Recommendations & Spotify — Actual Versus Aspirational Behaviour


I like Spotify’s Discover Weekly but I have a problem with it. It accurately reflects what I listen to, and what I actually listen to most of the time is crap.

Every Monday my unambitious and unsophisticated musical choices stare me in the face. I can clearly see why Discover Weekly is choosing the songs it does and that’s slightly embarrassing.

For me there are two types of music: what I actually spend 80% of my time consuming and what I want to spend more time listening to. I’ve listened to more Pendulum this week than Radiohead, yet Radiohead are one of my favourite bands. As a result my Discover Weekly is more drum and bass than rock.

It’s not just the guilty pleasures that disproportionately dominate my listening habits. A lot of listening time fulfils a specific purpose.

Perhaps in the morning I go for a run and Flo Rida is in my workout playlist. In the office I need something to help me concentrate so I choose the soundtrack to Age of Empires. Finally, on the tube home I listen to that Andrew W.K. track to pick me up.

There’s nothing wrong with any of the music above. I just don’t need more of it recommended to me on a weekly basis.


Recently a friend recommended I check out the artist Caribou. That turned out to be a good recommendation. Relatively speaking I didn’t spend a lot of time listening to it. However it’s already in my Spotify library and a couple of my playlists. I want to listen to it more and I will, but in the meantime I’m going to be running, working and riding a noisy tube home.

My saves, shares and playlist adds on Spotify indicate my aspirational self, the music I would like to be associated with, whilst what I actually listen to often serves a practical purpose or satisfies a guilty pleasure. In much the same vein, Facebook is best when advertisers want to tap into to our aspirational desires (based on what pages we like and the content we share) and Google when our actual intent is more important (based on what we actually search for and our behaviour online).

You probably wouldn’t share a picture on Instagram of the microwave meal that you picked up from the supermarket, even if microwave food makes up an alarming proportion of your weekly diet. And, to take the analogy a step further, it wouldn’t be particularly useful if your foodie friend recommended you try frozen chicken nuggets based on your history of microwave meals. Rather than just watching what we eat everyday, our foodie friend would do better to also ask us what we like eating.

I would like Spotify to run an experiment. I would like to try a version of Discover Weekly that places more importance on the other ways that I engage with music, not just my play counts.

Please massage my ego and recommend me a tarka dhal recipe. I already eat too many microwave meals.