In addition to the ads that users of the free service must contend with, Spotify is now testing out Sponsored Songs, which will allow labels to promote singles as a way of product testing. The streaming service confirmed the new feature to TechCrunch this week after users began noticing a mysterious “Sponsored Content” opt-out setting in the app. Although Spotify was quick to clarify that these sponsored songs will only affect the free tier of users, the opt-out was first discovered by Twitter user Liam Maloney, who pointed out that he is in fact a paying subscriber to the service.
Ostensibly, the sponsored songs would only appear to users in the free tier should it move past the testing phase, who are not as lucrative to Spotify as paid subscribers. And by stealthily tailoring songs to the individual user — such as having them appear on playlists with similar listening tastes — the hope is to not only avoid scaring off free subscribers, but even encouraging them to save the music and later revisit.
Sponsored Songs could slip right into Spotify without interrupting the listening experience. When targeted well, users might not even notice a song is sponsored. But the labels hope they’ll get the tune stuck in their head, saving it to their Spotify library, sharing it with friends, returning to listen to more of the artist’s music, and eventually earning money directly for the musician and label by buying concert tickets or merchandise.
TechCrunch warns that these Sponsored Songs precariously toe the line to the practice of “radio payola,” back when music labels actually paid radio stations to put their artists’ music on the air. Congress put a kibosh on this practice in the early aughts, but marking the songs as sponsored, however, may help Spotify wiggle around the rule.
At any rate, the initial reaction from users has not exactly been receptive, so whether or not Spotify decides to move forward with an official rollout remains to be seen.