In just a couple months, Olivia Rodrigo has shattered multiple records with her breakout hit, “Driver’s License,” from scoring the biggest debut in Rolling Stone 100 chart history to netting the greatest first-day streams of any artist.
So it’s fitting that “Driver’s License,” whose Canvas art on Spotify also garnered the most views of its kind, is ushering Spotify’s Canvas tool out of beta. On Monday, Canvas got a wide launch, meaning that anyone with a Spotify for Artists account can get involved.
Spotify first introduced Canvas as a beta feature several years ago, allowing certain artists to release music alongside snippets of video. Canvases are moving, highly customizable visual loops usually somewhere between five to eight seconds long. At first, the number of artists testing out the functionality was in the hundreds. By the start of 2021, it was in the hundreds of thousands. Taylor Swift was one of the initial major adopters, creating Canvases for every track on 2019’s Lover.
“Three or four years ago, the Spotify for Artists team started thinking about how to bring back some of the magic of album art, liner notes, and other ways that artists can connect around the music,” Sam Duboff, Spotify’s Head of Creator Product Marketing, tells Rolling Stone.
Artist can change their Canvases whenever they want. In Swift’s case, the Canvases that currently adorn Lover’s tracks didn’t always appear as they do now. Around the release of Lover, she had fans submit handwritten love letters, which should then add to her Canvases over time.
Interactive art is compelling as a feature because it helps incentivize streaming. Kesha did something similar to Swift with her last album, High Road, asking fans to send in selfies instead of messages. And alternative artist Yungblud is currently plucking videos of fans covering his songs on TikTok. “Had a mad idea,” Yunblud exclaimed via Twitter last week. “Keep usin the sound, keep duetin, do the most crazy shit. imma make my favourite ones the official Spotify canvas for the song every day for a month. GO GO GO.” This method, in particular, boosts engagement on both Spotify and TikTok, one of the most important social platforms for young artists right now.
Some artists, Céline Dion included, have even used Canvases to hide Easter eggs. Using a variety of visual clues, Dion hinted at forthcoming songs. “Céline has a mission for you,” her team wrote on Instagram in October of 2019. “Find the 16 track titles from her upcoming album Courage in Canvas videos throughout her music on Spotify. Can you find them all and be the first to reveal the titles?”
The estate of John Lennon followed suit last November, hiding a different letter in 36 Canvases and promising to reward the winner who first decoded the message.
“You’ll see Canvases that are super conceptual, a lot that are animated, some that have 2D graphics,” says Duboff. “You very rarely see people use music video clips anymore. Instead, at a video shoot, they’ll add footage for Canvas to the shot list so it will be in the same world and the same visual system as a music video.”
Canvases may now come in handy for the growing wave of intentionally unsigned artists who have chosen a DIY approach to releasing music. These artists don’t need an in-house graphics team to make attention-grabbing visuals. The button to upload a Canvas, which appears on a song’s page in the Spotify for Artists portal, is free to use. However, it’s worth noting that the uploader is just that; all Spotify lets the artist do is submit an already-established video, not design one.
Duboff describes SoundBetter — a music production marketplace, acquired by Spotify in 2019 — as a helpful asset in these scenarios. There, users can browse through a variety of profiles for session musicians, producers, songwriters, and, yes, graphic designers who are looking for gigs. He says a rate of $100 per Canvas is standard for the latter.
Spotify wanted to accelerate the process of getting the tool out to all artists after some interviews with listeners who reported that “something” felt “off” about their experience when they played songs without Canvases, Duboff explains. “There’s over a million Canvases on Spotify now,” Duboff says, referencing brand-new statistics. “If you go through New Music Friday or your Release Radar today, [most] of the tracks have a Canvas.”
When listeners share any track with a Canvas to Instagram Stories, the Canvas loops in the background, and Duboff says having a Canvas increases sharing by 145 percent. (These kinds of statistics are based on data pulled from all Spotify listeners, but Spotify also has a control group of listeners who don’t see any Canvases for a bit.)
Spotify’s data suggests that users who see a Canvas are more likely to keep streaming (+5%), add to their playlists (+20%), save the track (+1.4%), and visit their profile page (+9%). Focusing on artists with less than a million monthly listeners, Duboff says that, in 2021 so far, Canvases have been shared over 800,000 times per week. “We think that’s one of the reasons it’s really popular with smaller artists,” Duboff explains. “It’s a free marketing tool that has the sharing feedback loop baked into it.”