I was a late-starter with Spotify. Despite signing up to it very early on, it took a long time for me to “get it”. For several years after it launched I was quite happy with my pretty large iTunes collection, my Classic iPod and being able to listen to The Beatles.
When I did finally take to Spotify, in large part due to its integration with Sonos which meant I suddenly had a vision of the “celestial jukebox” that early proponents of the web had had in mind – I could listen to almost anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, with not much more than the swipe of a finger. However when I did use it, it was normally with a particular song, album or band in mind – Spotify still lacked when it came to discovery and serendipity.
However, since buying music intelligence start-up The Echo Nest back in 2014 they have got a lot better at working out what sort of music I am likely to enjoy and helping me find it. That ability has really come to the fore over the last year or so, with the launch of Discover Weekly, which uses past listening to serve up a eclectic playlist of things you should enjoy.
Then, came Daily Mix, which does much the same, but on a daily basis and in playlists that are specific to a particular genre.
And, most recently Release Radar, which brings you new releases you should like.
I now spend much if not most of of my time on Spotify (and therefore by default, listening to music full stop) in one of these playlists.
To highlight this exact point, a good friend of mine who somehow stays current with musical trends, despite being a father of two with a very busy job, recently sent me a track he thought I would like, Colour by Pete Josef.
I replied that it was one of my favourite tracks of 2016, but I knew next to nothing about the artist because I had discovered it thanks to an algorithm, not a DJ or tastemaker – it had popped up on Discover Weekly, and I had listened to it incessantly from then on.
Despite all of this, there are a couple of simple changes Spotify could make to its UI to make its discovery tools even more powerful, and really help it fend off the competition from Apple Music & Pandora.
- The Daily Mix gives the listener the opportunity to help improve the algorithm, with two simple buttons: a like and a don’t like button – the former saves the song to your library and lets Spotify know you want more of the same, the latter ensures it never gets played to you again (unless you choose to listen to it). The first simple way to improve Spotify is to bring the same functionality to Discover Weekly & Release Radar. It’s so obvious I really don’t understand why it wasn’t done like that from launch.
Likes are such a simple flag for algorithms to use, as everyone has known ever since Facebook copied Friendfeed (just prior to buying the service) and launched them back in 2009. At present the only way of signalling your appreciation of a track in Discover or Radar is to save it to your library. Which brings me to my next point.
- Bring back the star. Up until 2012 Spotify had a feature where a listener could “star” a certain track. This added it to a giant Starred playlist, ensured it could be easily found (said list was pinned to the top of the Playlist section), and generally appealed to real music-lovers – Spotify’s core audience. It was replaced with the Save feature, which simply adds it to the listener’s library.
I know (from reading the multitude of posts on this) that I wasn’t the only one sorry to see stars go away. Loving something is not the same as simply saving it. I might have hundreds of albums in my collection, but that doesn’t mean I love every single track on each and every one of them.It strikes me that bringing back this feature (or even replacing it with the Like button now used in Daily Mixes) will really appeal to those of us who have historically spent the most on music and like to really curate our own collections.
If, like me, you spent hours rating tracks in your iTunes library then being able to class something as a true favourite is a pretty powerful signal of intent, with which to improve its various discovery tools even more. This is why I mentioned previously that I think these type of changes might help Spotify fend off competition, and I honestly believe that.
Up until quite recently Pandora was Spotify’s most serious competition, and only really in the US. And Pandora always sold itself (to me at least, whilst I was in agency-roles) as more of a lean-back product – for people who liked music but weren’t necessarily obsessed with it. This was why it only had radio-style products, without the ability to listen to specific tracks or albums. This has now changed, and we all know about Apple Music.
Since Apple got serious about streaming and started throwing money around, it has focussed on exclusivity. But I’m not sure that having short windows on new albums by specific artists is really going to win over music lovers – unless you can get every single album exclusively.
Fan is short of fanatic, but that fanaticism tends to be specific to a certain artist, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s probably still cheaper to buy the new Adele CD than spend something like $100 a year to subscribe.
But if you’re just generally fanatical about music, then features tied to back catalogue is likely to lure you in. Features that help you find undiscovered treasures and features that help you rank, rate and curate your finds. Just think of John Cusack in the adaptation of Nick Horby’s High Fidelity, but with an iPhone.
So, there you go: 2 really simple ways that Spotify could give its recent improvements in discovery an even bigger boost and refocussing on the music nerds. I, for one, would love it if they did.