We’re back with more inside info on Spotify. Find out how the streaming giant delivers the music you want to hear as we chat to Engineering and Release Radar Product Manager, Edward Newett…

Here at Vodafone, when we think music, we think Spotify. But, with such an enormous range of music on offer, it can be tricky to keep up with the artists you love, and find new ones you didn’t even know existed. Enter Release Radar. The second (after Discover Weekly) in Spotify’s burgeoning range of personalised playlist products, it’s your secret to retaining expert status among your music-loving mates.

We had a chat to Spotify Engineering and Release Radar Product Manager, Edward Newett, to get the inside scoop on how it works, and to find out what might be coming next…

Release Radar: The basics

Launched in August this year (2016), Release Radar brings you two hours of new music every Friday from artists you like and follow, punctuated by range of fresh tunes from other artists Spotify thinks you’ll love. We first talked about the fresh feature in this post, but we’ll let Edward fill in the rest:

“Given the huge amount of new releases on Spotify each week, it can be hard to sort through everything on the New Releases page and find those artists you’re interested in,” he explains.

“We had a notifications feature for a while that included new music suggestions based on the artists a user followed, but when we looked into the data we found not many users actually ‘follow’ the artists they listened to frequently. Release Radar takes the work out of keeping up with your favourite artists by connecting you with all the new music from the artists you care about in a single weekly playlist.”

Borne out of the success of Discover Weekly, each week Release Radar looks through all the new music uploaded to Spotify’s catalogue and selects tracks for your playlist based on the artists you follow and listen to most.

“Most users have at least 30 artists that they care about, and in the majority of cases that’s enough to fill a two-hour playlist,” Newett says.

“But, in the case that there aren’t enough new releases by the artists that we know you definitely care about, we fill in the gaps with recommendations using the same technology as we use for Discover Weekly.”

Release Radar vs. Discover Weekly

According to Edward, there are a few subtle differences in the way the two features work, with each serving a different purpose. Discover Weekly relies heavily on playlisting data for its recommendations, while Release Radar is more reliant on listening histories.

“The challenge with new releases is that users haven’t heard the music, so they haven’t saved it to playlists yet. That means Discover Weekly doesn’t really kick in and find new music until it’s been on the surface for a few weeks.

“Discover Weekly connects you with new artists that we think you’ll love but that you don’t know about yet. Release Radar, on the other hand, makes sure you never miss a new release from an artist that you care about already. We don’t take label information into account for Release Radar or Discover Weekly, so it’s driven mainly by your taste and – in the case of recommendations for artists you don’t listen to yet – by the tastes of users similar to you.”

“Release Radar makes sure you never miss a new release from an artist that you care about already.”

“Discover Weekly came out over a year before Release Radar and it’s still our flagship personalisation product at Spotify,” Edward says.

“I think it solves a more generic case of helping users to discover new artists, but both features have been growing organically in similar ways.

“One interesting thing we’re seeing is this weekly habit where the majority of streaming happens on Fridays – the day the Release Radar playlist refreshes. We see the same effect with Discover Weekly on Mondays. We’re also seeing most saving activity happening on Thursdays as users realise it’s the last chance for them to add the tracks to their collection before the playlist refreshes.”

“The majority of streaming happens on Fridays – the day the Release Radar playlist refreshes.”

Crucially, Edward says he and his team have a few ideas in the work to enhance Release Radar’s functionality. One of which is the ability for users to provide feedback at a track level:

“We’d like to learn when we’re making a bad recommendation for whatever reason. Maybe there’s an artist that we think you like, but you really don’t – it would be great for us to be able to give you the option to ‘ban’ that artist from your recommendation features.”

What’s next?

Edward says Spotify is slowly introducing more and more personalised experiences, but still sees strong value in editorially curated playlists like ‘Today’s Top Hits’ or ‘New Music Friday.’

“Maybe down the road we’ll figure out a way to really combine the two approaches,” he says, “taking the best of editorially curated content and personalising it directly to each user. We think combining editor and machine learning technology would probably provide the best overall listening experience.”

While Edward couldn’t give too much away, he did say we can look forward to more personalisation across Spotify:

“We just launched our third personalisation feature called ‘Daily Mix’ at the start of October 2016. It addresses the common desire to hear some familiar tunes, without having to create a custom playlist from your library.”

And we can assure you, it’s pumping through our headphones already – stay tuned for a look behind the scenes at how Daily Mix works.

Find out more about Spotify’s Daily Mix feature… and keep up to date with the latest in TV, movies, music and sport in our monthly entertainment round-up.