Currently only available in Swedish, Spotify Untold recounts the "hero's journey" of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek. Chris Castle explores the curious timing of the book's release and its correlated US book tour.
Guest post by Chris Castle of Music Tech Policy
You may have seen the book reviews of “Spotify Untold” (or in Swedish ““Spotify Inifrån”). The book is currently only available in Swedish, but in a new marketing twist the authors are on a book tour in the US. Must be nice.
The writers seemed to have missed the streaming gentrification part, which is of great consequence to artists and songwriters–but those groups are pretty clearly not their audience.
If their interview with Variety is any indicator, the story line of “Spotify Untold” revolves around (1) music is a commodity (with no discussion of Spotify’s role in the commoditization of what is now openly called “streaming friendly music” not unlike “radio friendly” music–both equally loathed by artists whose name does not begin with “Justin”; and (2) Daniel Ek is a heroic genius (despite the resemblance to Damian in his teen pictures they are also handing out–he thankfully shaves his head).
But most importantly (3) Ek was pursued by Steve Jobs, the evil giant whose company he just happens to have filed a competition complaint against who was aided by the equally evil Sony and Universal as they were all in on it to keep our hero from entering the fabled land of Wall Street. Yes, a yarn straight out of Norse mythology; perhaps a little too much so.
Or the book is a corporatized version of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey from The Hero With A Thousand Faces aka Star Wars). You can plug Daniel Ek into the hero’s role pretty easily:
Barely a page into the book “Spotify Untold,” Swedish authors Jonas Leijonhufvud (pictured at left) and Sven Carlsson paint an odd scene. The year is 2010 and Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek [the hero] is facing a succession of obstacles [the Threshold Guardians] gaining entry into the U.S. market [the region of supernatural wonder] — or, more specifically, infiltrating the tightly-networked and often nepotistic to a fault music industry. [Unwelcoming of the stranger from Asgard, so unlike Silicon Valley.] As stress sets in [Challenges and Temptations], Ek becomes convinced that Apple’s Steve Jobs is calling his phone just to breathe deeply on the other end of the line, he purportedly confesses to a colleague [a Helper].
There’s a saying, “don’t speak ill of the dead.” That’s probably a bit superstitious for the authors, but is good advice. It’s unbecoming and Spotify should denounce it. There’s also a saying, “don’t mock the afflicted,” so before you laugh hysterically at the story, realize that Steve Jobs caring enough about Daniel Ek to do such a thing (which assumes Steve knew Daniel Ek existed) was something that was very important to Daniel Ek
One thing I can tell you is that the Steve legend (a competing hero’s journey myth–a real one) has some choice tales of voice mails. None of them involved heavy breathing, and Variety reports that the authors were not able to confirm this rather insulting and perverse allegation.
What they do say is:
To us, Ek’s claim is as a reflection of how paranoid and anxious he must have felt in 2010, when Spotify was being denied access to the U.S. market, in large part due to pressure from Apple. The major record companies seem to have been quite loyal to the iTunes Music Store, and to Jobs personally….Because Spotify was hindered by Steve Jobs [it’s called competition], it forced the company to sweeten its deals with the record companies [also called competition]….Spotify is challenging Apple on a legal level right now. We address Spotify’s constant struggle with Apple in our book. If Ek were to talk about such sensitive topics in book form, [Spotify would] do it in their own way with full control.
The first thing I thought of when reading the story of “Spotify Untold” was that very competition claim that Spotify is pursuing in Europe right now and pursued with the Obama competition authorities a few years ago. And then of course there was the New York state competition claim that came out the same time as Apple Music launched in the US apparently led by Spotify’s very own Clintonista who was a political ally of Eric Schneiderman the former (ahem) New York Attorney General. While the authors claim that they spoke to many Spotify executives but not Ek, the book still has curious timing as does the disclaimer that the book is not connected to Spotify directly.
And if you believe as I do that Daniel Ek actually hates the major labels (read the Spotify DPO filing an you’ll get the idea), it’s only natural that he would try to twist Sony and Universal into the story. He just didn’t know that his negotiation experience was garden variety stuff and not unusual in any way. They didn’t get stock in iTunes so they damn well would in everything that came after iTunes.
I would be very curious to know why the authors came away from their research thinking that the major labels were “quite loyal” to iTunes and to Steve Jobs. While that may have been true of certain executives, the reason that the labels required licensees to sell in Windows Media DRM (i.e., the format nobody wanted) was because they wanted to compete with iTunes. Even after they dropped that failed idea, the labels large and small did not want a single retailer dominating the digital market.
It’s also possible that the book is an answer to “Spotify Teardown” that came out earlier this year with a much less mythological and much more recognizable approach to a Spotify reality according to an NPR review:
[“Spotify Teardown”] argues that Spotify isn’t a media company per se – and…asserts that it’s structurally much closer to a Facebook or Google, particularly in its digital business model. Indeed, Spotify was never really so much a music company as an Internet brand. “Spotify’s business model never benefited all musicians in the same manner but rather appeared — and still appears — highly skewed toward major stars and record labels, establishing a winner-takes-all market familiar from the traditional media industries.”
You won’t find that in a corporate bio. That sounds like the streaming gentrification reality and definitely wasn’t written by anyone named Justin. So while I don’t know what motivated the “Spotify Untold” authors, I do think that there’s a definite whiff of Astroturf in a book that tells a story that fits almost perfectly with the hero’s journey that Spotify would like to be telling competition authorities. I think the authors are aware of this, hence their disclaimers.
And I’m still waiting for the last leg of Daniel Ek’s hero’s arc, the transformation and atonement. Which is the part that makes the hero a hero. As the authors tell us, “[Spotify] would probably rather tell their story themselves than have us do it for them, but I think they understand our role as journalists.”
I just bet they do.
If you think this is paranoid, watch this video from Sharyl Attkisson. Let’s just say I don’t put anything past these guys.