Spotify: why data changes what we listen to

Data rules everything in 2017.

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Data rules everything in 2017. 

From what you eat to how you exercise, businesses are tracking your every move to work out what products or services will fit comfortably into your routine. From a content perspective, we’re constantly substantiating the words we write against analytics. It helps us monitor how users interact with the changes we’ve made, allowing us to see if we can improve their experience.

It’s a data-driven world we live in, but it doesn’t have to feel like a scene from Blade Runner. Monitoring your own data can open up new realms of interest you hadn’t noticed before.

One service leading the way in capturing data is Spotify. We’re taking a look at how the team is using data to change our behaviour and give us more of what we want.


It’s science, baby
Streaming services such as Spotify have overloaded our tastes. With over 30 million songs to trawl through, we no longer have limitations on what we can listen to. This can be hugely overwhelming – have you taken a look at your own playlists recently?

As humans, having too much of a good thing is bad for us. Because the internet has enabled us to get anything we want, whenever we want it, we’ve seen the growth of a phenomenon known as ‘The Paradox Theory’. This shows that the more choices we have, the less comfortable we are with making a decision. Theorised by psychologist Barry Schwartz, this puts a direct link between consumer choices and happiness.

There are now several books and magazines devoted to what is called the ‘voluntary simplicity’ movement. Its core idea is that we have too many choices, too many decisions, too little time to do what is really important. [...] Taking care of our own ‘wants’ and focusing on what we ‘want’ to do does not strike me as a solution to the problem of too much choice.

We’re starting to see a backlash of this, with many users simply choosing not to use streaming services such as Spotify or Netflix for fear of how much freedom they have. It’s just too difficult to decide.

(If you want to find out more about this, here’s a fantastic post from UX For The Masses.)


Helping users streamline their tastes

The biggest way that Spotify is helping its users is to track what they’re listening to. This may sounds intrusive, but this function allows data to reflect inconsistent human tastes.

Within set algorithms, Spotify attempts to mimic your choices based on specific factors – such as what you’ve been playing that week, the time of day and how often you’ve searched for an album. The service pulls all of this data together and the algorithms produce the most likely song that will fulfil our weird and wonderful listening needs.

From pop hits to songs recorded in a jungle, Spotify’s main goal is to give you music you’ll listen to. Your Discover playlist is the culmination of all of this work – but as we all know data doesn’t account for those random strokes of inspiration humans have. That’s why some weeks, your Discover playlist is everything you could have wished for and on others, it’s simply pants.

Doing more with data
Spotify is one of the biggest online streaming services and as of March 2017, the service hit 50 million paying users. That’s 50 million people searching, listening and browsing through tracks. The amount of direct data from songs, artists, albums, times, dates – not to mention user specific data – is staggering.

It’s no wonder Spotify has an entire division devoted to personalisation using data. But away from making sure we’re delivered songs that we love, Spotify is using our data in innovative ways.

In a recent project with Accuweather, the team researched the listening habits of thousands of anonymous people in different cities to work out if there was a correlation between our listening habits and the weather. It’s the largest ever research done into this area and has thrown up some important factors into how the climate makes us feel. Amazing right? And all from you listening to New Order on a rainy day.

Why not have a look at what your city is listening to right now?

But what do all these numbers mean?
Data is irrelevant if you don’t do something with it. What Spotify shows is that it’s not just about tracking and monitoring your users, it’s how you use data to make changes.

In Spotify’s case by making a more personalised service, it’s giving users a chance to discover things they’re actually interested in. This is valuable and helps to build trust in the brand, making users feel more loyal to their service.

In a strange twist, this increase in people listening online has also had a huge knock-on effect on vinyl sales. Figures are showing that LP sales are up by 53% on 2015 in a backlash to streaming and downloading music. (Okay, so not that strange.)

Vanessa Higgins, the CEO of Regent Street and Gold Bar Records, says:

“People think millennials just stream and are just digital but actually I think we are going to see increasingly over this coming year that young people still want something tangible and real and that’s where vinyl is taking on the role that the CD used to have.”

And for a bit of light relief
Take a look at some of our classic tracks from 2008 as we celebrate our 9th birthday. Go on, we dare you.