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Spotify expands to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan

Spotify is coming to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Local music distributors see the arrival of the Swedish streaming service not as a game changer but rather as another sign of the growth of music streaming in Central Asia.

This article was originally published on Novastan’s German website on 25 February 2021.

Spotify is expanding to Central Asia. On 22 February, the Swedish audio streaming service announced that it would launch in over 80 new markets, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Music fans from Kazakhstan have had access to Spotify since July 2020, when the company made the long-awaited jump to Russia and other Eastern European countries.

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It is the company’s “broadest market expansion to date” according to a press release. “These 80+ markets represent more than 1 billion people.”

The streaming service remains unavailable in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Streaming in moderate progress

The move comes as a bit of a surprise. It could be building on the success of entering the Russian market: “The launch was really a triumph, the best launch in our company’s history,” the head of Spotify in Russia and CIS countries, Ilya Alekseev, told the online outlet Meduza in December 2020. “In the first three months after launch, we hit the subscriber target we’d set for the first year, and in doing so we managed to get into the top 25 Spotify markets worldwide.”

In Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the use of streaming platforms is gradually growing. Services such as Apple Music, Deezer and Russian platforms such as Yandex Music and BOOM have become available in the past few years. There are also more Central Asian artists distributing their work via streaming.

Whether Spotify’s entry will make a big difference to Central Asian music markets is “difficult to say,” Najot Agzamov, the founder of the Tashkent-based digital music distribution company Maestro, told Novastan. In his view, the Russian market had long been ready for a service like Spotify when the streaming service launched: “The Russian market is on a completely different level from the Uzbek one.” In order to assert itself in Uzbekistan, he said, Spotify has to offer users good prices and conditions.    

Bakai Kolchaev, the founder of the Bishkek-based music distributor Infinity Music does not expect any significant change either: “When [Spotify] enters the market, nothing on the whole will change. Some will move there but life will go on as before,” he told Novastan. But he sees a sensible strategy in Spotify’s sudden expansion. “There are many platforms and some of them are already in the country. But it’s also a tough fight for listeners,” he said. “[Spotify] will reach a billion people, but only a fraction of them will become users.”

Promote legal music consumption

For a long time, music markets in Central Asia were shaped by piracy: first through the distribution of pirated music physically and later through music downloads. In this context, musicians only have concerts, private hire and, less often, advertising contracts as sources of income.

Against this background, streaming services also promise a certain regulation of music distribution by creating incentives for better protection of copyright. “For us this is another step in getting audiences to listen to music legally. We have been trying to convey this for a number of years, it is a very slow process,” Kolchayev explains. In 2020, Infinity Music released over 1,800 singles and 100 albums, the company wrote in a report published on Instagram.

Services such as Spotify and YouTube offer musicians the opportunity to receive money directly for the consumption of their music and video materials. That income, however, is limited: according to Agzamov, none of the musicians distributed via Maestro can live on streams alone. 

Local to global

While streaming use is growing only moderately in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, such services offer musicians a gateway to new ears. This is part of Spotify’s approach: “This expansion will help ensure that sounds and stories that once remained local can reach a global audience,” the company writes in its press release.

It all depends on the promotion,” Agzamov said when asked how he assesses the potential for Uzbek artists abroad. “The possibility is there if Spotify supports our artists in different playlists, podcasts, posters. We have good musicians, they just sing in our mother tongue [Uzbek]”. 

“It’s cool when such a service supports releases ‘made in Kyrgyzstan’,” Kolchayev said. “But we’re mainly talking about Russian-language works.” Accordingly, the launch of Spotify Russia in 2020 had a bigger impact on musicians in Kyrgyzstan than is expected from the service launch in Kyrgyzstan itself.

Read more: Central Asian rap in 10 tracks

The musicians from Central Asia with the greatest reach have their core audience in the Russian-speaking world. For example, the two rappers and producers Yamadzhi & Feizhi, from the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan, were on the cover image of the popular Russian Playlist “Novoye Slovo” (“New word”) in November 2020. They currently have over 50,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, the vast majority of them from Russia. The same goes for the Bishkek-based rapper Ulukmanapo‘s 60,000 monthly listeners. Uzbek-speaking musicians, like the singer Shahzoda, are more likely to have their largest streaming community in Turkey.

Whether Spotify can make a big difference in Central Asia remains to be seen. The outstanding success of an artist abroad can already stimulate a positive dynamic in his home country. A good example is the Kazakh rapper Skriptonit, whose conquest of the Russian-language music scene in 2014 was followed by a whole wave of Kazakh artists.   

Florian Coppenrath
Founder of Novastan Deutsch

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Ich bin dem frisch gegründeten Novastan gleich bei meiner ersten Kirgistan-Reise Ende 2011 beigetreten. Erst war ich Redakteur, dann Begründer der deutschsprachigen Version. Heute bin ich für die Verbindungen zwischen den verschiedenen Teilen von Novastan und für die strategische Entwicklung des Projektes zuständig. Nach drei Jahren in Kirgistan, zuletzt als Bosch-Lektor in Osch, arbeite ich heute an der Entwicklung von "Wikistan" einer baldigen Netzwerkplattform für die Zentral-Eurasien-Forschung. Seit März diesen Jahres bin ich ebenfalls in der Forschung tätig und schreibe eine Doktorarbeit über Hip-Hop in Kirgistan am Zentralasienseminar der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. --------------------------------------------------------------- Mon premier voyage à Bichkek en décembre 2011 m'amena à rejoindre le magazine fraichement fondé. J'y étais d'abord actif en tant que rédacteur, puis en tant que fondateur et coordinateur de la version germanophone en été 2013. Aujourd'hui je suis en charge des liens entre les différentes parties d Novastan et du développement stratégique du projet. Après trois ans au Kirghizstan, dernièrement en tant que médiateur culturel pour la fondation Bosch à l'université d'Och, je travaille au développement de "Wikistan", un réseau pour la recherche sur l'Eurasie centrale. Depuis mars 2018, je suis également doctorant en études centre-asiatiques et étudie le Hip-Hop dans les villes du Kirghizstan.

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