What I Wish the Spotify Algorithm Would Do for Me as a Listener

Spotify is to music, as McDonald’s is to food, as Ikea is to furniture.  They all do good and terrible things to their respective spaces.   Many chefs admire the calibrated combinations of salt and fat in fast food, but also its cheap calories filled with salt and fat.  Ikea does have design and functionality at low prices, balanced by turning furniture into disposable items.  Spotify both helps with “discovery”, but also effectively enforces pop norms.   I say these pairings are all the same because they have all dumbed down the consumer process and delivered the most basic things, while pushing out variety and quality. 

While food and furniture perhaps have more objective measures of quality, one might argue that music people like is the definition of quality.   Sure, but if you want to hold that line, you are also saying that shit jokes are the creme de la creme of comedy.  An exclusive stream of shit jokes isn’t what (most) people want.  I’m going to say there’s still some identifiable subjective measures of quality that if you want to listen to “good” music, and you’ll know it when you hear it. 

What do I think Spotify should be doing?  I’m not privy to the algorithm’s details, but I can infer by what it does for me, and it isn’t doing these things.  In the next few paragraphs I’m going to explain what I’d like the algo to feed me.  Either Spotify can figure out this is what I want, or give me a few preference buttons to tilt the algorithm.  If you also wish Spotify would do these things, I’ve got the thing for you until they do.  I maintain a list that roughly follows these objectives.  It’s called Safe Passage on the Good Ship Variety.  Check it out on Spotify

One is lyrics.  Spotify has a lot of the lyrics now, and I don’t understand why AI can’t associate vocabulary/topics of what I listen to with what it feeds my next.  I’m not really into romantic lyrics.  Some romance is OK, but not as much as I get pushed into my ears.  I’m constantly skipping tracks in my algorithmic feed for this reason alone.  All the other platforms know everything about us and serve up stroller ads when they figure out we’re expecting.  So why doesn’t Spotify figure out our life stages and find lyrics to align to that?  Maybe I’ve got all the coming of age songs I need now that I’m of age.  Why can’t Spotify figure out we’re feeling anti-war about Ukraine and fill that box? 

Issue Two is a variety of harmonic and other complexities.  Spotify analyzes the audio.  Why can’t it figure out which songs have cool chord changes and dissonant intervals resolving back to the root.  Most songs I get fed have a few synth pads and the currently popular “underwater sound” reverb vibe.  Why can’t the algo figure out this song is a simple dry mix, and then this one has brass, and then feed me the next song with strings, and then horns, and then taiko drums all in a sequence.  Give me the variety I crave. 

Three is location.  Why can’t I get fed more indie artists in Toronto, or wherever I am.  These are the bands I can go see the $10 show.   Using all the same criteria above, and that they always use, I want the algorithm to find me the best local stuff I don’t already know about.  Explicitly, give me the option to override the internal “popularity” filter (I know this much about the Spotify algo), and feed me the 50 monthly listener stuff produced in my own city. 

Four is actually new, not just new to me.  I’m well aware of what music was made in the 70’s thanks.  Stop trying to introduce me to that deep cut from Paul Simon, because I promise I already have enough Paul Simon in my life.  Spotify likes to say they providing “tools” to help artists grow…but actually they are killing off the lowest emerging rung on the ladder by swamping listeners with old music.  Giving a consumer choice to discover new bands would tilt that back, and help the consumers re-discover live music in a small cap venue. 

Thanks for listening.  Enjoy your music as you munch your burger, with whatever toppings you like, at whatever table you want to sit at.

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