My Monday mornings have taken on almost ritual significance. Every Monday I get up, shower, grab a cup of coffee, and check my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. Every Monday Spotify’s magic algorithm churns out a new batch of thirty songs, a personal mixtape born of machine learning and data mining.
Listening to music has become a lonely experience. We’ve come to prioritize individual experience over the communal. Music, which has for all of human history been played in the open, accessible (to a certain extent) and enjoyable to all with the ability to hear, has been compartmentalized by personal listening devices. Take the subway in New York City and you’ll see what I mean. Nearly everyone is tuned in to headphones, drowning out the city life and subway noises with everything from Fela Kuti to Harry Styles.
Music streaming has also become an increasingly solitary activity. Last year Spotify did away with its messaging feature. Apple Music and Tidal have no messaging function — Soundcloud is now the only major streaming service that still supports a comment section. Former Napster users lament the death of communal music online; its peer-to-peer sharing system necessitated collaboration and community formation. But Spotify has created a new form of music sharing in the form of Discover Weekly.
Music recommendation services are not new to the web — Pandora was built on the premise of personalized music suggestions, and various other streaming platforms have created similar playlists to rival Spotify’s success. Discover Weekly’s unique achievement lies in its familiarity — Spotify can create a playlist that feels like the handiwork of an old friend. Time and time again, Discover Weekly has introduced me to new songs that have become instant favorites, songs that I would have never thought to listen to without their suggestion. To a certain extent, the platform knows me better than I know myself.
In 2015 Quartz released an article detailing the magic behind Discover Weekly: other people’s playlists. Spotify tracks the prevalence of your favorite songs on millions of playlists across the platform and suggests similar songs from the playlists that most closely mirror your personal taste. In this way, Spotify creates an involuntary form of sharing — your playlists become the basis for Discover Weeklys throughout the world. Your musical tastes are pumped into its great digital heart and turned into playlists to be enjoyed by millions around the world.
Discover Weekly is the result of a passive community — the collective playlists of your Spotify contemporaries filtered through your listening habits. No one thinks of Spotify as a means to immortality. But so long as the platform exists, a sort of permanence is granted. Our long finished playlists will become fuel for Discover Weekly long after we’re gone. We become eternal tastemakers, unconsciously curating mixtapes for future listeners.