Log in to Spotify and you'll land on the Browse section: a carefully curated list of playlists to suit all tastes. We've been speaking to the man who makes it tick...
Choose Spotify as your 4G entertainment pack and you’ll unlock access to over 30 million songs to stream on demand wherever you go. But with such a big catalogue, how can you be sure you’ll find the right song at the right moment?
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To make that mission easier, Spotify’s Browse section lives right on its homepage, offering up a sound to suit every moment of your day. In the UK, that section is run by Rob Fitzpatrick, and we’ve been lucky enough to grab some time with him to find out what goes into channelling, filtering and categorising the classics and the hidden gems alike. And to find out what’s coming next for the online world’s biggest playlist catalogue…
Bringing Browse to life
“I worked in record shops and as a music journalist for a long time, so I basically came in as a bit of a music nerd,” says Rob, explaining how he got started at Spotify. “Just over a year ago, I began working for what was then the Tunigo team. Tunigo was an app within Spotify, run by an editorial team full of music-loving people who created and curated playlists.
“Spotify acquired the company, and now we’re responsible for all the playlists that you see in the Browse section; I’m now the head of Browse for the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
“Now it’s hard to remember Browse not being there,” he adds. And he’s right: Browse is now such an integral part of helping people discover new music on Spotify that it’s difficult to imagine what there was before it.
“When I first started at Spotify, Browse didn’t exist,” Rob says,” and all you had on the front page was a box with random new releases. That developed over time, and then for a while there were different sorts of playlists we’d flag up, but now it’s much less random.
“Browse now caters for specific times of the day, or activity, or mood. It’s similar to radio programming; you split the day up into different sections and provide different types of music experiences based on those.”
“It’s similar to radio programming; you split the day up into different sections…”
So with the Browse section now fully formed and fixed as the first thing you see when you log in, Rob and his team are under pressure to make sure it continues to do what it’s designed to do: serve up fresh songs on a platter. Luckily, Spotify has the manpower to make that a breeze:
“There are teams in 12 different countries,” Rob explains. “What each editorial leader and their team does is create playlists for particular things, and then schedule them to appear in Browse throughout the day. In the backend we see the day split up into sections, which we fill with relevant playlists – from sleep, to getting up, to commuting. And these are localised – it’s not one size fits all. So there are different types of playlists for different types of place.
“Everyone is very much a music person in this team,” he says. “Everyone brings their own quirks, favourites and tastes to the table. We need to lead the conversation in music, and that means helping people find the things they might want to listen to while also allowing them to hear things that they don’t know. We want people to listen to more new music, so we keep our playlists fresh and updated.”
The importance of being human
We recently spoke to Gary Liu at Spotify about the Discover section and the way that – through clever use of computer-based song sorting – it’s getting smarter all the time at suggesting new tracks. That’s a great tool to have, but Spotify knows that machines can only get you so far when it comes to musical taste, expertise and prediction…
“The key distinction between Discover and Browse is that Discover is a machine-based, algorithmic thing,” says Rob, “and Browse is 100% human curation. A lot of it is driven by our own knowledge of, and interest in, music. But also, we want to be able to serve up the music that we know lots of people are looking out for.
“One good example is a playlist I do called ‘Every UK Number One’; UK number ones are a very specific thing, but we know people will want to find them. Then you have ‘Hot Hits UK’, which are big chart successes sitting alongside things we’re predicting are going to be big hits.
“We recently created a playlist called ‘Songs from the Ads’, too, which has been a really successful playlist for us – all the big shops have got their Christmas ads out, and we knew people would want to find the songs from them. You need to be one step ahead of what people are looking for.”
And it’s those kinds of examples that, according to Rob, makes Browse such an essential part of the Spotify experience:
“There are over 30 million tracks, but nobody has time to listen to all of them.”
“Literally the day before I started working at Spotify three years ago, I went to visit a friend of mine who said ‘I love Spotify, but I never know what to listen to’. That phrase has stuck in my mind ever since. There are over 30 million tracks here, but nobody has the time to listen to all of them – that’s why curation is really important.
“I’ve spent 20 years working in music, and now I spend eight hours a day listening to music, and there’s always something new and exciting to listen to. But most people don’t have eight hours a day to dedicate to finding new music. So Browse is our way of mapping out each and every day with music.”
And as Rob reveals, there’s a lot still to come from Spotify’s selection box of a homepage:
“I can’t really say anything about it yet, but there are big changes coming to Browse in 2015; there are two very interesting developments. What I can say,” he says in closing, “is that if we were having this conversation a year from today, Browse would look very different to how it does now.”
Find out more… You can find out everything you need to know about Spotify and our other 4G entertainment partners here. Already signed up? You can learn the secrets of Spotify’s Discover section here.