Do you know that Taylor Swift has more Spotify listeners in Quezon City than anywhere else in the world?
This is one of the things that Gautam Talwar, the new managing director of the streaming service for Southeast Asia, points out to us to underscore just how technology has impacted music. Here, he explains, Filipino tastes range from the Lover megastar to gospel music to OPM. “Streaming breaks down barriers; it means the fans build and break tomorrow’s superstars,” he says.
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While music industry has been global for a long time, market penetration has never been this far-reaching and, thankfully, instantly quantifiable. As someone who has built a love for great content and its creators over the years with senior leadership roles at companies like Disney, Maker Studios, and FremantleMedia, Talwar understands and appreciates this. “I grew up in India and having worked both in the US and Asia, I’ve found the entertainment business is similar in many ways across the globe,” the University of Southern California graduate shares. Brilliant storytelling and great songwriting wins out, he says, no matter where you’re from or what streaming service you’re on.
What excites him the most about his current role is his company’s mission. “It’s an opportunity to revolutionize the way that Southeast Asia can access and enjoy music from anywhere in the world as well as improve the lives of local musicians and the creator community here,” he says, adding that Spotify is a technology company by design, but a music company at heart. “It’s a great place to work. We thrive on passion and innovation, and I can think of no other company better positioned to change the world of music for the better.”
Complications and considerations
But the matter of changing the world is, of course, not without complications. For example, ever since music streaming has started gaining traction, a conversation that never seems to find easy resolution is about the balance between being profitable and being fair to the artists. Talwar stresses that they are for collective success, and they want more creators to get paid for their work.
“Essentially, we’re seeking to create economic opportunity for the creative community so they can do what they love,” he says. “Since Spotify was launched, the revenue paid to rights holders has been upward of 13 billion Euros, making us one of the largest contributors to the music industry, not only globally, but also in the Philippines.”
Talwar asserts that the impact of streaming in country has been largely positive, contributing to 73 percent of music industry revenue. “That’s a significant contribution and we are proud to be part of this story. The shift to streaming has revitalized music where piracy used to be the primary method of consumption,” he says. “Spotify was built on the belief that music should be available to everyone, everywhere, no matter who or where you are. It’s what the emergence of music piracy dictated, it’s what drove the industry to embrace radical change.” It’s the company’s recognition of this change, he emphasizes, and its ability to turn it into a positive force for fans and artists that makes them unique.
Another key challenge for the Philippines when it comes to streaming is data-burn. The executive says that their goal is to ensure users can access and enjoy their app, regardless of the device they own. Earlier this year, they introduced Spotify Lite, a small, fast, and simplified version of their service for people with older phones, or data cost and interruption constraints.
In the country, the local music scene continues to thrive—at least where Spotify is concerned. “OPM content has surpassed 10 billion streams. Last year, OPM dominated the most-streamed tracks in the Philippines, with “Mundo” by IV of Spades and “Kathang Isip” by Ben&Ben taking the first and second spot respectively, while Moira Dela Torre’s “Tagpuan” came in at 4th place. OPM has even started making waves elsewhere; Recently, This Band’s hit single “Kahit Ayaw Mo Na” didn’t just reach #1 on Spotify Philippines’ Top 50 and Viral 50 charts, it also appeared on the Global Viral 50 chart, a feat usually reserved for the very best of K-pop artists.
Talwar says that they’re always looking to improving user experience. Earlier this year, they launched their flagship OPM playlist, Tatak Pinoy, which has gained a huge following. He says that they are also zeroing on personalization. “The more you use Spotify, the more we understand what music you love, and the better your experience will be the next time you open the app,” he explains.
Spotify’s next phase, he shares, is exploring the possibilities of a different kind of audio content: podcasts. “We announced our acquisition of Anchor, Parcast and Gimlet during this year and we are getting ready to build that out through Southeast Asia, creating a whole new area for our creator communities,” Talwar says. They will also continue building on Spotify Life, which he says has the ability to share the app to millions more across the country. “We’re excited to see how this can really help get music into the hands of everyone in the Philippines.”
To him, this all flows back to the community of artists and the millions who patronize their work. “We’re dedicated to making sure everyone, from our users to our creators to our partners, can express themselves with the music that’s meaningful to them, wherever they are,” he says.
Please share some of your favorites. Favorite city in the world?
Los Angeles. It’s the heart of the global media and entertainment industry and a goldmine of music and culture.
Favorite clothing brand?
When I’m in Manila, I love to go to The Wholesome Table. However, my favorite restaurant in the world is Katsuya Hollywood in Los Angeles.
Drink of choice?
Whisky. Single malt. Neat.
How do you keep fit?
Yoga and meditation. My daily commute to work has me listening in on “Guided Meditation” playlist on Spotify.
Last book you've read and loved?
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, by Allan Eagle, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg.
Dream dinner guests?
Barack Obama, Bob Dylan, and Russell Peters.
Which artists are on your current heavy rotation?
These days: Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Snatam Kaur, and Ravi Shankar.
What's your go-to playlist in the morning?
How about when you're stressed?
My Taste breakers playlist.
Favorite music growing up?
Blues and Classic Rock. My first concert was Deep Purple.
What's on your bucket list?
One, start a Podcast. Two, climb Everest Base Camp. And three, move to an organic farm.