2014-03-14

Co.Labs

How Spotify And Echo Nest Did Their Cultural Due Diligence

Music culture is taken to the extreme at the Spotify offices, which is one reason the Echo Nest acquisition made sense beyond the bottom line.



Just as the Spotify Radio app immerses users in personalized tunes, so too does Spotify envelope you in a super-charged music culture from the moment you walk into the office.

Sure, music is a big part of engineering culture everywhere; you know brains are revving when the headphones go on. But Charlie Hellman, vice president of product at Spotify, says that his team is surrounded by music pervasively--in a way that might make it a cultural challenge to acquire just any old tech startup.

“The Echo Nest, whom we acquired last week, is a music company as well, so we share a lot of that same passion for music," says Hellman. "And they have some quirky, cool, awesome aspects to their culture, too." We asked him for some examples.

Curated Playlists At Work

In its New York office, a different editorially curated playlist greets incomers every morning as they start their day. “Sometimes you’ll hear some awesome, random song that you forgot from the '80s,” Hellman says.

There’s even a music-laden Friday that functions like a company-wide jukebox. Employees can throw in their suggestions for the day’s playlist, and they’ll eventually hear their choices in the comfort of their cubicles as the day rolls along. But they don’t have to wait until Friday to hear their favorite songs. Spotify streams collaborative playlists every day in the bathrooms, too.

Weekly Live Shows

The New York, Stockholm, and London offices share the tradition of bringing in live music to play for the teams every week. Hellman lit up when he mentioned that jazz musician Jonathan Batiste, about whom the TV show “Treme” is based, appeared once in the New York office.

“One of the great jazz musicians in New Orleans, Jean Batiste, his band came through. And they did this really cool thing where they actually walked around everybody. They weren’t onstage. They were just kind of walking around with their instruments all around us. He got everyone clapping and playing different instruments and stuff, interacting with them,” Hellman recalls.

Steve Savoca

Spotify’s U.S. head of label relations, Steve Savoca, came up with the idea to have each live act that comes in sign a snare drum head, the flat part of the drum that the drummer hits.

“In the big common area, where everyone has lunch, and we do our town hall meeting, there’s this huge wall of drum heads that have been signed by all the different people over the last three years,” Hellman says.

They Make Music, Too

The New York Spotify team doesn’t just stop at listening to music. “In the tech wing, there’s a huge Marshall stack, so we have seven gigantic amplifiers, where there’s a turntable and a guitar. You can just plug in and make a little bit of music right in the middle of things,” Hellman says.

All of the bigger offices have recording studios where employees can lay down tracks and recording artists regularly come in to do sessions. Making music is just as much a part of Spotify’s DNA as is streaming it.

“The core philosophy of Spotify as a product is that great music can really come from a lot of different places," says Hellman, and the culture of Spotify seems to suggest that the workplace can and should be one of those places.

"We’re inclusive of any way that helps users listen to the right music--that means recommendations from experts, people you know, curations from editors, as well as personalization that tries to learn your tastes and gives you things that are relevant to you."

So the next time a Spotify employee invites you to fika, a traditional Swedish coffee break, take the hint and have a playlist ready.

[Image: Flickr user Alex Murphy]




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