THE EVENTS WERE BILLED as closed-door, no-me­dia-al­lowed con­ver­sa­tions be­tween artists and Spo­tify. It was a del­i­cate pair­ing, the in­dus­try equiv­a­lent of the Iran nu­clear talks or emer­gency cou­ples ther­apy, and so it be­gan with the cre­ation of a safe space: In three cities—new York, Nashville, and Los An­ge­les—the artists would gather in a room by them­selves and talk for 30 min­utes about stream­ing. Then the doors would open, and Spo­tify ex­ecs would be al­lowed in.

And that’s roughly when the shout­ing started, much of it at D.A. Wal­lach, the guy tasked with play­ing peace­maker be­tween cor­po­rate and cre­ative.

“There are cer­tainly con­ver­sa­tions I have that be­gin with peo­ple hat­ing me,” Wal­lach says to­day. Those events were in Oc­to­ber, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Bri­tish artists ad­vo­cacy group Fea­tured Artists Coali­tion. But he’s been hated else­where. And he’s de­vel­oped a Lebron James–level abil­ity to wave away his de­trac­tors.

Af­ter all, he knows ex­actly where they’re com­ing from. Wal­lach is a mu­si­cian him­self. He fronted a band called Ch­ester French and is now a solo act. His job ti­tle at Spo­tify is artist in res­i­dence. And his ac­tual job is to meet with artists and say, es­sen­tially, “I am one of you. And I want to help you love Spo­tify the way I love Spo­tify.”

Imag­ine it: You are a full-time mu­si­cian, fear­ing for your liveli­hood. Nap­ster con­vinced a gen­er­a­tion of mu­sic fans that your record­ings had


no mone­tary value, and by the time it was func­tion­ally sued out of ex­is­tence, CD sales were tank­ing. Then itunes de­mol­ished the very con­cept of the al­bum, turn­ing songs into in­di­vid­ual com­modi­ties. Then Spo­tify came along and made it easy for any­one to hear your mu­sic for free. Peo­ple lost in­ter­est in these $1.29 files, and, on the high end, Spo­tify now of­fers to pay $0.0084 cents for each time some­one plays your song. And if you think that’s a raw deal, some guy named D.A. Wal­lach, with a cor­po­rate day job and a gleam­ing Tesla, calls you up and says he’s just like you and ev­ery­one’s go­ing to be OK. You think to your­self: Who does this guy think he is? And then, an even more dis­ori­ent­ing ques­tion: What if he’s right?

“I HAVE A TO­TAL RE­VUL­SION for cor­po­rate life,” Wal­lach says when we meet. Does he have an of­fice at Spo­tify HQ? No, he mostly comes in for meet­ings. Does he wear suits to work? Hell, no—he’s cur­rently wear­ing lime-green sneak­ers and a pink T-shirt, look­ing like Shaun White’s nerdy, art-teacher brother. That said, he turned 30 in March. And he is wav­ing his flag of rock ’n’ roll in­de­pen­dence in a very cor­po­rate-look­ing Spo­tify con­fer­ence room, with a pub­li­cist sit­ting nearby.

Twelve years ago, Wal­lach was a Har­vard fresh­man des­per­ate to join a band. Some guys were as­sem­bling one, so he au­di­tioned to be the drum­mer. He lost out to Damien Chazelle, who went on to write and di­rect Whiplash. But the band anointed him their singer, and they called them­selves Ch­ester French. They recorded an EP, then took to the streets of Cam­bridge, sell­ing it for $5.

This was fun, but it was no way to make a liv­ing. So Wal­lach be­gan worm­ing his way through the lay­ers of the in­dus­try, seek­ing a way in. He reached out to a Web de­signer for Kanye West and man­aged to get some MP3S into West’s hands. He con­tacted a Mix magazine writer who had re­cently in­ter­viewed Phar­rell Wil­liams’ en­gi­neer. He made his way through to Jer­maine Dupri. It was a lu­di­crous ef­fort, the work of a kid with blind am­bi­tion and lots of hus­tle. But, funny thing: Within weeks, all three of these men of­fered Ch­ester French a deal. A bid­ding war en­sued. The band picked Phar­rell’s la­bel, Star Trak, an im­print of In­ter­scope. By 2007, their mu­sic was play­ing in an episode of En­tourage.

Around that same time, Wal­lach spot­ted another op­por­tu­nity: Jimmy Iovine, In­ter­scope’s then-ceo, was look­ing to get more in­volved in the dig­i­tal sphere, and Wal­lach hap­pened to know Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg from their days at Har­vard. “We weren’t su­per close,” Wal­lach says, “but we had lunch a cou­ple of times.” Good enough. He ar­ranged a meet­ing be­tween the two ex­ec­u­tives, with him as fa­cil­i­ta­tor, at Face­book’s head­quar­ters.

It was a “re­ally weird meet­ing,” he says, with­out elab­o­rat­ing. No mat­ter: While there, he got chat­ting with Dave Morin, who at the time man­aged some of Face­book’s big­gest projects. (He has since gone on to found the so­cial net­work Path.) They stayed in touch, and two years later, Morin gave Wal­lach his first look at Spo­tify. At the time, the ser­vice was a cu­rios­ity out of Swe­den, and the only Amer­i­cans who had ac­cess to it were in­dus­try in­sid­ers like Morin. Wal­lach was in­trigued, and a year of ea­ger net­work­ing fol­lowed, un­til he fi­na­gled a sushi din­ner in Los An­ge­les with Spo­tify’s co­founders, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorent­zon.

“My skep­ti­cism was, how are you guys go­ing to make money off this?” Wal­lach says.

Spo­tify is ea­ger to dis­cuss this. The ser­vice has two main rev­enue streams: ads heard by its cur­rently 45 mil­lion non­pay­ing users, and monthly fees paid by its 15 mil­lion mem­bers. Nearly 70 per­cent of this rev­enue goes to the own­ers of the mu­sic, typ­i­cally la­bels. Spo­tify pays based on a com­plex equa­tion and doesn’t like de­scrib­ing it as a per-stream fee, but it works out to be­tween $0.006 and $0.0084 for each play. Spo­tify says that can net about $76,000 a month for a “break­through indie al­bum” and $425,000 for a global hit.

More­over, un­like CDS, streams con­tinue to gen­er­ate in­come as long as fans keep on hit­ting play. So why all the fuss? Why do mu­si­cians like Tay­lor Swift and Thom Yorke openly bash Spo­tify? Why did Jimmy Buf­fett stand up at a Van­ity Fair con­fer­ence last fall and ask Ek when he’d be giv­ing mu­si­cians a raise? The crowd laughed, but Buf­fett didn’t. He wants a raise.

Stream­ing is killing off mu­sic sales and re­plac­ing it with smaller pay­ments, these artists say. Spo­tify de­flects blame for this onto the la­bels, which set artists’ in­di­vid­ual roy­alty rates. That indie al­bum may have earned $76,000 on Spo­tify, but the artist re­ceived just a piece of the to­tal. Crit­ics say that’s be­cause Spo­tify earned a piece too.

Dur­ing that sushi din­ner, though, Wal­lach saw Spo­tify’s an­gle: The larger Spo­tify gets, the more money it fun­nels to artists and, per­haps more im­por­tant, by mak­ing mu­sic more widely avail­able, it’s help­ing cre­ate more mu­sic fans with more eclec­tic tastes. “I felt an al­most mis­sion­ary zeal,” he says. So Ek con­nected him with Sean Parker, the guy who cre­ated Nap­ster, and who is now a Spo­tify in­vestor and serves on its board. Be­fore long, the kid from Ch­ester French had a job. He would keep do­ing what he does best—hus­tling, con­nect­ing, and be­ing per­sua­sive.

And he would do it for Spo­tify.

TO­DAY WAL­LACH RUNS a 10-mem­ber artist-ser­vices team, scat­tered through­out New York, Lon­don, L.A., and Ber­lin. The job has its ups and downs. Some artists are very re­cep­tive. He said he was par­tic­u­larly happy af­ter meet­ing with the pro­ducer Dave Ste­wart, for­merly of the Eury­th­mics, who used to bash Spo­tify in the press but has now turned into an ally. Other meet­ings are tense. Some so­cial sit­u­a­tions are, too. He doesn’t let it get to him be­cause he feels cer­tain he’s on the right side. “They’re not yelling at me be­cause Spo­tify’s busi­ness model doesn’t make sense. What they’re scream­ing about is that it’s re­ally hard for them to make money right now.”

Later this year, Wal­lach will add to his cre­den­tials as an artist in res­i­dence: He will re­lease his first solo al­bum. Not that he’s giv­ing up his day job. “My mu­sic is not supremely pop­u­lar on Spo­tify,” he ad­mits with a grin. But it will be there, avail­able for all. ■


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