Ever wondered who's behind all those awesome promoted playlists at Spotify? We've been speaking the team about the science behind song suggestions...
If there’s one thing you can say about Spotify’s homegrown playlists, it’s that they’re comprehensive in scope. Every possible taste and preference is catered for among the millions of hours of tracks that make up its carefully curated lists, whether you want to chill out, party on, or even throw back (on a Thursday, naturally).
But how does it all work, and what insight goes into keeping those playlists fresh? We’ve caught up with James Foley, Spotify UK’s Senior Editor of Content Programming, to find out…
“Our editorial team come from a range of diverse backgrounds including music journalism and radio,” James tells us, “but of course the unifying factor is their absolute passion for music.” See, whilst Spotify is investing in intuitive computer software to help steer you in the right musical direction, the company also knows the invaluable virtues of real human expertise. In fact, none of Spotify’s own playlists would exist without it.
“Behind each playlist is a hypothesis we build based on who the target audience is and what musical parameters we want to apply. To hone that, we can look at the popularity of certain trends or search terms on Spotify, or the success of certain genres or moods, but very often it’s an individual editor’s passion for a type of music or for curating a ‘sound’ or mood’ that drives our creativity.
“We try to build the soundtracks to people’s lives,” James explains, “so we’re always thinking about new opportunities where the right music could really make a difference. There’s never ending possibilities!”
“We try to build the soundtracks to people’s lives.”
The cool thing is, these curated playlists are a great example of how a music expert’s inside knowledge can combine with raw data to make great new things…
“One of the exciting things about working at Spotify is that our data allows us to really understand how and when our playlists are being listened to,” James explains, “and we can use that to really improve a Spotify user’s experience. For instance, we know that our Mellow Pop playlist is most popular at 3pm in the afternoon, while Grime Shutdown peaks at 5pm, and The Great British Breakfast peaks at 10am. We notice things like an EDM peak at weekends and not surprisingly our sleep playlists peak at bedtime.”
Knowing these trends helps the team put the right playlists front and centre at the right times, but the data goes even deeper than that. As James reveals, it helps Spotify hone its approach and see what’s working on a really granular level:
“We notice the rate at which people save tracks they’ve listened to in our playlists,” he says. “New Music Friday is the biggest global driver of this behaviour, which indicates to us that Spotify users find it a great way to discover their new favourite tracks.”
Which is just as well, since James believes that New Music Friday is “a powerful opportunity to expose brand new tracks and artists” to the world, and that’s a responsibility Spotify takes “very seriously.”
“Ultimately, New Music Friday is about helping people discover exciting and interesting music rather than songs bound for the Top 40 singles chart – you’ll always hear an eclectic mix of genres and a healthy dose of both major and independent releases.”
Our favourite from Spotify’s #NewMusicFriday playlist is Kygo’s ‘Raging’ with Kodaline – his album’s pretty awesome too. Check it out below:
But despite having over one million followers, NMF is far from Spotify’s only headline playlist. So which is James’ favourite?
“My favourite is probably Throwback Thursday,” he says. “Half the fun there is coming up with a different theme each week, or remembering a song that qualifies as a forgotten classic. You want users to have that same moment of rediscovery. We change the theme every week and it’s one of the most fun parts of the job. Sometimes the theme could be a year, decade, or a genre, but sometimes random throwbacks are the most successful for instance we recently built a Throwback Thursday around songs that have accompanying dance crazes.”
“People trust our judgement on these things,” James says as we wrap things up. “And as such, we deliberately never focus on a narrow view.”