Adam Pasick, Quartz:
This morning, just like every Monday morning, 75 million Spotify users received a great new mixtape: 30 songs that feel like a gift from a music-loving friend, who might once have made a cassette tape with your name scrawled across the front.
But these playlists, from Spotify’s Discover Weekly service, were cooked up by an algorithm.
Automated music recommendations are hardly new, but Spotify seems to have identified the ingredients of a personalized playlist that feel fresh and familiar at the same time. That’s potentially a big advantage over competitors like Pandora, Google, and Apple, which largely have the same bottomless catalog of music but take very different approaches to picking the best songs for each user.
The quality of Discover Weekly’s picks is so consistently good, it’s a bit uncanny. After I received several excellent playlists in a row, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Spotify had figured me out, along with 75 million other people. Answering that question led me down the rabbit hole of how the system works in the first place—and how an algorithm can delve into the deeply subjective realm of music to predict the songs that will make my pulse race and my head nod.
If you've been listening to Limitless Adventure (and, honestly, if you haven't, why the hell not?), you know I recently switched back to Spotify after using Apple Music since its launch. If you're interested in hearing my full thoughts, that bit starts at the 24 minute mark of episode 19. There were a couple features I missed from Spotify, such as the really fun one where the iOS app remembers what songs you've downloaded and doesn't fucking randomly delete them without you knowing. Apple Music doesn't have that feature. They should look into it. It's a good one.
But the thing I've really liked since switching back is the Discovery Weekly playlist. Apple Music had a pretty stellar record helping me discover new music, and I thought it was a pretty huge leg up over Spotify. However, this particular offering from Spotify is uncanny in its ability to select tracks I have (mostly) not heard before and immediately enjoy. Pasick's piece peels the curtain back and explains how a sophisticated algorithm determines how to populate this list each week, and it's pretty fascinating. I especially love how it helps you learn how to teach Spotify what music you're actually enjoying, so your Discover Weekly playlists will continue to be stellar moving forward.
Great read that provides some interesting insight into how this thing works. This gives me a newfound appreciation for Spotify's engineers.
And if you're into the idea of having something a bit more curated, Charles and I did create a Limitless Adventure playlist that you can subscribe to. It'll evolve as we're listening to new stuff. So keep checking back, and, of course, feel free to let us know what you think.