November 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

What’s Next For Spotify? Powering Music Apps

spotify whats next commercial api

For whatever reason, some of the neatest announcements in digital music history have been surrounded by an air of mystery. Call it the iPod effect. The latest player in this game: Spotify, which is summoning reporters to a Nov. 30 “Global Press Conference” with the tantalizing teaser, “What’s next for Spotify?”

People are talking, which is of course the point. All Things Digital thinks Spotify will announce a digital music store points out that Spotify sells MP3s in Europe but not in America, so perhaps that’s a possibility. PC Magazine doesn’t know. VentureBeat thinks it will be an MP3 store after all.

We respectfully disagree, because we think we’ve already broken this story.

If our theory is correct, Spotify will announce a commercial API (application programming interface) on November 30 that lets app developers for iOS, Android, and other platforms build — and sell — music apps that  draw on Spotify’s catalog of 15-million-plus songs.

That last bit is crucial. Developers can already build apps on top of Spotify – they just can’t sell them, removing a substantial incentive for making cool stuff, especially when so many other app developers have struck gold on the app stores.

Spotify will make its API available to commercial developers — even one-person operations operating on shoestring budgets — and we suspect that it will also announce big improvements to that API development tool.

Our guess: These "special guests" will be third-party app developers making stuff out of Spotify's music

Developers we’ve spoken with at Music Hack Days (the latest of which was attended by Spotify) have not been shy about denigrating Spotify’s existing API, which some of them have said is hard to work with.

As a result, we feel that Spotify will announce not only commercial terms for its API that let app developers charge for their apps, which, again, we have already confirmed, but also that Spotify is revamping its API to make it much easier to integrate the service into third-party apps.

You might ask: Why would record labels, some of which are pulling music from Spotify, allow another layer of stuff to be built around their music, by people they don’t even know?

The answer is simple: If a music fan wants to use a third-party app (like this one or this one) to listen to Spotify on a smartphone or tablet, they need to pay $10 per month for a full Spotify subscription. And some of that money goes to labels, publishers, and artists (“black hole” aside).

This is why they call it an “ecosystem.”

These labels pulling their stuff from Spotify could even explain the timing of this event. Spotify needs to flex its muscles a bit to show bands, labels, and publishers that if they’re not on Spotify, they won’t be part of this ecosystem — which could arguably be massive, because a wide range of features for playing back and sharing Spotify’s music is likely to emerge once app developers have more incentive to build them and better tools with which to do so.

The “special guests” mentioned in the invite? Our guess is that they will be some of the developers who have already built apps out of Spotify’s music, even in the absence of a commercial license, or perhaps developers who have built new ones.

We’re still planning to attend this press conference, of course, which is “global” in nature, we assume, to attract developers all over the world. Those developers will have the chance to build and sell apps in any app store, with Spotify as the musical back-end, without ever hiring a lawyer or obtaining a meeting with a single record label executive.

We’ll have to wait until November 30 to know for sure what Spotify is announcing, but we have a feeling we won’t be too surprised. A commercial API just makes too much sense for Spotify not to announce it.

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  • Andrew Gasset

    While I do believe commercial API is coming, I don’t think that’s enough to warrant the hype of this press conference. I see a social platform coming a cross between Xbox live and A easier way to find cool playlists and follow the people who created them. Also, some reward/trophy system to inspire people to produce the playlists.  While linking Facebook friends is nice, for me only a handful of my friends share my love of post-puck bands. If it just commercial API, then I hope someone builds an app of what I just described.

  • Paul Kelly

    What should be next for Spotify: Improving the sound quality of its tracks to match that of MOG.