A little while back, I wrote about a very disturbing trend in 2017 where something was gaming YouTube’s content algorithms with what appeared to be AI-generated content and metatags. If the last part of that sentence made little sense here’s the concept put another way. Someone was (and probably still is) using computer algorithms to build and publish content based purely on what would get to the top of YouTube’s search results. “Great,” I can hear you say, “How do I hire these guys?” That’s the thing – a lot of the content appeared to be completely artificially generated and automatically published. Basically someone built a robot and turned it loose on YouTube, and it actually worked.
Now it’s happening on Spotify
Chances are that you are a Spotify user – according to the company’s Q1 2020 report they have 286 million active users and 130 million premium subscribers. One of the primary draws of Spotify is creating your own playlists, whether based around a genre, artist or mood. You probably started on Spotify with a list of artists, songs and albums that you used to create your first playlists, but the other, wildly popular feature of Spotify is the ability to “discover” new music by searching its vast collection and having it generate playlists for you, as well as seeing what others, especially your friends, are listening to via their shared playlists. As you have probably guessed by now, Spotify drives this discovery process via search algorithms that are, of course, now being gamed like YouTube’s back in 2017. Any summarization I could put together would not do proper justice to just how strange the mushroom is that has grown in Spotify’s garden, instead I would recommend reading the article if you are at all curious as to why Spotify has made certain “odd” choices when recommending music to you. (Note: Medium is a subscription based website that limits story views).
As a wanna-be musician and as someone who deeply enjoys music, I’m not sure how I feel about the path that music is taking on Spotify. On the one hand I find it heartening that the platform allows for a wider swath of musicians to not only have their music be heard by larger audiences, but that they stand to make some money from it (as long as they know how to leverage the Spotify algorithms). On the other hand, audiences are losing track of the artist in sacrifice to search engine optimization, which prevents the artist from building a following. I’m pretty sure that most musicians don’t create purely in service to profit, but for the enjoyment of others. Being able to make a living is (usually) a happy product of this, but if the only objective is profit, I’d like to believe that particular product won’t endure…as long as Spotify doesn’t completely commodify musical tastes.