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The Orion

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The Orion

Your Spotify algorithm is limiting you

Photo by: Spotify

“Your weekly mixtape of fresh music. Enjoy new discoveries and deep cuts chosen just for you.”

This is the message you’ll see tagged onto Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” feature. It’s a playlist of curated music recommendations, updated every Monday. The idea behind it is to expose the user to music they had never heard before, but how effective is this?

Spotify has briefly explained the process behind Discover Weekly as being based on something called an affinity score which they assign to artists on the platform. The score is essentially a guess about how well a particular artist reflects your taste. There is actually a quiz that you can take on their website that supposedly helps them create a better profile.

When I went to take the quiz, I noticed that every song I was prompted to rate was one that I had already saved to my library or added to one of my playlists. After the short survey, I was redirected to my “curated” playlist. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing mix of songs I had seen a million times already.

With the amount of times a song by Rex Orange County or Clairo appeared on my Discover Weekly, it seems like Spotify has just been recommending the same 20 lo-fi, “chill” indie songs since 2015.

Like all social media algorithms, Spotify’s recommendations do little more than cultivate a niche for its users.

For the casual music listener, it’s not likely that they will go out of their way to listen to a variety of new albums every week. The majority of their music listening probably takes place in the car, commuting to school or work, or walking to class. Thankfully, there’s a playlist called “Your Daily Drive,” so they don’t have to spend too much time thinking about it. Playlists are perfect for the casual listener.

Spotify has a huge focus on “mood” themed playlists, designed to be endless streams of background noise that require no actual attention from the listener. The outcome of consuming music this way is of course that we aren’t straying far from our typical listening habits, leaving little room for discovery.

It’s not just Spotify that does this either. Apple Music and other major streaming services have similar algorithms that feed us recommendations, often boiled down to whichever artists they want to promote.

We have every song at our fingertips, but we are exposed to very few.

The possibilities for music discovery are virtually endless now. Compared to the days of swapping CDs and digging through record bins, we aren’t limited by the physical or monetary. In a world where we can essentially experience music from any point in history, it seems counterintuitive to only pay attention to what our recommended feed suggests.

Algorithms are a part of everything we do online these days, from our Instagram Explore pages to the suggested content on Youtube and Netflix. In the niche-driven era of digital streaming, the same algorithms exist not to expand your listening, but to drive you closer to what you’re already consuming. Now, we are only limited by how we choose to engage with them.

Kati Morris can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @neutralsoymlk.

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