Have you ever wondered who the wizard behind your internet playlist is? It might be CU Denver alum Austin Kramer. After a stint at a Colorado radio station and eight years at SiriusXM Satellite Radio, in 2015 Kramer became the global head of dance+electronic music at Spotify, a music streaming platform which promises millions of songs and “music for every moment.”
Kramer, who graduated from CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media (CAM) in 2007 with a B.S. in Music, spends his days scouring the globe for new artists and musicians. He creates, edits and manages sets of playlists, interfaces with the DJs and managers in the dance genre and searches for exciting new tracks that “will blow up.”
If Kramer’s job sounds like fun, that’s because it is. “I’m lucky,” he said. “My job is to listen to music all day.”
From South Dakota to Spotify, via CU Denver
After graduating from high school in South Dakota and withdrawing from another university because the scope of the program was too limited, Kramer found a home in CAM’s Music and Entertainment Industry Studies (MEIS) program. “It was crucial that my education focused on the music industry, as well as composition,” Kramer said. “Without CAM’s program, I would not have made it out of South Dakota.”
At CU Denver, Kramer was pushed to think about what music is and how it is made. He recalls a songwriting class in which a professor posed the question, “What words describe music?” In his work at Spotify, Kramer seeks the answer. “I’m still stumped by that question, which is simple and holistic, yet so difficult to answer,” Kramer said. “But the fact that I’m still thinking about it is proof that CU Denver asks the right questions.”
Another crucial part of Kramer’s education was the Music Entertainment Industry Student Association (MEISA), where he met fellow music scholars and future co-workers. JJ Italiano, who was a student with Kramer, went on to become a CAM professor, and later, head of Major Labels-North America on Spotify’s Creator Services team.
“The connections I made at weekly MEISA meetings with Italiano and other students motivated me to get into radio,” Kramer said. “I networked, made friends and began to visualize my future career.”
An internship in his senior year with XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C., gave Kramer hands-on experience as a producer. Upon graduation, he worked as a production assistant at a Colorado radio station, running the board and occasionally hosting a show, until a XM offered him a permanent position.
After XM merged with Sirius, Kramer focused on the dance music channels, where he quickly became obsessed with two things: electronic music and a new platform for listening to music—streaming.
Discovering dance and data
At SiriusXM, Dutch and Swedish DJs introduced Kramer to Spotify. Streaming music was in its infancy, and Kramer recognized it was the answer to his obsession with dance music. “With radio, there is only so much bandwidth and so many channels,” he said. “With streaming, you can listen to endless playlists, contexts, settings, moods, moments. It’s limitless.”
When Spotify offered him a position as global head of electronic music, he jumped at the opportunity to connect more deeply to the variety and volume of songs that internet radio can offer. Now Kramer’s teams in New York, Los Angeles and Europe help him discover the hottest new artists in dance music and stream them for listeners.
Kramer’s work at Spotify also introduced him to detailed and complex consumption data, which allows radio to better cater to music fans. A streaming service like Spotify is able to receive data about a listener’s likes and dislikes and respond by tailoring its playlists to their preferences.
This responsiveness differentiates streaming music from other forms of radio. “The data helps the music industry connect artists with fans in an entirely new way,” Kramer said. “When playlists are shaped by a fan’s choices, music becomes more democratized.”
Questions with global consequences
Streaming’s global reach and its emphasis on democratizing data have changed the way the world listens to music. Listeners and fans now shape radio, instead of the other way around. For Kramer, this adds complexity to the questions about the nature of music raised in his classes at CU Denver that have driven his career.
Recently, Kramer returned to CU Denver to speak on a panel about the new music ecosystem. “The industry is changing so fast, but CU Denver is honed in on what matters, and success in this business hinges on asking the right questions,” Kramer told students. “Everything I’m passionate about is due to CU Denver.”