Yesterday, after seven years on the job, Mark Williamson left Spotify where he served as the global head of artist and industry partnerships.
Normally, I wouldn’t write about an executive leaving a company… It happens all the time. But Mark was no normal leader.
Flashback five years ago… Streaming was bound to become what it is today.
In order for it to reach its potential, there had to be a visionary entrepreneur in Daniel Ek.
There had to be a creative fertile country to serve as a testing ground. Enter Sweden.
There had to be early adopters willing to subscribe to the service.
And there also had to be leaders capable of delivering streaming’s mission to the industry and the world. Mark was one of those individuals willing to deal with anti-streaming pickets from industry enthusiasts outside of Spotify industry events, while simultaneously creating market option.
I remember the first time I saw Mark Williamson. I had met the Spotify team in New York and was fascinated by the way our artists were starting to grow on the platform. Spotify had already launched in the US. It was small, but showed promise. Their product and office were beyond impressive. But most importantly, it seemed like a lot of great, nice people worked there.
Maybe that’s because the first person I met was Rosa Asciolla. At the time, she was the artist relations department in the US responding to every Spotify artist email inquiry. She now responds to artist inquiries in a different way – as the Head of Artist and Label Marketing for North America. Back in 2014, Rosa invited me to an event at Soho House in LA with several other managers. There were probably about 8 rows with six seats each and the place was full.
He presented the vision for Spotify and streaming’s future and the tools they were rolling out to support artists (keep in mind playlists were still in their infancy).He explained how artists needed to be proactive about building their streaming following rather than relying on the platform to do it for them.
He utilized a Powerpoint, but wasn’t limited to it. He was living in the moment.
He was fiery as if he was speaking directly to the picketers. He was convincing. In his eyes, the only way out for the music industry was through streaming… via Spotify, of course.
Then, came the charts… Mark showed how streaming was growing since Spotify’s launch in the US and then compared it to a chart of how streaming grew the past three years in the Nordics. Even though it was still small, I couldn’t believe how fast it was moving.
I instantly stood up and questioned the numbers to make sure I was understanding correctly. So you mean to tell me that Spotify is grew x, y, and z over the past six months and if the US follows the path of Europe then it will be huge by next year? While I had always been optimistic about streaming, the growth rate was beyond how it was being discussed across the industry.
“Yes! And it’s just the beginning…” Mark exclaimed before referring back to the European numbers and market potential.
Keep in mind, this was prior to managers (or most stakeholders for that matter) having any transparency at the recorded music level. Instead of getting real-time information directly from platforms or labels, the Soundscan report was the primary source for sales information. I’m sure some of us, me included, take the plethora of information we get from streaming platforms for granted because we don’t remember what it was like to live without them.
Spotify committed to creating transparency within the music industry and Mark had the torch.
Spotify was willing to reveal its own numbers in order to convey the future they saw for their company and the industry as a whole. It was a brilliant strategy, and it worked.
Over the course of the next few years, on the back of these industry events, dedicated leadership, and a fortitude of storytelling marketing efforts alongside perfect timing, streaming reached new heights.
For years, Spotify held David’s attitude as every other stakeholder was Goliath to them – even those they were on the same team with, such as the artist community who needed the streaming revolution, but at first guided by a few household name voices only talked down on streaming and the labels who owned equity in Spotify, but still prioritized sales until their imminent death was in sight. This underdog mentality drove the Spotify team to accomplish great things and made it easy for up-and-coming companies like ours to root for their success.
Competition from Apple and Amazon entering the streaming market fueled and continues to fuel the streaming story, and Spotify found itself as the current market leader in the same category as these behemoth companies.
There were a lot of amazing people at Spotify committed to this early vision. Some are still there and some have or will take their talents to other areas of the industry. As companies grow, evolve, and maturate, it’s natural to have attrition. As artist managers, when we look at the opportunities we have today because of streaming, it’s important to recognize the leaders, such as Mark, who paved the way for its seemingly impossible possibility.
As I’ve gotten to know Mark extremely well over the last couple years, I know whatever his next venture is will be given the same entrepreneurial spirit and tenacious brilliance he gave to Spotify these past seven years.
As always with endings, there are new beginnings… Just minutes ago Mark had his second child, so congratulations to him and his wife Laura!
In closing, yesterday Mark sent out an industry level announcing his departure. In it, was the following quote –
“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the music world has tilted on its axis in that time and I hope that the change and growth that we’ve seen has been for the better for you and the artists you work with. Over the years, as my team and I were out trying to get as many of you as possible to sit down with us, there was no guarantee that the promise of streaming would deliver. I’m grateful that so many of you took the risk, and put aside your concerns, to give us a chance. I hope we’ve made it worth your while.”
Yes Mark, you did… And we are all grateful for you giving us the future before we could even see it.