Most of Spotify’s music recommendations are generated by an algorithm based on a user’s taste and listening history. But the three editors use a combination of gut feel, listener data and direct pitches from artists and labels on an internal system to manage 160 major playlists between them.
Each playlist – Hot Hits Australia, New Music Friday AU&NZ, and Front Left, for example – has between 50 and 100 songs, and they’re updated weekly. Between them, the three editors curate 15 of the 20 most popular playlists in Australia. Hot Hits Australia has more than 1.3 million subscribers.
“When an artist is breaking, there are so many things that need to be aligned in terms of the shows they’re playing, if they’re selling out venues, are they on radio, what’s happening on social media – all these sorts of things can play a big part in an artist’s journey,” Brewer says. “And I think we’re just one of those parts, and we’re just trying to help the most we can.”
Huggins says she looks at how long people listen to a song for and audience data. “Age range, where they’re from geographically. Mainly those things,” she says.
Huggins and Brewer concede it can be very subjective work.
Artists begin in the smaller playlists and progress if they do well. The editors also discuss the playlists with other Spotify editors in other parts of the world, boosting local artists when they think they have a shot. Indigenous singer-songwriter Budjerah, who recently played as Ed Sheeran’s Australian support act, is one example they cite of a local success story.
“He would have started in our pop playlists, and maybe local playlists, and that sort of thing. As his popularity grew and his audience size, we’ve really been able to add to that momentum,” Brewer says.
“And now he’s in our biggest playlist and was on the cover. And we also put him on a billboard to reflect that a couple of weeks ago.”
Spotify says it paid Australian artists almost $250 million in the 12 months to December 31. Brewer and Huggins say they don’t consider the royalties’ element of their role at all.
“Finances don’t come into it,” Brewer says. “Because we’re just trying to create the best listening experience for the user and support as many artists as much as possible.”
The Swedish company announced it would increase its prices in Australia from September by $1 to $2, depending on the user’s plan. It is a move that has been welcomed by the local music industry, which wants Spotify to pay artists more and has been pushing for greater transparency from the platform to understand how it drives audiences to Australian music.
Like all streaming platforms – including Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon’s Prime Video, Spotify’s algorithm is under a government microscope. Federal Arts Minister Tony Burke says he wants to look at increasing the amount of Australian content shown automatically.
Huggins’ advice to local artists is to pitch their story well.
“Sometimes, when an artist is submitting their music, they’ll give us context on where they might even want to be placed, like their dream placement,” she says. “And so we take that into consideration as well.”