The Conflict Between Spotify in South Korea and Kakao M

spotify south korea

One of the most diverse industries in the world is music. There is music you will love, music you will hate, and music that will just fill every other emotion you feel. That’s what makes music one of the most amazing creative platforms out there. It can do anything, be anything, and just be unapologetically itself. Now, throughout the years there’s been many different streaming platforms one can utilize to listen to all kinds of music. One of the biggest in the world now, Spotify—with over 300-something million active monthly listeners—is helping music from all over the world be heard. And, recently, with the release of Spotify in South Korea, music is getting more diverse than ever.

All You Need to Know about the Release of Spotify in South Korea

Just last month, on February 1st, Spotify came out in South Korea. With this release, the Swedish company now has a total of 93 countries that it’s accessible in. Compared some other countries, it took quite a while for Spotify to come to South Korea. The music streaming service was first launched in October 2008, making it almost thirteen years until it was able to come out in South Korea.

Why did the launch of Spotify in South Korea take so long?

With it taking thirteen years to launch Spotify in South Korea, you might be wondering why it took so long. And while there’s probably a ton of logistics behind this reasoning, the company’s Global co-head of music, Jeremy Erlich, says that it took so long because they “wanted to do it the right way” in this Billboard article.

To be a proper streaming service, there is a ton of backend work that Spotify has to do. With the rights to the music, with the artists, with the artists’ companies… and so many more. They couldn’t have simply dropped the app into existence and started adding music to it. There was a lot more paper work to do than that.

Spotify, like many other music streaming apps, rely on artists putting their music into this “sharing/streaming” bank. This bank of sorts (mostly a large file that has access to all sorts of music) gives streaming apps the rights to the music while also keeping the rights for the artists. It’s complicated and difficult to explain easily, so I’ll just leave it here for now. Just know it takes a lot of legal processing to run a streaming service.

In order to launch Spotify in South Korea, the company most likely had to adapt many things to fit South Korea’s music and legal world. This is most likely the biggest reason it took so long to launch.

Competition for Spotify in South Korea

Though Spotify has launched in South Korea, that doesn’t necessarily mean their work is done now. In fact, there’s already a few music streaming services in South Korea that they have to compete against. This means strong advertisements (which I will mention later), competitive pricing for subscriptions, and providing something the others don’t. Some of Spotify’s competition include Melon, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Genie, and FLO.

Of the music streaming services in South Korea, the largest one is Melon.

What is Melon?

Melon is a South Korean music streaming service that launched in late 2004. This streaming service, developed by SK Telecom and currently owned by Kakao M, has millions of songs available in its library—with most of them being Korean.

This service is only available in South Korea (and Indonesia with its partnership with Telkom Indonesia in 2010). It has a total of 28 million users, and 5/6 million active monthly listeners in South Korea alone.

What makes Melon and Spotify competitors?

Surely, it might not seem like much of a competition on the surface level. But, with both services being in the same business, there’s more than a little competition. With the introduction of Spotify to South Korea, Melon very well might lose a few (thousand… million… who knows) subscriptions/monthly listeners. This would take business away from Melon. On the other hand, many people in South Korea might already be dedicated to Melon and not make the switch to Spotify. This would take business away from Spotify.

Only time will tell for how this competition goes, but the release of Spotify in South Korea is far from a bad thing—even if it has some competition.

What does the release of Spotify mean for the music world in South Korea?

Amongst the healthy competition between music streaming services, the release of Spotify in South Korea actually brings a lot of good things, too. For one, this opens the door for way more South Korean music to be discovered. And no, I’m not just talking about k-pop.

With Spotify not being available in South Korea previously, a lot of lesser known artists and many companies were not able to get their music onto the streaming service. This was mainly due to the legal side of the music world. But it also had to do with the fact that it wasn’t available in their country yet. Many artists didn’t even think to put their music on the service since they couldn’t use it anyways.

Now, however, with the service finally available, much more Korean music has made its way onto the service. And not only that, Spotify itself has released a lot more company made playlists that are geared towards Korean music.

There are playlists like the “Best of Korean Soundtracks” or “K-Power Vocals” that both include amazing songs. By having Spotify make playlists like this, it’s bringing more attention to Korean music. And not just k-pop (though, you will still see a lot of that within these playlists). It’s always easier to find an official playlist made by Spotify than a fan-made one. So the addition of more Korean music playlists is a really good thing.

The launch of Spotify in South Korea opens the door of opportunity for artists big and small from the country. It opens the door for a worldwide audience to listen to them that they might not have previously had.

Spotify Advertisements about the South Korean Launch

Like I mentioned earlier, in order to make themselves stand out, Spotify would have to have some pretty influential advertisements. And what’s more influential than popular artists?

Right from the get-go, as soon as the service was released in South Korea, there were tons of short “welcoming” videos from many South Korean artists. This included artists like BLACKPINK, BTS, Dynamic Duo, TWICE, NCT, Eric Nam, Treasure, Stray Kids, Code Kunst, and plenty of non-Korean artists that are just as big.

By having such widely popular artists welcoming them to South Korea, I’m sure many fans were downloading Spotify to use. And it’s only been a week since their launch… I’m sure their advertisements will only get bigger and better as time goes on.

The Spotify and Kakao M (Melon) Conflict

If you’ve taken a look at any social media in the past few days, you would find many k-pop fandoms in chaos as their favorite’s music got unannouncedly pulled from Spotify. This removal of multiple k-pop groups’ music—including artists like Seventeen, IU, Epik High, Monsta X, GFriend, and many others—came as a surprise to fans. When it first happened, the issue trended worldwide in Twitter and fans were absolutely devastated. (As they should be.)

Now, when this issue first came about, many speculations as to why this music suddenly vanished from Spotify circled around. However, the most common denominator for these speculations had to do with Kakao M (or the company who owns Melon). Every artist removed from Spotify was distributed by Kakao M, so the connection was inevitable.

When Spotify first launched in South Korea, many were unsure of how it would fare with Melon already leading as the country’s number one music streaming service. Though fans originally speculated that the removal of Kakao M’s music from Spotify had more to do with Kakao M, it seems that Spotify might also be to blame.

In this article from BBC, Spotify mentions that the global licensing deal that had been in place with Kakao M expired. And due to Spotify’s policies of dealing with both global and domestic contracts as one, it was not renewed.

According to this Soompi article, though, Kakao M says it was Spotify who chose not to renew the contract. So… who’s really to blame?

Both companies say they’re working on a new contract, but there are no news about it yet. So I guess we will just have to wait and see if these artists return to Spotify.

Spotify: Now Available in South Korea!

The South Korean music scene is now going to get a much larger, worldwide audience than ever before. The launch of Spotify will do so many great things for artists to get their music out to the rest of the world. This is undeniable. And we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

To read up on other Korean news, you can check out the News Section of our blog. Or, if you’d like to just roam through our other articles, feel free to take a look at our Blog Page. There are plenty of great articles to read through.

To learn more on Spotify vs Kakao M, watch the short video below!

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