and algorithms just provides scale to what our human editors—who are music and cultural experts—do and what our users listen to and love. 

Where we’re looking to evolve is: What should be in a playlist? You can go very niche or very broad. We want a world where we don’t only have genre flagships and genre-playlist feeders but also cross-genre. When you look at things like Lorem and Pollen, those are genre-less and doing really well. Indigo, in the country space, is like a post-genre country playlist.

I think if you asked most kids today which genre they listen to, it’s a foreign question. They’re fans of so many artists across so many types of genres. Traditional radio formats just don’t apply to the way they consume music.

We also need to think about the release date as a variable. We still think in terms of new-release or catalog, but is there a future where some playlists mix catalog music with frontline music in a seamless way? Then I listen to Today’s Top Hits and here’s this guy called Ritt Momney covering Corinne Bailey Rae. I remember when the original was on the radio and MTV, but your average 16-year-old has never heard of Corinne Bailey Rae. So there’s the potential to help not only discovery but rediscovery of music.

Which brings me to the recent viral explosion of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” This would seem to open up all kinds of possibilities in how catalog can be rediscovered, redeployed and reimagined in the larger digital ecosystem.
100%. We’ve staffed up our catalog team significantly over the past few months, including the addition of Johan Lagerlöf, who runs catalog strategy. We also hired Andre Torres, who was at UMe. We really want to double down in this area. What’s going on with “Dreams” is amazing. I think there will be more of those stories. Our global editorial team has their fingers on the pulse, and when you combine that expertise with cutting-edge technology, you get an extremely nimble operation, poised to jump on cultural moments and take them to the next level. 

The fact that you’re doing album charts now underscores how albums have gotten a new life in the streaming ecosystem thanks to the long tail, deluxe editions and so forth.
We believe it’s up to the artist’s discretion how and when they release music and in what format, but albums have always been hugely important, both commercially and creatively. If you look at recent releases like the ones from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin or BLACKPINK, you’ll see that the entire album was consumed heavily. There isn’t one gigantic single leading all the consumption. And that’s what fans want. We’ve tried to create more marketing innovation around that. If you look at enhanced albums, these are things that excite users—to go in and consume a body of art as it was meant to be listened to.

It’s interesting that a lot of these artists are adding three or four songs to an album rather than putting out, say, a new EP. They’re enhancing an existing title, which gets a whole new life.
If you look at what used to exist, with compilations, best-of albums and deluxe albums, they all served a purpose, and they’re all adapting to today’s world of users wanting the entire choice. And that makes everyone step up their creativity because they realize you have a choice and they have to capture your attention. The artist obviously knows their fan base better than anyone, so they’re pretty good at it.

Another tool to grow an artist’s access, brand and fan interest is the spoken word, as it relates to music podcasts and these new shows you’ve been rolling out that are a mixture of music and talk.
Podcasts are a great way to tell stories and have people engage with Spotify as a platform. And when they do, they listen to more music. So this new music-and-talk format is the evolution of that. I think the potential is endless. The initial reaction has been extremely positive from everyone—artists, industry, press. Because context matters; it helps create an emotional connection. That’s something radio does well and music television did well back in the day. And there hasn’t really been a great iteration of that in the current era.

A lot of our social connections have eroded through this sitting inside the same four walls. Having more options for storytelling reinforces emotional ties and is great for music discovery. I talk to Courtney Holt, who runs the studio side, a couple times a week, and if there’s a theme that’s emerged, at least in my 18 months at the company, it’s this: How can we work together more closely? We’ve had people from our team go to his team. We’ve had people from his team come to our team. It’s truly a partnership.

Speaking of discovery, let’s discuss the RADAR program and how you identify artists who are busting through and how you disseminate that information.
We’re thrilled with RADAR. When I came in, I really wanted to restart our artist-development program. We wanted one that has a material impact on the artist's career. RADAR has been a global initiative; we started it in the U.S. and a couple of other territories and have since expanded it considerably. Most of our territories sit under the same banner, but they all get big local artists because we continue to believe that local culture is what drives local consumption. So we decided to reset what a best-in-class artist-development program would be. I just got a note that one of our RADAR artists in France, Lous and the Yakuza, has just released her album. She’s fantastic. We gave her a Times Square billboard. And I say this as a Frenchman: She’s a real artist, and the music, visuals and persona are all incredible. She was an artist before, but hopefully RADAR accelerated that. It’s helped her not only get bigger in France but around the world.

The Kid LAROI is the latest RADAR artist in the U.S., which we’re very excited about. We’re going to do a lot more with the program, and it’s going to get deeper and deeper. We just want to underscore that Spotify cares about new artists and culture. That’s why we did Radar.

Everybody talks about teams; you guys truly seem to embrace the idea.
This really is a team sport. I think I’m the luckiest of the heads of music. I have a co-head, Marian Dicus, who’s infinitely wiser and cooler than I am—and truly a marketing genius, which makes my life easier. We’ve put in place a great leadership team too, but I feel really privileged to lead such an impressive team at every level. I want to share any credit I get with them. These times are so challenging, and that’s been a strong reminder of how good our team is and how they work around the world.

Before we wrap this up, I must ask: What’s the state of your beard?
It’s getting ridiculously bushy again. Even worse than my beard. I haven’t cut my hair in something like five months. So I get trolled at work for looking like a Venice, California, native circa 1975.

PHOTOS (from top) Erlich saddles up with Lil Nas X; proves a Belieber with Scooter Braun and Justin Bieber; gets the Keys to the city with Spotify's Dawn Ostroff, superstar Alicia Keys, streamery boss Daniel Ek and fellow music co-head Marian Dicus; gets a photograph with Ringo Starr; gets his Eilish up with Interscope's Steve Berman and John Janick and Darkroom's Justin Lubliner; gets in a groove with Spanish phenom Rosalía and Dicus; rocks his "Venice guy" look.

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WORLDWIDE GROOVE
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?
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