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Sean Parker's Unfinished Business

Napster's cofounder wants to help restore the industry he once fought.

Sean Parker on the Board of Directors at Spotify

[Image: Flickr user LeWeb Photos]

Why did you decide to invest in Spotify?

Sean Parker: This wasn't an economically motivated investment. It was a mission to try to restore the music industry. I felt a sense of unfinished business. Shawn [Fanning] and I got pretty far with Napster, but we weren't sophisticated enough to convince the labels that there was a viable model. We were very young and just not equipped to have conversations at a high level.

The full-circle moment had to be last fall when Metallica put their music on Spotify and you appeared onstage with their Napster-hating drummer, Lars Ulrich. I remember when he wanted to kill you.

Lars came to my wedding. We've become very good friends. Part of the motivation for that event was closing the loop on a weird footnote in the history of music. Once I got to know Lars, we found that our perspectives were much more similar than they were different. Both of us thought we were misinterpreted and exaggerated. Shawn and I were portrayed as rebel pirates who didn't want to work with the industry. They were stodgy dinosaurs fighting against their own fans.

In truth, they just wanted to send a message to any other rogue service not to use their music without first having a conversation. [Napster was] trying to negotiate to operate a legitimate service, but the labels had no interest in that.

Your "Hipster International" Spotify playlist is credited with helping to launch Lorde, the breakout New Zealand singer-songwriter, among others. Did you realize you had that kind of influence?

I have the largest human-curated playlist on the Internet, with close to 1 million followers. It started as a case study. Can you make curation work on this platform? It comes down to what program directors at radio stations have always done well. But we're now in a post-genre world: People just have songs.

You can reliably go to my list and find a song that's catchy and appealing, just left of center. It gets a huge amount of play in bars and clubs. We cracked the code. Now label executives pitch me songs to add.

Related Article

A version of this article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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