Discover Weekly: Can Spotify Provide The Soundtrack To Our Week?
(Or Is That Up To Us?)
I never listen to playlists.
It’s not some à la mode Spotify protest. Nor is it an attempt to say that the current popular taste is dully generic. Ultimately, it’s because I think the best playlist is my own. My favourite is a boring concoction lazily named ‘Sleepy Time’, and it’s not for public consumption.
Spotify is doing its utmost to change my mind. Its new feature ‘Discover Weekly’ — which uses a kind of Big Data approach to music commingled with an intriguing Moments concept — serves you 52 dishes of steaming hot sound, tailored to your tastes, every year.
Discover Weekly somewhat spookily knows your preferences
The initial reaction? Bloody ‘eck it’s good.
Whacking on Discover Weekly via Sonos is an almost distressingly delightful experience. I like to listen to all sorts of things, and the playlist generated for me spanned Låpsley, Django Django and Father John Misty. There was a good mix of artists I’d come across and artists I hadn’t.
Discover Weekly didn’t seem to pick up on my penchant for 20th century choral music or Romantic string quartets, instead focusing on the more indie, critically-acclaimed side of popular music. It could be summed up — for any Brits out there — as BBC Radio 6 Music minus the hard rock and ambient noise.
From what I can see (or, more precisely, hear) it aims to be daring without stepping into auditorily-offensive territory, and tends to stick to tracks it knows the hipster blogs would like.
Truffle Pig: sounds kinda tasty right? It’s positively delectable for music geeks, with its impressive search engine-like capability. For Spotify employees only, the tool generates playlists based on all sorts of tags — emotive ones like ‘glistening’ or the basics such as an artist name.
The Echo Nest team, recently acquired by Spotify, are the people behind this powerful tool. 32 people in fact, hard at work trying to understand all those labels ‘unique’ artists get so worked up about; hard at work exploring the relationship between music, words and emotions.
Spotify editors, activity-based music
The constant refinement of ‘manufactured’ playlists isn’t the only bit of Spotify innovation.
Using your so-called ‘taste profile’ and taking into account the time of day (or ‘Moment’), Spotify promotes a distinctive set of playlists just for lucky little you.
When you’re running, Spotify can, on iOS devices, detect your pace and come up with music that fits it. Imagine if Spotify had an awareness that we were digesting our Sunday lunch or driving to the cinema and could create a suitable playlist of mellow jazz or film soundtracks. That’s in the near future, methinks.
A year in music, just in real time
Looking back at our year in music gave us loads of stats and plenty of suggestions for the coming year. With Discover Weekly, we don’t have to wait until December.
But will this cull our desire to seek out independent or lesser-known world artists? Will we be more inclined to slot into what is considered the ‘fashionable’ music of our time? Will our ears be vessels for nothing but Top 40 trash if this sort of random ‘discovery’ is sponsored?
Plenty of questions. As yet, no answers.
The competition past and present
Nokia’s MixRadio was close to perfection, and could be seen as a crude predecessor to Discover Weekly. You simply chose three artists and a playlist was generated accordingly.
The PlayMe feature was even more intelligent, taking into account your likes and dislikes. There was no faff involved in bringing playlists offline, ads weren’t a consideration and — hang on a sec — it was completely free with Windows Phone 8.
Why didn’t it catch on exactly?
Probably because it didn’t have the backing of hardware with popular appeal and a robust software ecosystem.
Beats Radio certainly has that. Though it’s been much maligned for its ‘shouty British man’ (he’s a Kiwi, Wired) and non-stop pushing of Pharrell Williams’ latest, I think that inane chat can be part of radio’s appeal.
Will Spotify prevail?
Discover Weekly is radio, sans talk / avec a seriously intelligent awareness of our preferences. But I still want to happen upon that special track by chance, hear about a sweary Scottish band from a friend (love ya Frightened Rabbit) or stumble into a shockingly talented singer-songwriter support act at a gig (holla @ SOAK).
Spotify won’t destroy these special moments, but it could reduce our thirst for true, spontaneous discovery and our openness to new sounds.
But Discover Weekly works so well that, for now, I don’t care.