Spotify just upped the ante in the digital music game, though the hand isn’t won yet. The streaming service announced it will now offer original multimedia documentary series about classic moments in music—a "listening history" told through audio commentary by key players behind the scenes.
The new product, Spotify Landmark, is basically what you'd get if you combined digital streaming with VH1's long-lost Behind the Music, and the New York Times' futuristic multimedia feature Snow Fall.
Appropriately, Spotify launched the program Tuesday with the story of Nirvana's "In Utero," to celebrate the 20th anniversary and re-issue of the band's last studio album.
The feature leads you through the story behind the album as told through audio interviews with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, producer Steve Albini, and a couple other friends of the band. (The full interview series is embeded above.) There's a little bit of other types of media thrown in. As you scroll down you can watch the promotional video for In Utero, stream the full album with commentary, or read an excerpt of a Rolling Stone article.
There’s a lot of untapped potential—I would have liked to see more text and visuals—but Landmark is a good start and in the right direction. For one, it gives Spotify an edge in the increasingly crowded digital streaming space, where the Swedish company is now competing with the likes of Google All Access, iTunes Radio, Pandora, Twitter, eMusic, and rising startup star Rdio. Some of these other streaming sites also include editorial content to supplement the music—artist bios and profiles—in a vain attempt to replace the CD and record liner notes of analog yore.
Still none of Spotify's competitors have much in the way of long-form editorial, or seem to be making a play for publishing industry—that other embattled, digitally disrupted media business.
Pando Daily’s suggestion that Spotify could be the next music magazine isn’t a stretch. The co-producer of the Landmark site is Alan Light, a former Rolling Stone critic, and current editor-in-chief of Spin and Vibe. And combining music listening and music reading is pretty intuitive: Why would we assume that amid the streaming and multimedia storytelling zeitgeist, music journalism, of all things, would stay relegated to text only?
It also helps with music discovery—a space the streaming field is wrestling over currently. It's featured in Spotify's recently launched Discover section, which takes the social approach of letting you follow your friends. Personally, I think reading up on albums and artists is just as an effective way to find new jams as checking in on what your friends are listening to. I can recall many a night spent toggling between Last.fm, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Rhapsody, going down the rabbit hole to find and learn about new artists. It would be great to have that happen in one place.
Other music content sites are also playing around with combining audio, video and text. Pitchfork's recent feature on Daft Punk, for example, also went with an eye-catching Snow Fall-esque design, but stopped short of including any music or video alongside the text and photos.
Spotify Landmark’s shortcomings are in the opposite direction. The Nirvana feature is almost entirely audio, with the exception of one video trailer and a text excerpt. Now, if Spotify added some solid articles from its own editorial staff, and Behind the Music-style video interviews, it could start to look like the kind of one-stop-shop music site that could help shape the future of the music biz. Indeed, Landmark's other producer, Sandy Smallens, told Billboard that there will be more video documentary in the coming episodes.
“It’s somewhat like a Behind The Music sort of approach—although we’re more focused on the actual recording and the making of the record and less on the interpersonal dynamics—and an NPR sort of an approach," he said.
As far as the In Utero feature goes, this seems to mean little behind-the-scenes nuggets about recording the album—Kurt chillin' with Courtney in the studio, with their daughter Frances on his lap banging on the piano keys. That sort of thing. This is the stuff that could grab the attention of music junkies and hardcore fans, and that's an audience niche I'm sure Spotify wouldn’t mind tapping into.