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By Anne Steele
When Taylor Swift takes the stage Wednesday night in New York City, only around 2,000 fans will be on hand to see the concert in person, but millions more are expected to watch live online via Amazon.com Inc.'s Prime Day promotion.
Music-streaming services including Apple Music and Spotify are counting on live events to set themselves apart from one another, further connect fans with artists and keep their subscription payments flowing. They have been experimenting with concerts based on popular playlists, album-listening parties and Q&A sessions with hard-core fans, identified via their streaming habits.
For artists, these events represent a way to make their music stand out from the tens of millions of songs available on streaming services, and often to connect with fans more directly than they can at a giant concert venue.
"It's an opportunity to raise awareness for Amazon Music and puts us in the spotlight with terrific artists," said Steve Boom, Amazon's vice president for music.
Aside from the Taylor Swift concert, which will also feature SZA, Dua Lipa and Becky G, Amazon recently streamed live performances from Maren Morris and the Jonas Brothers, and invited 100 fans to meet Thomas Rhett and listen to his new album; a Q&A was live streamed on the service.
Spotify Technology SA has hosted listening parties with artists ahead of album releases, inviting fans that the service has identified as the most avid listeners of a given act. It also has drawn upon some of its most popular playlists, including Rap Caviar and Hot Country, as the basis for live shows.
Cade Jarvis, 24 years old, said he was surprised when he received an invitation from Spotify to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen's then-unreleased album on a sunset cruise with the pop star off the South California coast in May.
"I felt super-special when we got to the location. I was expecting a ton of people, but it was the perfect size," said the West Hollywood, Calif., resident. "It felt super personal."
Apple Music has invited fans to exclusive performances from artists including Tyler the Creator and Shawn Mendes, which were also streamed online. This summer, it has rolled out a series of shows across the world with artists from its "Up Next" program, which features up-and-coming acts on the platform.
Live events hosted by streaming service events typically differ in a few key ways from the promotional concerts that radio stations have been staging for decades. Those are typically large affairs at arenas, with fans buying tickets to see lineups that can include upward of a dozen major acts. Events hosted by Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music typically feature no more than a few artists, often in a more intimate venue, and are free for the audience, which consists of fans invited by the service.
Apple Inc. itself for many years hosted a monthlong event in London that it called the iTunes Festival, before briefly changing its name to the Apple Music Festival. The event, which featured dozens of major artists, was canceled after its 10th year, in 2016. As with radio-station shows, artists typically aren't paid to appear at streaming shows. Rather, they are often given free marketing and promotion, such as prominent placement of new music on a streaming service, billboards and other advertisements and spots on playlists, which can drum up millions of listens for a given song.
"If you do a Spotify session or an Apple Music event you know that platform is going to support your project beyond that," said one major music company executive. "They're not going to walk away the next day. They want to be seen as a partner of the artist."
With all the services offering essentially the same library of songs, an exclusive performance is meant to signal to fans why they should subscribe to one in particular.
"We're not just a square on their phone," said Marian Dicus, Spotify's global head of artist and label services. "We're bringing them something they can't get anywhere else."
Streaming services also see these events as a way to get fans to get back online and to listen more.
"Live is where the excitement is," said Zane Lowe, global creative director and host at Apple Music. "After streaming a Shawn Mendes show and hearing him talk about his music, it's natural for a fan to want to dive straight into his music.
Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 09, 2019 19:33 ET (23:33 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.