Tracking Trends With Spotify's Resident Trend Spotter, Shanon Cook

Written By Sam Murphy on 07/23/2015

Spotify

Back in June, Spotify revealed that it had 20 million paid subscribers and more than 75 million active users altogether. That's 75 million people with access to most songs at the click of a button, giving the Swedish streaming service an enviable amount of data when it comes to what users listen to.

Earlier this month, for example, Spotify released a musical map detailing the most popular genres in each city. It automatically compiles a playlist of the most popular songs in each city. Right now, Sydney is digging Tkay Maidza, Golden Features and Eves The Behavior among others. In April, it even uncovered the metal fans are the most loyal music listeners in the world while Australian country listeners are the most loyal here in Oz.

We recently tapped into the mind of Shanon Cook, Spotify's resident trend spotter, to look into her crystal ball and see where popular music is headed in 2015.

HS

Shanon Cook

Describe your role at Spotify?

I’m Spotify’s resident trend spotter. I keep track of new artists who are bubbling up, songs that are taking off in different parts of the world and playlist trends. I share my discoveries with the media, primarily broadcast. Previously, I was a reporter at CNN where I covered the music biz and interviewed artists like Kanye West, Sting and Britney Spears.

What artists are trending worldwide at the moment?

If we’re talking in terms of popularity, Major Lazer is a big deal; Lean On has been on top of our global chart for about two months. The Weeknd is having a real moment with his song Can’t Feel My Face which took no time to reach number one with our U.S. and Aussie listeners. This week, he also occupies the No. 2 spot in the U.S. with The Hills.  A track that’s been shared a lot among listeners lately is a sweet Hawaiian love song called Lava - it’s the soundtrack to a short film that’s screening in theaters over here and people find it enchanting.

A few years ago, EDM was dominating the American charts. Have you seen a shift towards any other genres since you've been working at Spotify?

Yes, the genre of 2015 so far is hip-hop. Drake and Kendrick Lamar’s albums had massive release weeks in terms of streams, as did J. Cole, Big Sean, Wale, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler The Creator, Trey Songz and Meek Mill. Our core listeners are pretty young and they have a voracious appetite for hip-hop. But EDM is still going strong! Avicii's Waiting For Love is a global hit at the moment, as is Jack Ü’s Where Are Ü Now. And Calvin Harris just dropped How Deep Is Your Love which is bound to be big.

How do people find artists on Spotify? Do they find it themselves or through the playlists or through the charts?

It happens in a lot of different ways. Some make discoveries because they follow their friends and pay attention to what they’re listening to. Others are happy to take cues from Spotify’s Discover feature that guides listeners to artists who they might like based on their taste. I find a lot of songs and artists I like through playlists, either ones that tastemaker friends have created, or the ones that our team of curators at Spotify put together. Our New Music Friday playlist is really popular and is a great resource for sampling new music. I recently starting following Rap Caviar to help me keep up with the hip-hop scene.

Do you think that Spotify creates trends or reacts to them?

Hmmm, good one! A bit of both. We like to think we have a good ear (a collective ear, if you will). My colleagues at Spotify come from rich backgrounds in the music industry - from record label A&R to musicians themselves, and we like to champion new artists we think listeners might like. Hozier and Lorde are two examples of artists we highlighted early when we saw their potential, and both went on to great success. But in terms of reacting; it’s our listeners who react to trends by sharing songs and streaming them. They’re the real trendsetters.

the interns' focus is generally about new music. What do you think it takes for a new artist to break through? Is it being featured on television or catching a break online or impressing influential people online…

All three of those avenues are still vital. But at the end of the day, it always starts with a great song. Write and record a brilliant song and get it out there and it stands a chance of being shared.

Sam Smith was the new artist success story of last year. Can you see any new artists doing the same this year?

New Jersey rapper Fetty Wap is definitely having a breakout year thanks to the crossover hit “Trap Queen.” It had a good run as the number one song with our listeners in the U.S. and his latest single “679” is on the rise. I think Fetty Wap will be having a pretty sweet time at the Grammys next year.

Is it too early to predict the song of the (US) Summer?

I’m calling it now -- The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face.

Are people still listening to albums from start to finish?

Yes, they are. We saw that with Drake’s surprise album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. For several weeks, he had multiple tracks populating our top streams chart in the U.S., which showed that listeners were checking out the album as a whole, not just one or two songs. We often see several tracks from an artist’s new album lighting up our viral charts soon after its release, too, which is a sign that listeners are exploring albums from start to finish.

Is running one of the key times people listen to music? Does it inform what music they listen to and what tempo they choose?

Yeah, we have millions of running playlists on Spotify and we’ve learned that runners tend to run in time with the beat when listening to music, so we came up with a feature that detects your running speed and suggests music that matches it.

Does Spotify see video and music working seamlessly together? For example, users will switch from listening to Sam Smith to suddenly watching a Vice documentary?

Yes, exactly. What we’ve seen is listeners will sometimes dip out of listening to music momentarily to check out something else online; a funny video, a news story. So our goal is to enable them to keep on doing that without having to leave Spotify. Everything they need will be in the one place.

Is it possible that Spotify will create shows that are exclusive to the platform like Netflix does?

That’s the plan. We’re creating original content. And here’s a bit of mandatory listening; Spotify produces a podcast called Incoming, which features a panel of music experts, including yours truly (cough, cough) discussing (and fighting over) new music. It’s hosted by veteran music journalist Joe Levy and is lots of fun. We hope!