On a school morning, I’m more likely to forget my wallet at home than my headphones. I rarely walk around campus without my music playing. I find the power to romanticize the little things in life and the perfect reading list to listen to on the way to class is essential for me. If I wake up feeling good during the day, I might have an upbeat mix of songs as I prepare to conquer the day. One of my favorite playlists to listen to on my walk to class is Spotify’s “omw” mix. This playlist has the perfect combination of my favorite songs as well as new finds to add to my library, which is probably why it was recommended to me by Spotify’s algorithm.
In 2016, I upgraded my Spotify to a premium account after getting fed up with excessive ads. The very first album that I listened to in full was “Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino. After being able to listen to such a well-crafted body of work without interrupting commercials, I knew my Spotify account and I were there for the long haul. Along with upgrading my account, I also discovered a new hobby: creating playlists. Whenever I have some spare time, I find it trivial to start a new playlist on Spotify. The process of putting together a compilation of songs with a specific vibe or theme inexplicably appeals to me. As MiC columnist Hannah Nguyen beautifully captures, our Spotify accounts are there for us passionate listeners through it all. I resonate deeply with Nguyen’s open letter as I too share a deep affection for myself and its excessive amount of playlists. Currently, there are over 50 playlists on my Spotify account for every overly specific mood and situation. If I spend time with my family, I activate “Naija”, my playlist made up of my favorite Nigerian songs. Before I go to sleep, I like to play my playlist called “Slow It Down” to listen to some mellow R&B while I do my nighttime routine. There is something about having the perfect soundtrack for my daily activities that gives me great satisfaction.
While the playlists I listen to on Spotify play a small but very important role in my life, they also have a huge impact on the music industry. Music streaming services have become the most popular form of listening to music and with over 165 million premium users on Spotify they can make a huge impact on the music industry through the use of playlists.
Comment Music Charts distinguishes between two types of playlists: “content-based playlists” and “context-based playlists”. Genre or content-based playlists typically consist of songs that are grouped by genre or beats per minute, while contextual playlists focus on building a mood regardless of genre. Analytics from streaming companies have found that listeners tend more to group their songs into these situational or contextual playlists rather than content-based. The gradual shift to a general preference for pop-up playlists stems from Spotify’s desire to singularize and make each user’s experience their own. For example, rather than recommending a playlist consisting of R&B music, it may be more applicable for Spotify’s algorithm to recommend a playlist specifically for love songs and include tracks in a variety of songs. genres. In recent years, Spotify has even changed their homepage to promote their pop-up playlists more than their genre-based playlists. Whenever I use Spotify, I know that I prefer to listen to playlists that fit my life in one way or another. When it’s time to do my homework, I turn on my playlist which features my favorite hip-hop instrumentals. Or when I go for a walk with my friends, I have a playlist of our favorite ballads to slip out the window. In an age where streaming services can give users specific recommendations based on their streaming history, it makes sense for Spotify to promote contextual playlists that are relevant to their listeners.
Playlists are having an impact on the music industry more than ever with this shift to contextual playlists. Most Spotify listeners play their music from playlists rather than their libraries as a whole. They can create their own playlist or stream one of Spotify’s hundreds of mood-based playlists. As a result, artists aim to place their music on playlists for increased visibility, especially because playlists owned by Spotify get promoted on their homepage and see more user traffic. Popular playlists curated by Spotify, such as “Songs to Sing in the Car” and “All Out 2000s” are saved in the music libraries of over nine million users. Smaller playlists like “Fresh Finds” allow smaller indie artists to stream their music to larger audiences, with nearly a million saved. When artists can put their songs on such playlists, they can accumulate more streams and build their social capital. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, having a song on Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” playlist generates up to $ 163,000 in additional revenue. Even pop artist Billie Eilish rose to fame in 2015 when her Soundcloud hit “Ocean Eyes” landed on Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” playlist. Now, she has over a billion total streams on Spotify and was even the Most Streaming Female Artist on Spotify during the years 2019 and 2020. In this way, Spotify has the power over the songs and artists that are gaining popularity and can, to some extent, manipulate the music industry.
Although Spotify is a major music streaming service, it is not the only platform that has the power to influence the music industry. Apple Music and Amazon Music have 78 million and 55 million paying subscribers, respectively. Similar to Spotify, these two platforms promote their own playlists organized by platform on their interfaces. Being able to do this gives them the power to decide which artists gain popularity and generate more income for themselves as well as for their labels. User-specific recommendations can be satisfying for users, but it should also be recognized that these custom algorithms can prevent lesser-known artists from gaining more exposure if they don’t have bigger labels to lobby for them. As convenient as it is to listen to the music selected by Spotify, it is always important to keep in mind the power that music streaming services like Spotify have to influence our listening choices and the music industry as a whole. .
MiC columnist Udoka Nwansi can be contacted at [email protected]