Playlist Pitching and Corporate Power Relations
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The digitization of music has raised concerns in the music industry that industry power relations, historically dominated by major record labels, would be challenged to create more opportunity for independent players. Streaming services like Spotify have heightened this fear by positioning themselves as the new musical gatekeepers by placing in-house curated editorial playlists at the forefront of their interface. While there is extensive research on the qualities and effects Spotify playlists have on song streaming performance and audience engagement, there is little research exploring how songs are chosen for editorial playlists, and how major and independent labels’ relationships with Spotify may influence these decisions. This paper investigates how corporate power structures of the music industry are maintained through practices like Spotify editorial playlist pitching, examining the dynamics between Spotify and record labels, and how past industry practices have been adapted to the world of streaming. The research involves interviews with music industry insiders to gain first-hand perspectives and information on pitching practices and Spotify-label dynamics. I argue that labels leverage Spotify’s need to filter new, relevant releases by sending playlist pitches for songs that are relevant to the local market. When done well, playlist pitches can strengthen the relationship between Spotify and labels and help to maintain a label’s negotiation position relative to other labels. In conclusion, this project, by closely examining playlist pitching in the music industry, sheds light on Spotify-label relations and how the size of the label and its music catalog can have an impact on industry power relations in the current and future landscape of music streaming.