How people listen to music continues to evolve in the pandemic and post-pandemic world. I recently caught up with my old pal Harry Clarke, who clerked at the same time I did back in 2005 for a Judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Since that time, we’ve worked together, gone to shows in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and Miami together, and still manage to ping each other when we are blown away by a new record we’ve discovered.
Here’s an excerpt of my chat with Harry about Spotify, artist compensation models, and the new music that keeps us moving.
VJ: What’s up, Harry? We met while clerking in the S.D. Fla. (and probably became friends while singing karaoke at the old Shelbourne on South Beach). But how did you make your way in house to Spotify?
HC: Clerking in Miami was an incredible way to start my legal career, not only because of the experience in chambers, but because of the rich music culture in the area. After clerking for Judge Huck, I clerked in Seattle for Judge Beezer on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, before joining a law firm as a litigator in New York for several years. I then had an unique opportunity to help start a small technology company, expanding my portfolio from purely legal issues to business and strategy. When I found the opportunity at Spotify, it felt like the perfect intersection of my passions of music, technology and the law. And it hasn’t disappointed.
VJ: The industry has been profitable and growing for the past several years, since 2014, due in large part to streaming and, believe it or not, vinyl sales. Yet, there are some artists who believe that streaming platforms like Spotify are not focused on fair compensation for artists. What would you say to these artists?
HC: Spotify believes that artists should be paid for their music, and have the opportunity to live off their art. It’s written into our company mission: “to unlock the potential of human creativity — by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.” Let’s remember that in the face of internet piracy, the music industry was on the brink of collapse when Spotify brought its innovative technology and business model enabling artists to reclaim their income, into the mainstream. We want Spotify to be the most effective and valuable place for artists and their teams to grow their fanbase at every stage of their career. That’s why we’re building new tools for the more than one million artists who use Spotify for Artists each month. You can explore Spotify for Artists features at artists.spotify.com/features. We also just recently launched a website called Loud & Clear, which introduces new transparency and data about the music streaming economy.
VJ: I have got to think that streaming was at an all-time high during the pandemic; but I could be wrong since people were not in their cars as much. What does the data tell us about pandemic streaming habits?
HC: You’re exactly right that we saw consumption shifts over the course of the pandemic — as people stayed inside, car consumption went down and game console use went up. The new reality of the pandemic showed up in increases in wellness and meditation podcasts and in “chill” music, too. And although streaming continued to grow during the pandemic, without live music a lot of people in the music industry couldn’t perform. I was particularly proud of Spotify’s COVID-19 Music Relief project, which partnered with organizations around the world to offer financial relief to those in need.
VJ: Why should artists and music fans care about the European Commission’s investigation into Apple in connection with music streaming?
HC: Apple has abused its dominant position as the gatekeeper of the app store to disadvantage rival streaming services like Spotify in favor of its own Apple Music. When a monopolist distorts competition like this, it hurts consumers in a variety of ways: it leads to higher prices, reduced choice, and less innovation. With appropriate remedies, music streaming services can focus on providing a great consumer experience, communicate compelling offers and promotions, and compete on the merits.
VJ: You’ve long been someone who consumes an extraordinary amount of music. And I’ve always enjoyed receiving your year-end lists. As we find ourselves midway through 2021, can you tell us what your favorite records of the year have been so far? Any releases you have your eyes on?
HC: Everyone has rightly praised Phoebe Bridgers’ amazing Punisher, but I would also shout out her boygenius collaborators’ recent records: Julien Baker’s Little Oblivions and Lucy Daucus’ Home Video. The Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders’ masterwork, Promises, is beautiful and mind-bending. I also have been vibing to “Wheels on the Bus” with my 18-mo old daughter lately (Millie, pictured above). Respect the classics!