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We’re frenemies, so why not poach?

The streaming service Spotify draws in millions of listeners a day. Its $10/month model is not unlike community radio’s sustaining membership, but it does not serve a local community at all. On the other hand, music consumption is at a high, and radio is an automatic beneficiary. Spotify is also innovative and presents ideas community radio can adapt to its needs.

Spotify is doing a few things right now that seem almost too easy to swipe. Just three are:

Smartphone video. Launched as part of its highly influential RapCaviar playlist, Spotify introduced vertical music videos to its service. Vertical video – literally videos you can watch while holding your smartphone upright – is an acknowledgment for Spotify of how its audience consumes content. However, implicit is also an understanding that listeners to music also love visuals and are using their smartphones to listen to music. These efforts, which have been as diverse as music performances by hip-hop collective Migos to chats between burgeoning rap star 21 Savage and R&B legend Keith Sweat to dances set to hot songs, have been incredibly successful. The work has since expanded to Spotify’s Viva Latino playlist, which enlisted the iconic Daddy Yankee for exclusive music. Community radio can rest easy, knowing radio continues to be the go-to for music discovery, but there is no reason why you can’t experiment with what Spotify is doing in unique ways.

Topical playlists. Viva Latino and RapCaviar are just two of dozens of Spotify playlists, sectioned off by genre, mood and holiday. Clearly, that kind of collection is the result of a lot of resources you may not have. Don’t just assume it is impossible though. Your station can scale this concept for genres, events you’re at or special days, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. The frequency can be entirely based on your station’s capacity to do this. In addition, playlists are a good way of involving prospective DJs, by seeing what kinds of choices they make in music, and the metrics of how often listeners stream, and thus like, what they do. Perhaps an aspiring on-air volunteer can curate a themed list or two monthly for you? It is key, of course, not to make these playlists downloadable. In today’s streaming-centric world, downloads are just not as important to people anyway.

Music partnerships. Spotify has just partnered with bands to sell merchandise like records, shirts and patches, which is all revenue to be kept by artists. They’ve even extended their reach out to beauty products. You don’t need to be nearly as ambitious. Still, what the service is doing to attract artists and get fans to visit regularly bears a closer look. An effort like this would take some technical tinkering; a third-party website or other tools might be in order. It would be crucial to keep these materials fresh and one-of-a-kind if possible. Your community radio station will need to be deliberate in its approach, but perhaps you can connect with local performers to draw their crowds and yours in renewed ways.

The chances of beating Spotify at our own game are tough. That doesn’t mean community radio can’t pilfer a few ideas and evolve too.

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