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Troy Carter Talks Prince, Spotify and the Future of Music

Few music executives have the range of Troy Carter, who over the past decade managed Lady Gaga from unknown status to superstardom, made big strides in smoothing Spotify’s relationships with the artist community, and continues to navigate complicated terrain as the special entertainment adviser to the Prince estate, which has resulted in a thorough archiving and plans for the artist’s unreleased recordings. He is also runs the Atom Factory branding and entertainment company and Cross Cultures Ventures. More than most people, he can navigate the worlds of the entertainment industry and Silicon Valley, which is where his chat at Business Insider’s Ignition 2018 Conference in New York on Tuesday began.

“I think there was a misunderstanding [between the two cultures],” he said. “I think in Silicon Valley, they had the stereotype that people in LA and in the entertainment and media businesses were dinosaurs, which in some ways we were, and LA and entertainment thought the tech companies were pirates looking to put them out of business. So I think it ended up at this very bad stalemate at one point. So when I started going to the Valley I worked on building relationships serving as a translator between the two, and I think a lot of [the disconnect] had to do with people not spending time with each other and not understanding peoples businesses and motives. Now I think we’re much closer, where you see companies like Netflix and Spotify with a hardcore engineering culture up north but a very creative culture in L.A.”

That led to a question about Spotify’s awkwardly presented “hateful content and conduct” policy earlier this year — in which artists R. Kelly and XXXTentacion were banned from the platform’s playlists due to sexual-misconduct allegations against them — which the company ultimately walked back. Carter, who sources said strongly opposed to the policy, resigned from his role at the company not long afterward, but he continues as an advisor and uses the word “we” when referring to it.

“I don’t think it hurt Spotify in a way that was critical as much as it was a real internal learning experience at the company,” he said. “The policy was, if an artist did something [deemed hateful] off-platform then they wouldn’t be supported on-platform, and that’s such a slippery slope — even the accusation of something that wasn’t proven could get someone in a position where they’re not on the platform anymore. We were dealing with some issues where some communities were being over-policed — similar to the Meek Mill situation, where he was falsely accused by corrupt police officers. When you look at examples like that, if we were gonna penalize an artist on top of them being penalized by the criminal-justice system — is that who we want to be as a company? We ended up reversing the policy and I think ultimately Spotify made the right move.”

Carter was also asked about his role as entertainment adviser to the Prince estate and the challenges of bringing the artist’s work into a streaming world that he often seemed to oppose.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” Carter said. “Prince was one of the first guys to put music on the internet, he was creating digital fan clubs — it wasn’t the fact that he wasn’t a fan of music streaming as much as he was more of a fan of getting paid.” (Raucous laughter from the audience) “He ended up owning all of his masters, and when he felt he wasn’t getting a fair deal he did things like change his name to a glyph and write the word ‘slave’ on his face, so he’d built this movement for protecting artists’ [rights].

“So when I got a call out of nowhere, it was like a dream come true — one of the lawyers called me on a Thursday and said ‘Can you be in Minneapolis on Tuesday to talk about Prince,’ I was like ‘I’ll walk there!’ I went at sat with the team and one of his creative directors was talking about this famous ‘Vault’ [of unreleased recordings], which I couldn’t wait to see, and he said, ‘You know, Prince hadn’t been in that vault for years.’ I said, ‘Why? Did he just kinda want to move on from the the past and focus on the future?’ And he said, ‘No, he forgot the combination to the vault!’” (Laughter)

“But when we got in there it was amazing: 40 years of music that’s never been heard, and some beautiful, beautiful work. I still get chills looking at the lyrics for, like, ‘Little Red Corvette,’ from when he first wrote it, and seeing the little red corvette that he drew on it, and being able almost to get inside his head and understand who he was like as an artist. He left an incredible blueprint because he was very specific about how he wanted things to roll out — and he wanted ‘Purple Rain’ remastered, and reading his notes about how he wanted it done and what he wanted to come next and all these things. He didn’t leave behind a will but he did leave behind his legacy of how he wanted things to roll out. For me it was important to honor him.”

Finally, Carter was asked what changes he foresees in how music is consumed over the next decade or so.

“I think predictive analytics are interesting,” he said, “where we get prompted to listen to music when we don’t know we want to listen to music, or a song comes on that you didn’t know you wanted to hear. [Technology] will know that you’re gonna be on a date and know what song to play because it knows who you’re gonna be on that date with and what mood you’re in. With music now, we’re sort of on-demand and lean-back, but I think it’ll get to the point where music is sort of brought to you.

“By the way,” he added, “that’s not something Spotify is building, so if anyone is building it let me know!”

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