“The Playlist” is a Swedish series that has been directed by Per-Olav Sorensen and Hallgrim Haug. It takes us through the inception story of the audio streaming and media service provider Spotify. The streaming platform was the brainchild of Martin Lorentzon and Daniel Ek. Spotify came at a time when nobody could imagine that instead of CDs and cassettes, music could be stored online, and there could be a business model where everything was free for the consumer, and still profit could be made. It was such a bizarre notion that no investor wanted to believe the two entrepreneurs. The series takes us through a journey where we see the transformation of Spotify from a startup that was finding it hard to pay its employees and get investments to becoming the biggest music streaming provider in the world.
‘The Playlist’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
Daniel Ek was working as a coder for a website called Tradera. But Daniel was not satisfied. He wanted to do something big in life. He wanted to leave his mark on the sands of time. He had applied for a job at Google as he wanted to work with the big guns, and he believed that he would get through. But to his disappointment, Google rejected him, as he didn’t have the proper qualifications that they were looking for. That night, Daniel realized that in order to get something that he never had, he would have to do something that he had never done. He hacked Google itself and figured out its algorithm. Tradera, the website he worked for, came in the top 600 results that day. His superiors told him to get rid of whatever he had done right away, as Google was threatening to sue them. It gave Daniel a lot of self-confidence that sitting in a room, miles away from their headquarters, he was able to do something that brought him to their attention. Something snapped inside Daniel, and he decided to leave his job. He gave himself a year to come up with a business idea. Daniel created Advertigo, a sort of digital advertising agency that managed to tailor ads, in the most efficient manner for the users. At the same time, Tradedoubler, the Swedish online marketing giant, was listed on NASDAQ. Tradedoubler got very interested in his technology and decided to buy him out. Overnight, Daniel was a millionaire but still he wasn’t satisfied. Martin Lorentzon and Felix Hagno were the founders of the Tradedoubler, and in just half a decade, they had reached great heights. Martin was a person who was constantly on the lookout for somebody who was ready to take risks and was crazy as he was. He gave a green signal to Daniel and told him that if he had an idea that could make them compete with the big boys of Silicon Valley, then he would be on board and more than happy to fund it.
During that time in Sweden, the music companies were being blamed for the excessive costs they charged for their music CDs. The younger generation, in the age of the internet, didn’t want to pay for the music. The Pirate Bay, an online index of music, understood the market and waged a war against the big record companies. They had all the music on their portal for free. The record companies were incurring huge losses because of it, and Per Sundin, the managing director of Sony in Sweden, had accepted the fact that if they didn’t do something immediately, the situation would go out of control. The big record companies were still selling CDs, and they were not ready for the change. Online streaming was still an alien concept to them. Daniel wanted to use the concept of the Pirate Bay to create something more legitimate. He wanted to create a “free music site.” He wanted to create something more refined. He didn’t know how he would get the music rights or how he would figure out the other intricacies, but he knew that with the correct team and support, he would be able to do it.
Martin Lorentzon came on board and decided to bet on Daniel Ek’s vision. Daniel was very clear about how they would approach their goal. He knew that to create such a streaming site, he would need to have the best team of coders he could get. He came into contact with a brilliant coder named Andreas Ehn and told him that he wanted to create a never-seen-before music streaming platform where there would be no downloads, no lags, and the visitors would get an instant response. Andreas handpicked his team, and together they started developing their technology. But it seemed like developing the technology, that was unheard of before, was still an easy task as compared to taking rights from the music companies. They went to the Swedish Music Rights Holders Organization (STIM), who were still oblivious to the concept of free streaming services, and so were the big guns running the record industry. Daniel Ek tried to meet Per Sundin and somehow managed to catch hold of him in a bar and sort of pitched his idea. But the phrase “free music” irked Sundin so much that he didn’t listen to Daniel at all and gave him a piece of his mind. Sundin had become fed up with Pirate Bay, and he thought Daniel’s proposal was along similar lines. But what he didn’t know was that Daniel had a business model where everyone was going to get paid, and yet the music would be free. Daniel had hit a roadblock. He was unable to crack a deal. So instead of going to the people higher up the food chain, he attacked the base and reached out to the consumers directly. He went to college and told the youth of the country about his website.
Per Sundin tried to go against the tide for quite some time. No matter how much effort he put in, he was again and again pushed back to the shore. He was not ready to accept the fact that the world was changing. He didn’t understand that digitalization was inevitable. He didn’t have much knowledge about the whole concept, and that is why he feared that it would destroy everything. The Sony executive used his contacts to shut down Pirate Bay, but the traffic only doubled after the raid. After not finding any other option, Per Sundin decided to have a conversation with Peter Sunde, the co-founder of Pirate Bay. Peter had this whole ideology about a utopian society where there would be no gatekeepers, and everything would be for free. After meeting the guy, Per Sundin was even more certain that this whole facade was just a sham. But his assistant urged him to at least listen to the proposition that Daniel was making and see their technology. Sundin was blown away by seeing what this digital platform named Spotify was capable of doing. He could listen to any music in the world without going through the excruciating process of downloading. He decided to take it to his superiors. Though the top officials of Sony were still not satisfied with it, Per Sundin was able to bring Universal Music on board together with many other record labels. It was the beginning of a new dawn. The world was about to change, and Per Sundin had decided to be on the right side of it. Though Spotify was launched as the first of its kind, legal and free music streaming platform, there were a lot of other roadblocks that they still had to tackle.
Petra Hansson And Her Conflict With Andreas Ehn
Petra Hansson, who was working at a renowned Swedish law firm (Mannheimer Swartling), left her job and became the head of legal at Spotify. He was approached by Martin Lorentzon, who had promised to give her complete autonomy. Petra came on board because Spotify needed an expert negotiator. They were still struggling with the record labels because none of them wanted to give them the copyrights. Petra knew there and then that she had to give these music giants something to savor. She proposed that if Spotify had a paywall, then the music companies might be interested in what they were offering. She said that once they got lured in then Spotify could amend its policies later. Daniel and Andreas were totally against the idea of having a paywall because it was against their whole concept of free music. So, after constant arguments with Daniel and his team and after entertaining the option of quitting Spotify, Petra came up with the idea that kept the principles and ideals of Spotify intact and yet gave something to the record labels to get attracted to the deal. She came up with the concept of Spotify premium. She asked Daniel to keep the music free but to use certain functions, like creating a playlist, exclusively for people who have a Spotify premium membership. It struck a chord with most of the people present in the room, but one man didn’t like it and thought that it was against whatever they stood for. It was Andreas Ehn, the first employee of the organization. He had been given the position of Chief Technology Officer at Spotify. Andreas believed in the ideals of a welfare state. He believed that whatever they were creating should be accessible and free for everybody. He believed that there shouldn’t be any hierarchy, neither in society nor in organizations. He believed that the merit of a person should speak for itself rather than the position they hold. Andreas felt that Petra had destroyed everything since she had come.
Andreas knew that he and his team had probably created the perfect music streaming player and that everybody should be allowed to reap its benefits. He considered music a necessity rather than a luxury. He wanted all the features of the streaming service to be free. He had a lot of ideological differences from Petra. Andreas believed that access gave freedom, and he had presumed that Daniel, of all people, would understand it. But Daniel had to run the business. He also wanted to do it on his own terms, but he couldn’t become as utopian as his chief technology officer. Daniel took Petra’s side, and Andreas felt really hurt by it. Andreas realized that his struggle to create a model of communism that actually worked would lead him nowhere. He knew that he had to abide by the rules. He realized that everybody in the world was disposable. He knew that Daniel would get his replacement within minutes., as there were tons of coders who were willing to work with him.
According to Andreas’ perspective, Petra was the villain who destroyed everything that they had stood for. But what Andreas didn’t understand was the fact that Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon were not trying to run a welfare state, but they wanted to create a profit-making organization. He was being idealistic in his approach and vision, but that is not how the others saw the world. Petra, on the other hand, was more pragmatic in her approach. She knew she had been hired to do a job, and she was trying her best to do it. Andreas had given his everything to the company. After Petra came, she changed the whole narrative and Andreas’ conscience didn’t allow him to be a part of the organization. Andreas left Spotify and decided that no matter how alluring the proposition was, he would always prioritize his principles over anything else in life.
‘The Playlist’ Ending Explained: Did Daniel Ek Agree To Meet The Demands Of Bobbi T?
Things were changing, and Spotify was capturing the market and moving towards becoming a monopoly. Daniel asked his partner Martin Lorentzon to step down from his position, as he felt that his presence was spoiling the reputation of the company, and he didn’t want to take any sort of risk just before they were going to be listed on NASDAQ. Martin Lorentzon was an eccentric character. He was vivacious and wild. He liked taking risks. He was not somebody who followed the book, but he had his own unique way of functioning. He had been Daniel’s partner from the very beginning. He had funded Spotify for the initial years when there were no investors on board. But his unconventional methods didn’t go well with the CEO of co-founder Daniel Ek. Martin Lorentzon was probably suffering from a neurotypical condition, and his behavior had become embarrassing for his old friend. Martin Lorentzon didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He stepped down from his position but always wished the very best for Daniel and his team.
Where on the one hand, Spotify was thriving; there were artists on the platform who weren’t even able to pay their rent. Protests had started against Spotify and its exploitative business model. The employees of Spotify, the record labels, the middlemen, and everybody else were earning, except the artists, who were actually creating the product that they were selling.
Bobbi T had known Daniel Ek for a very long time. They had gone to the same school. Bobbi was also a musician who was also on Spotify. While her friend was enjoying all the riches in the world and an opulent lifestyle, she had to do multiple jobs to support her family. Bobbi uploaded a video that received a lot of traction and was viewed by a lot of people throughout the world. She didn’t want to be a part of the protest in the beginning, but she just wanted to let her friend know about her condition and where he had gone wrong. But seeing Daniel’s arrogant attitude, she wasn’t left with much choice. She became the face of the protest, which had a hashtag called “Scratch the Record.” Daniel was very clear about the fact that it was not Spotify’s responsibility to pay the artists. He believed that Spotify gave them a platform to showcase their talent to the world, and that was more than enough. He went to meet Per Sundin and asked him to deal with Bobbi T as she had been signed by his record label. Sundin denied and said that he won’t be able to do that. Daniel was of the opinion that because the record companies were taking their fair share of the profits from Spotify, it was their responsibility to deal with their artists and address their concerns.
“The Playlist” creates a fictitious reality and shows that, till the year 2025, the protest had garnered a lot of support from people throughout the world. Bobbi T ceased to be just an ordinary musician. She had become a celebrity activist. Daniel was called to Washington DC, to appear before the US Senate, where a committee had been formed that aimed at reviewing their business model. Senator Landy asked some difficult questions to Daniel and called Spotify a cartel that was restricting the economic growth of the musicians. Bobbi T was representing the musicians, and she demanded that artists should be given a fixed price per stream. She advocated that Spotify’s business model went against the statutory minimum wage that was introduced and fixed years ago by the U.S Senate. Bobbi’s stand was very clear. She said that exposure didn’t pay the bills; money did. She wanted a law that would require Spotify to do so, as she believed that the streaming giant was thriving on something that they were not even paying for. Also, the option of not being on the platform could not be availed by a brooding artist since Spotify had acquired a huge chunk of market share and could be actually called a monopoly.
Toward the end of the series, “The Playlist,” we see that Daniel goes to meet Bobbi and makes it clear that he is not ready to get bogged down by the protests. The bank had approved his loan of a billion dollars as he owned a significant percentage of the market. It had boosted his spirits. He was adamant about doing whatever he wanted to. He didn’t feel that he was exploiting the artists. He didn’t feel that it was his responsibility to pay them.
Is ‘The Playlist’ Based On A True Story?
“The Playlist” is based on a nonfiction novel called “Spotify Untold,” written by Leijonhufvud and Sven Carlsson. Though the novel focuses more on the difficulties Daniel had in taking his business to the United States and the rivalry he had with Apple, the series focuses more on the origin story of Spotify and the philosophy behind it. The series uses real names of people and portrays certain events that did happen in reality, but it also takes creative liberty and modifies some facts and characters for dramatic purposes. For example, though the character Bobbi T was created for the screen, the fact that Taylor Swift left Spotify was actually true. Per-Olav Sorensen and Hallgrim Haug have also taken the liberty to create a totally imaginative sequence that is set in the future, in the year 2025. Though the makers explicitly imply that the end sequence is a complete work of fiction, maybe they wanted to make a speculation about how things could turn out in the future.
A capitalistic fervor could be seen in the eyes of Daniel Ek when he last met Bobbi. Though he talked about free music, the only people who were at a disadvantage because of it were the musicians who created it. Though the autonomy of the record companies had reduced to some extent, they still were being exploited. The food chain that Andreas Ehn wanted to destroy was still intact. The record labels were still thriving, and now they were incurring even more profits with fewer liabilities. The irony of the situation was that the flagbearer of change, who once wanted to create a socialist platform, had now himself become an integral part of the capitalistic setup, and was ready to go to any extent to maintain the status quo of this structure.
“The Playlist” is a 2022 Drama Biography series directed by Per-Olav Sørensen.