"Canada is a big important music market that's way larger than its actual population," says Spotify's managing director and content chief Ken Parks of our land of Drake, Celine and Arcade Fire. "So it's a very important centre for music."
Still, it took Spotify what felt like forever to come to Canada after having dominated the music streaming scene in the U.S. and Europe. But the service finally arrived in the north last week, where it joined preexisting players like Rdio and fellow newcomer Google Play Music, which set-up shop last May.
"First you have to see what kind of rights you need, and then in a place like Canada you can't ignore the strong local scene, so we took our time," he says
Not only has Spotify set-up deals with Canadian indies like Arts & Crafts and Audiogram but they've also set-up partnerships with Canadian acts ranging from new kids like Kiesza and Shawn Mendes to old-schoolers like Bryan Adams.
This week, they took Canadian offerings like playlists of music Canadians disproportionately listen to" and “greatest Canadian songs so far” even further with their "Listen Like A Canadian" app, which lets you input any international artist and get CanCon suggestions. More technically, it "applies music intelligence from The Echo Nest to analyze the given artist, find the most culturally and acoustically similar artists to generate the all-Canadian results."
It needs some work, of course. Kanye's equivalent might arguably be Drake or K'Naan but it sure as hell isn't Bieber. And Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl would be none too pleased about being compared to Nickelback, Finger 11 and Theory of a Deadman, though one presumes he'd be cool with the Neil Young suggestion. Nevertheless, it's a cool idea to help promote homegrown talent.
This rise of streaming has coincided with the decline of downloads, and Parks says that has hit Canada particularly hard and made the situation "dire."
"Starting with September of last year, download sales in Canada have taken a real dive. that mirrors what has happened in places like the U.S. The big difference between Canada and the US in that regard is that there is no meaningful streaming income making up the difference. In the US the decline of download sales has been matched by the strong growth in the streaming income. That's not the case in Canada. So Canada is in a really bad situation that needs to be addressed and that money is certainly coming out of pockets of artists.
"So it's really important that there be a new income stream added to the music economy in Canada and we're proud to be playing our part in helping to return that industry to health. Certainly the old model has not been serving artists very well over the last 10 years in Canada. What is needed is an income stream from streaming to help right the industry, but that slow in downloads is happening with or without us. In terms of what Canadian artists are deserving, they absolutely deserve of their fair share of the pie."
Parks argues, however, that the rise and fall of streaming and downloads are not necessarily connected, since Spotify's core demographic is 18-24, an age group that has grown up in the post-file-sharing age.
"Nobody has a crystal ball, but you don't need one to know that streaming is part of the future. The future is young people who have fallen out of this economy of monetizing and need to be bought back in. There is no health without that generation and they're native streamers, they know a zillion places to get music for free so you need a model to attract them," he says.
"Everybody needs to understand that we're in a time of transition from a model that was in place for the better part of 100 years in terms of how people accessed or enjoyed music. So change is never linear. We're in the middle of a massive shift in consumption habits and business model but I think that it's pretty now established that the industry believes that they need to get behind streaming in a big way."
There has been considerable uproar from artists, however, over how much they are benefiting from this transition. Most recently millionaire singer Jimmy Buffett asked Spotify to give "young, struggling artists" a raise from their current rate of between $0.006 and $0.0084.
"They certainly deserve their fair share in the exploitation of music," agrees Parks. "If money is not being put back into the economy, the creative economy is likely to suffer. So we're in this thing as a company to make sure that doesn't happen, that we don't have a loss in our music. There's a very vibrant music community in Canada that's culturally very important to support and we think that we can play an important part in that."