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Spotify now personalizing its curated playlists to help improve music discovery

Spotify has started to personalize some of its curated, mood-based playlists using algorithms, according to a company blog post. It’s a move that will increase the number of new songs people get to hear, and ultimately improve the total number of repeat listens and track downloads, Spotify claims.

“Some playlists will now be personalized for each listener based on their particular taste. This means that for those specific playlists, no two will be the same,” the blog post reports. It also means that artists who were used to seeing their tracks on a specific playlist, now have a lesser degree of certainty as to when that those tracks will be played. Knowing full well that this is likely to make some artists uneasy, Spotify is positioning the change as a net benefit to artists:

“[…] music has a better chance of getting in front of the right listeners. When we tested this new system with some of our listeners, we found that they were much more likely to listen longer. Plus, these personalized editorial playlists increase the number of artists featured on playlists by 30 percent and the number of songs listeners are discovering by 35 percent,” Spotify said.

The company further claims that when listeners discover new tracks via personalized inclusion, the number of those listeners who go onto seek out that track for repeat listens goes up by 80 percent.

Why should playlist changes be a source of worry for artists? Spotify’s playlists are immensely popular. According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, they represent nearly one-third of all listening that takes place on the platform. So when the company announces it’s making a change to how the playlists work, it’s big news, and not just for listeners — an artist’s fortunes can rise or fall based on their presence (or absence) from a playlist, much like having its stock listed or delisted from an index like the S&P500 can affect a company’s value.

Getting added to a Spotify playlist is such a big deal, artists have previously used third-party services to effectively buy their way onto non-Spotify curated lists, contrary to the company’s policy, in order to improve their chances of being added to one of Spotify’s own playlists. In 2017, the company experimented with a sponsored song feature, which was effectively a Spotify-endorsed and managed way of doing the same thing.

For listeners, personalization could be a mixed bag. Human curators may not always pick out the very best songs for a specific mood or activity, but there’s always going to be an inherent cohesiveness to the tracks. Personalization introduces the possibility of new material, but also awkward choices — as anyone who has ever let a friend or family member go searching for YouTube videos while signed in can attest. Spotify has not indicated what percentage of a personalized playlist will be algorithmically chosen.

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