Not only was Spotify founder Daniel Ek an avid Napster user, but he also didn’t think he was doing anything wrong by using. “In all honesty I didn’t even understand it was illegal because there wasn’t that kind of debate,” Ek told Sarah Lacy at PandoMonthly in New York tonight. A teenager at the time, he assumed that the artists got paid at some point down the line.
By the time he realized that Napster was illegal, it didn’t even matter. And therein lay the seeds of Spotify. “I realized convenience quite often wins,” Ek said. “It’s not that people don’t want to pay for music.”
The problem was that buying music was a much worse option than stealing. Before free-streaming services such as Spotify, the best way to get music digitally and legally was to buy it from iTunes. But that meant the songs were restricted by DRM, so they could only be played on a certain number of devices, and the sound quality wasn’t great. If you chose to “steal” music using a service like Napster, on the other hand, you could find audio in a lossless format that wasn’t restricted.
“It was the only point in time when the stolen product has been much, much better than the one you legally acquired,” Ek said. “For me it was a pretty big given why we ended up where we ended up in the music industry.” That was the problem Spotify decided to try tackle. Ek wanted to “even out the odds” for legal music.
Ek also described his early days on Napster, recalling how the sudden explosion of music meant you could suddenly search for any song in the world. By browsing the libraries of the people who were sharing songs on the peer-to-peer service, you could also discover a lot of new music. It was an effective discovery mechanism – a “filter,” as Ek called it. “Weirdly enough, I trusted these total random strangers who had this one song I was looking for.”
Ek, who said he got his music education through Napster, says it dissolved the notion that people could be characterized by specific genres of music. You were no longer a “hip hop” person or a “rock guy,” he said, because Napster opened up new worlds and allowed people to roam genres more freely. “Napster cemented that thing,” he said, and later added: “Over long periods of time that’s what got me into Spotify. I do think that’s good for culture and inherently good for people.”