What is a Spotify tattoo code? What artists want you to know about the risks

Some people are getting Spotify tattoos that play songs when scanned. Here's what tattooers want you to know about the risks

ByKristen Rogers, CNN, CNNWire
Thursday, February 1, 2024
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What if you were able to have your favorite song basically on speed dial, ready to go for any moment that calls for it?

What's known as a "Spotify tattoo" has made that possible: On Spotify, every piece of content has a series of unique sound bars known as a Spotify code, meant for sharing the content with someone when scanned with the camera function on Spotify's mobile app. Get a code tattooed on your arm or another body part and, when scanned, it should immediately play the content associated with it.

The above ink, on the forearm of tattooer John Lapides' first Spotify tattoo customer, leads to the Michael Bublé song "Everything."
John Lapides/Spray Day Tattoos

(That is, when the tattoo has been done well, and especially when it's fresh. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has interviewed several people who reported their tattoos were no longer working once both the body art and their skin had started to age.)

Spotify launched its codes in 2017. Exactly when the tattoo fad began isn't clear, but on TikTok, videos tagged "#spotifytattoo" have garnered 14.8 million views. Ten million of these were on a viral clip of a UK-based tattoo artist showing off the results of a Spotify tat on his friend's forearm - it played the friend's wedding song, "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri, to their delight. In the last few years, at least a few hundred people have also gone under the needle to pay permanent tribute to their favorite tunes, showing off their musical ink on TikTok or Instagram.

"We love seeing listeners wear the audio they love on their sleeves and helping them rep their fandom," Spotify told The Wall Street Journal in a statement. CNN has reached out to the company for additional comment.

Tattooing the codes can be stressful, especially in that moment of truth between finishing the piece and testing whether it works, said tattoo artist John Lapides of United Tattoo in Fountain, Colorado. Lapides has inked two Spotify tattoos: One connected to the Michael Bublé song "Everything" in November 2022, and another in December of that year for "Gone Away" by the band The Offspring.

"I told them, 'If it is scannable, fantastic. If it's not scannable, I'm sorry, but that's part of the risk,'" Lapides said. "Lo and behold, when we finished it was scannable."

Reasons why people get these tattoos run the gamut: Some people simply want the fun party trick of flashing a phone at their arm to play Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," while others have more sentimental motivations.

The song choice of Lapides' first Spotify code customer was related to a memory of their father who passed away, he remembered. The customer shared that the tattoo "almost brought their dad back around," Lapides said, "because now they're able to listen to the song and always have it."

Other times, it's simply a means of decorating the body, said Drew Hibbard, a tattoo artist and piercer at Blue Lotus Tattoo & The Piercing Lounge in Madison, Wisconsin. Hibbard has applied one Spotify tattoo.

"Life is short," he added. "I've definitely fallen victim to getting quirky, fun tattoos just for the hell of it ... Each one of my tattoos are like a time stamp for a part of my life."

In conversations with CNN, Lapides and Hibbard discussed what to know if you're considering having a favorite song immortalized on your body.

These conversations have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How do you tattoo a Spotify code?

John Lapides: Prior to the actual tattooing process, I'd take a picture of the code and, like I would for any other tattoo, print it out on a machine that had ink on the back of the page so I could transfer the design from the paper to the skin. That helps me know that all my straight lines were straight, all my parallel lines were parallel, and all my circles were circular. I just follow those purple stencil lines with the tattoo machine as closely as possible, and then do the shading on top.

Are there ways to maximize the chances of it working?

Lapides: Make sure the tattoo is done on a flatter body part so the camera can read it as easily as possible with as little distortion as possible - I'm sure if it's in some way rolling off the side of your arm, it will be harder to scan. Both tattoos I did were done on forearms, one was closer to the wrist and the other to the elbow.

Drew Hibbard: You don't want it on your hands or feet because they don't hold ink well and they're always being used.

Lapides: Line weight and line thickness also play a huge role. The lines (in a Spotify code) vary in height, and if one of those lines is not straight or not symmetrical on the top and bottom ends, or on the left and right, the tattoo might not be readable.

It's also good to have the lines be a little thinner than needed at first, because if it doesn't work, you can thicken them - but you can't take away thickness. And as time goes on, those lines will get a bit thicker (as skin stretches, ages or loses elasticity). You need to have gaps in between that are going to always stay gaps.

Also, the tattoo doesn't necessarily need the three lines within that little circular Spotify logo, but it does need the circle.

Will these tattoos age well over time?

Hibbard: Spotify tattoos are a super cute and meaningful idea, but years down the road, who knows if Spotify will even be a thing? Also, companies are always upgrading what they're doing - who knows if they'll switch to a QR code like everybody else.

Lapides: I'm not sure if these will be scannable 10 to 20 years from now. People lose weight, gain weight or get pregnant. But I've hopefully given them the best chance of being scannable by leaving gaps or space for the tattoo to expand and age.

Hibbard: That's why you should also pick a size that will age well - doing a 4- or 5-inch tattoo leaves a lot more room than a 2-inch one. And doing the correct instructed aftercare also helps. Always moisturize.

How can someone find an adept tattoo artist or studio?

Lapides: Studios' websites and Instagrams are helpful resources; you can also find a reputable studio by good reviews or word of mouth. You can go to the shop as well to get a sense of their professionalism and respect for your input.

But not everyone in a reputable studio is created equal. Artists who do fine line, traditional, geometric or black-work styles - which revolve around very clean line work - are good choices, but a watercolor tattoo artist might not do the cleanest piece.

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