Bringing Music to Your Ears: Q&A with Sunita Kaur, Managing Director (Asia) of Spotify

Spotify brings you the right music for every moment. It’s now available in 60 markets with more than 100 million active users.

Spotify announced that it had reached 50 million paid subscribers, building a new music economy that works for artists in a way the music industry never has before. After all, Spotify’s whole reason for existence is to help fans find music and help artists connect with fans through a service that protects them from piracy and pays them for their amazing work.

Sunita Kaur, Spotify’s Managing Director for Asia, drives the strategic direction for Spotify in the region as the company continues its growth across the continent. Sunita’s responsibilities include overseeing Spotify’s expansion across Asia, as well as managing the region’s sales division. 

When she is not busy wearing myriad hats, Sunita relaxes with a good cup of coffee and indulges in weekend sports with her husband, Jim, in Singapore where they call home. An early bird, Sunita is an avid yoga practitioner and slips in at least a 15-minute daily practice.

LadyBoss spoke to Sunita about how Spotify disrupted the music industry.

Q: How has Spotify grown in numbers? 

A: Spotify is the biggest and most successful music streaming service of its kind globally. We are now available in 60 markets with more than 100 million active users. Our dream is to make all the world’s music available instantly to everyone, wherever you are. Spotify makes it easier than ever to discover, manage and share music with your friends, while making sure that artists get a fair deal. Since our launch in Sweden in 2008, Spotify has driven more than US$5bn to rights holders.

Q: What were you doing before being the MD in Spotify? 

A: I started my career at media powerhouses Time Warner and Singapore Press Holdings. As digital became a force to be reckoned with, I moved to Forbes.com to build up their Asia Pacific and Middle East operations. It was during this time that I was advised to seek a “reverse mentor” between the ages of 16 – 18 and I’m glad I did! I managed to learn so many things through the eyes of a digital native. This led to the next stage of my career at leading technology companies such as Microsoft and Facebook.  When Spotify was launched in Singapore in 2013, it was the perfect opportunity to join another amazing startup and grow their Asia operations.

Q: From your experience, what are the similarities and differences between print and digital media?

A: Access is the new ownership in today’s sharing economy. The gated content model of print media won’t work with a generation of people who are more open to discovering new and exciting content. Music is a personal experience, even though we listen to it on our mobile device, desktop or tablet, one touch of a button and you’re exposed to over 30 million songs. We also have features (Discover Weekly and Release Radar) that recommend personalized suggestions to users based on music they already love based on their listening history. It’s a whole new experience of discovering new music.

When we launched in Japan last year, we introduced a new feature that shows lyrics while tracks are playing because we knew how much they love to karaoke.

Q: You’ve been in Forbes.com, Facebook and now Spotify, which were initially startups and now big corporations. What are the factors to business growth? 

A: Through the successes and failures in the last 10 years, I’d say I’ve learnt you’re either the disrupter or the disrupted. Music technology is constantly evolving and I’ve learnt what it takes to talk about a new product or feature as we continue to educate the region. Asia, for example is such a diverse melting pot of different cultures and languages, and this means that our users’ preferences differ from market to market as well. This drives us not to have a cookie cutter strategy that can be used across each market. For example, when we launched in Japan last year, we introduced a new feature that shows lyrics while tracks are playing because we knew how much they love to karaoke.

Q: How has Spotify transformed the digital music industry in Asia?

A: From the golden ages of vinyl to cassettes, CDs, the dark days of illegal P2P downloads and now streaming, the music industry has not only evolved but has gone through various transformations for its platforms. Music streaming is the latest form of distributing and sharing music, and this is also the platform that we at Spotify hope piracy can stop at.

Our aim is to be everywhere where music can be streamed. We are committed to the music industry and want to ensure that everyone is able to access music conveniently and legally. Apart from that, in terms of its sustainability we can safely say that music streaming now is the new norm, with a TNS study we did in September 2016 proved that Spotify is now the largest “radio station” in Singapore amongst the millennial generation.

Q: What is the difference between music streaming in Asia and other markets such as Sweden, UK, Europe, and the US? 

A: In our most mature markets, like Norway, music piracy has been virtually eliminated. In APAC, we’re definitely seeing a big impact being made on piracy. This includes Australia, where piracy has decreased by 20% since we launched five years ago. This proves that monetised streaming has an impact in terms of switching a music fan from illegal to legal sources.

Q: Spotify is the main disruptor in the digital music industry, how do you retain this position? 

A: Our free service has been instrumental to our success and growth. We’ve grown faster and become more popular than any other music service globally with over 50 million paying subscribers.

Q: Tell us about a challenge in setting up in emerging markets.

A: Launching a music service takes time, and we would not rush into a market unless we are certain that what we bring to the market is relevant and legal. Before entering a market, we would like to ensure that we have everything in place. This includes having localised content (not just the app being in the local language but also having a library of local music in place), the right payment structure and partnership based on the country. We want to make sure that everything is ready for the launch.

We are always looking at ways to bring both users and artists a deeper, richer, more immersive Spotify experience.

Q: Where do you see the future of media/music streaming? 

A: Personalisation and localisation is very close to our hearts. We are always looking at ways to bring both users and artists a deeper, richer, more immersive Spotify experience. We want to help soundtrack your life by offering an even wider world of entertainment with an awesome mix of the best music and podcasts delivered to you via a 24-hour entertainment hub.

Q: As a business leader, what motivates you? 

A: I am always looking to learn and grow. As a team, we come to work to change the world through music together. Having this mindset helps us to build on our culture every day, whilst having lots of fun at the same time. Above all, it celebrates and encourages teamwork, diversity and collaboration.

Q: What is your current favourite playlist? 

Spotify Sessions is close to my heart for obvious reasons. Apart from that, I curate my own playlist. One of the playlists that I stream to start my day is the Wake Up. Accomplish. Repeat.

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