When you've just turned 30, are worth $300 million and are the co-founder of the biggest thing to happen to music since Apple's iTunes, well, you can afford to splurge.
Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify music-subscription service, has a passion for collecting guitars. He has 42 of them back home in Sweden (his favorite: a rare 1959 Fender Stratocaster), and he says he never travels without one.
In an interview at the tony Petit Ermitage hotel here, he has his publicist fetch his latest -- an $850 SoloEtte "traveling guitar" by Wright Guitars of Oregon. "I love to noodle around," he says, playing a few chords.
Ek's done more than just noodle in online music. He's been more successful at advancing the notion of subscribing to a celestial jukebox than anyone before. While music-subscription services Rhapsody, the legal Napster and MOG (soon to relaunch as Daisy) all pre-date Spotify, Ek has 5 million paying customers -- (five times Rhapsody's base) -- and 20 million active members who use the ad-supported free version. (Spotify charges $5 monthly for ad-free listening on a PC or $10 for mobile access.)
His twist on rivals was emphasizing the social aspects of music -- showing what your friends are listening to via Facebook. Others had tried to do that but not as successfully.
Now, he wants to take the social aspect of discovering new music to the next level by not only showing you what your pals are listening to, but also what your favorite artists listen to.
With a library of 20 million songs, it can be overwhelming for Spotify subscribers to figure out what to play. "The biggest feedback we get from users is, 'What if I don't know what to listen to?'" says Ek. At the same time, "When we sat down with artists, it was, 'How can we get heard?'"
The solution -- "Discover and Follow" -- was announced in December but has rolled out so gradually that it will finally be in all user accounts by the end of the month.
Beyond just seeing who your friends like, you can follow via the new Discover tab the musical tastes of your favorite artists and music "influencers."
It shows you, for instance, that Justin Bieber listens to Michael Jackson, Rhianna, Jackson 5 and Frank Ocean, or that Maroon 5 digs Al Green, Beck and the Black Keys. Followers of bands will get alerts and updates whenever they release new recorded music.
Inspired by Napster
Ek's inspiration for Spotify was the original Napster, which illegally offered a database of the world's music for anyone with a computer to tap into.
Napster "changed my life," Ek says. "You could search for any band, and there it was. It allowed me to listen to all this music that I never knew existed."
The music labels persuaded courts to shut Napster down, then watched in horror as CD sales dropped 50% in the last decade anyway. Some $13.7 billion worth of CDs and other packaged music products sold in 2012, compared with $4.9 billion for digital downloads and subscriptions worldwide, according to researcher Strategy Analytics.
By 2017, the firm sees CDs falling to $9.5 billion, while digital grows to $6.7 billion.
A computer whiz since his teen years, Ek was a multimillionaire by age 23. He created code for a Swedish online ad network and got paid $2 million for his efforts. He decided to follow his passion to create a music start-up with Martin Lorentzon, whose Sweden-based TradeDoubler online ad firm acquired Ek's Advertigo in 2006.
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