We chat to Spotify's Label Relations Coordinator Drew Lam about the humble beginnings of Spotify Sessions, and what the future has in store...
Our birthday celebrations are winding down now, but don’t panic – it’s not all over just yet. There’s still more to look forward to, including another guest column right here, right now.
Today it’s the turn of Drew Lam, Label Relations Coordinator at Spotify: the man who organises Spotify’s fantastic live Spotify Sessions. Over to you, Drew…
Drew Lam | Label Relations Coordinator, Spotify UK
When I joined Spotify around two and a half years ago, it was pretty much my dream job. I’d been at an artist management company before that so I had a bit of industry experience, but the idea of working for a tech company that was changing the way people experience music? That was more than exciting – it was uncharted territory.
As it turns out, my role as Label Relations Coordinator at Spotify still involves dealing with artists, and as usual, that’s a huge mixed bag! Artists are all very different; some are very humble and easy to be around, and others, well – let’s just say that they come in with certain expectations of what kind of service they should receive! That’s the nature of the industry, but ultimately I think it’s a good thing that artists are so different, because it comes through in their music.
At its most basic, my job is to work with record labels to bring their music to your ears. As you might imagine, that involves a lot of analysis to work out the best way to create that exposure, but luckily for me, it also means I get to run Spotify Sessions.
When Sessions first started, it was as small scale as you can possibly imagine. The best example of that is one of our very first Sessions, which featured a then-unsigned Dan Smith – who you may know as the incredibly talented singer-songwriter-frontman of Bastille. Dan was friends with one of the guys at Spotify, and he agreed to come down and perform after work one day. He just sat down on the couch, chatted to the 20 or so people who were there and performed acapella for a bit.
“Sessions was a small thing at the start that it used to take place in our office reception.”
Sessions was a small thing at the start that it used to take place in our office reception. We’d pull up a few chairs, invite people in the office to come down and watch, and the artists would just play a few acoustic songs to us. No microphone, no production, nothing. Some of the earliest ones weren’t even recorded.
There’s something nice about the idea of having been one of the few lucky people to be at a gig like that, and that is, in part, the idea behind Sessions: we’re trying to capture really good, exclusive, original content and bring that to all of our users, not just the few that can make it to the Session itself.
From that small setting, Sessions has grown into something a lot more significant, to the extent that record labels will pitch Sessions ideas to us now. I’d say we probably get two or three pitches a week. Often it’s just a case of working out when the best time is to run the Session, depending on when the artist is in town and when they have new material coming out. It’s still not a particularly rigid process; the timings can be so fluid that it’s easier to keep things quite ad-hoc.
When it comes to the day of the Session itself, I go back into artist management mode. They often come in for the whole day and hang out with everyone in the office, so it’s my job to make sure they have everything they need to be comfortable. It really makes a difference to the sound and the atmosphere when the artist is relaxed and happy to be there, especially when we’re capturing an acoustic or semi-acoustic set. The venue at our offices is still quite intimate, and when they’re relaxed they tend to loosen up a bit and engage with the crowd more, and that results in a much better recording.
People often ask me what my favourite Session ever was, and actually it’s a pretty easy question. Last year we booked Slash from Guns N’ Roses. He came in, told us a few stories and then played us a set that included an absolutely mind-blowing acoustic version of Sweet Child O’ Mine. To be one of a crowd of about 30 people, about an arm’s length away from Slash and listening to an acoustic version of Sweet Child O’ Mine? That was something pretty special that honestly, I’d never imagined I would get to be part of.
Listen to Slash’s Spotify Session
You’ll be glad to know that Slash visit to Spotify was recorded for Sessions, and you can listen to the whole thing through Spotify Web Player, or via Spotify on your Red 4G plan!
Click here to listen!
The future of Sessions…
So, where does Spotify Sessions go from here? Well, that’s something we discuss a lot. The whole thing started so organically and on such a small scale, but within a few years it’s grown into something we’re doing all over the world, with proper music venue areas, PA systems, production and mixing desks… It’s the real deal now. So why shouldn’t we be doing even bigger shows in a few years’ time?
“I’d love to see Sessions grow like that around the world, capturing exclusive content from festivals everywhere.”
In the last couple of years for instance, we’ve had the Spotify House out at SXSW in Austin, Texas – that’s got the same essence as Sessions, but we’re essentially putting together a mini music festival of our own. We get some amazing crowds out there, and we record the whole lot for Sessions as well. Obviously, we’ll take things one step at a time but personally, I’d love to see Sessions grow like that around the world, capturing exclusive content from festivals everywhere.
Sessions will evolve with Spotify as we take the service into new markets in the coming years and continue to listen to our users about what they want from us. We’ve always been a company that is guided by the people who use it; so ultimately, it’ll go wherever you want it to go.
Play that funky music… Do you feel like the time is now to get involved with Spotify? Sign up for one of Vodafone’s Red Value 4G bundles and you’ll get a Spotify Premium membership at no extra cost!*