South Africa is nearing the five month mark as far as lockdown is concerned, with COVID-19 presenting challenges on multiple fronts. Being stuck at home also meant South Africans leveraged more digital services while forced to remain at home. This resulted in a lot more streaming for services like Spotify.

Spotify also chose to launch some much-requested services during this time, with Family Plan being one of the standouts. It has also been two years since the service first launched in South Africa, and quite a bit has happened in that short space of time.

To find out what insights Spotify had as far as the local music landscape went, as well as what lockdown has brought about, we spoke to the company’s MD for Middle East and Africa (MEA), Claudius Boller.

Here’s what the MD had to say.

Claudius Boller, MD for MEA, Spotify

In the first two months of lockdown, Boller notes that the global trend among listeners was a leaning towards chilled music.

Globally, between March and April, we saw a rise in more chilled songs being added to playlists, however, locally there has been an increase in more upbeat South African genres like AmaPiano,” he explains. 

It was interesting to see ‘AmaPiano Grooves’ becoming the most streamed local playlist in South Africa in June. Perhaps this is because the AmaPiano beat reminds people of street parties and community, and makes you feel like you are out and about and connected to something bigger than just yourself,” he posits. 

The local outlook

As aforementioned, one of the music streaming platform’s key new offerings to the South African market has been the Family Plan, and according to Boller, there has been a positive reaction to it locally.

“The plan launched at a time when families are spending more time together and the positive feedback aligns with our data that show that families love having the ability to listen together,” he notes.

“We also rolled out Premium Duo in South Africa back in July, a first of its kind audio offering, where two people living at the same home address can each get their own Premium account under one plan in addition to the unique benefits like exclusive access to Duo Mix,” adds the MD.

Shifting to what local artists have been doing during lockdown, interestingly Boller says that they’ve been using this time to explore some of the different tools and experiences that Spotify makes available.

While the amount of new music being created declined significantly, he says that the number of live performances shot up. He adds that this time was also used constructively by artists, with using it as an opportunity to become more au fait with the platform and how to gain more followers.

“In the first few months of COVID-19, we saw a spike in live performances on artists’ individual social media platforms and a decline in the release of new music. However, this trend has since reversed with new music releases being the focus again,” Boller points out.  

“South African artists have also used the lockdown period to proactively upskill themselves on best streaming practises to build their Spotify profile and to gain new followers. I’m happy to note that we have also seen an increase in local artists creating podcasts to continue to connect, share and engage with their followers. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues,” he says.

Sticking with artists, Boller notes that Spotify has been actively looking at ways of supporting them at this time, especially as many have been impacted by the inability to perform and limited capacity to record, share, and promote new music.

“For the music community, we launched a feature called the Artist Fundraising Pick in partnership with PayPal.me which allows artists to add a verified fundraising source to their artist profile on Spotify. The fundraising effort could be for themselves, their crew or for a separate charitable initiative,” he explains.

The home of all things audio

Along with artists, one of the other areas that Spotify has given a lot of attention to is podcasts. The firm noted its intention of entering the space when we interviewed them last year, and in 2020, those efforts appear to have intensified.

“Spotify’s goal is to be the number one destination for audio, which includes podcasts.  Podcast uptake is rapidly growing around the world and South Africans are quickly catching onto this trend,” he says.

For now it looks like bigger names are joining the platform, both locally and internationally, with a few standouts already being highlighted by Boller.

“The top podcasts streamed in South Africa include The Gareth Cliff Show alongside global podcasts including The Michelle Obama Podcast and The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” he notes.   

“In terms of podcast penetration locally, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing – giving people around the world access to the best in on-demand, original and exclusive podcast content, and innovating to make the listening and discovery experience as easy and enjoyable as possible. This is an ongoing process, but it is a key focus area for Spotify globally,” Boller enthuses.

With 2020 serving up several hurdles, it looks like it has not stopped Spotify from achieving some of its goals, both in South Africa and abroad.

Whenever we do return to “normal” post-COVID-19, Boller says the platform has plenty in the works.

“Our teams around the world are always working on new and exciting ways to bring each individual the audio content they want, wherever they happen to be at any given moment. There will be plenty of disruptive innovations to come, stay tuned,” he concludes.

[Image – Photo by Tanner Boriack on Unsplash]