Tailor-made playlists make a strong case for Mondays
Booting up my Spotify app at the dawn of every new week feels like getting something in the mail, or being notified that—for the nth time this month—I have a Grab rider waiting for me with a delivery downstairs. Or being told by my mother, after another lengthy trip to the grocery, that we managed to purchase a few packs of Yakult, everyone’s favorite quarantine commodity. Despite the disdain associated with Monday, I can’t quite bring myself to dislike it—not when its mornings mark the drop of Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, piping hot and made special for each user.
In June of 2015, Spotify launched Discover Weekly, a two-hour deposit of tracks users haven’t heard but should hear. This feature has earned the app the affections of music lovers all across the online space, propelling Spotify over and beyond other music platforms from both the present and past like Apple Music and good ol’ Limewire (nobody asked, but I feel archaic right now). Like a friend who knows my taste to the tee, I never click out of my Discover Weekly empty-handed.
Fresh harvests from the playlist this week include but are not limited to: the last Wonder Girls single pre-disbandment, an easy acoustic listen from local band Any Name’s Okay and a couple of soulful singles from Johnson and Son of a Policeman, Malaysian artists who I hadn’t heard of prior. It also included Stay Up, an R&B B-side from EXO’s Baekhyun and rapper Beenzino, which I listened to elsewhere upon its release and eventually forgot about. Both an easy compass to new artists and a reunion with familiar songs that were somehow never delegated to one of my playlists, Discover Weekly makes for a pretty effective cure for the Monday blues.
A few personal favorites from a mid-May Discover Weekly
The way your Discover Weekly knows you and your would-likes is anything but coincidental. In the same way Instagram and Facebook (annoyingly, at times) display “best posts” instead of the most recent ones, it’s all in the algorithm. Spotify’s tailor-fit, 30-track collection is curated with data, data, data. There are plenty of technicalities to consider, like collaborative filtering and neural networks for detecting raw audio patterns (if you find that kind of jargon sexy, give this AI audio engineer’s Medium piece a read), but this article from Quartz puts it simply. There are two main factors contributing to the overall outcome of your custom Monday mixtape.
The first: billions upon billions of other users’ playlists. Spotify builds equations by going over which songs are lumped together by users, using common patterns as a reference. If one of your favorite songs constantly appears in the same playlist as another track that you haven’t streamed before, you can expect the second track to end up in your Discover Weekly round-up eventually.
The second: you. The artists you follow, the contents of your Liked Songs tab, the tracks you skip and those you keep on heavy rotation—these behavioral patterns are crucial to the music gifted to you on Mondays. Spotify tracks the genres and subgenres you’re into, the ones you don’t gravitate towards as much. They also keep tabs on those odd outliers that might not be indicative of your taste, like when you take a chance on a track once because it’s trending or when your friends queue songs they like when it’s your phone connected to the aux cord.
Naturally, not all the songs in my customized Monday mixtape warrant a click of the heart-shaped like button. Out of the 30 tracks that end up in the Discover Weekly basket, there are always around five I skip within the first minute, 10 that fall between just fine to pretty good and at least five that easily earn a spot in my list of Liked Songs. If I’m lucky, I’ll be greeted by one or two tracks that become the object of my obsession and shape the rest of my week.
Another common complaint among Spotify users is how hyper-focused Discover Weekly can be. It’s a downside of the same algorithm that makes it good. The two-way approach Spotify employs keeps recommendations within similar circles, which can feel crippling for those who are eager to, well, discover. I see this happen with my personal DW: I get a bunch of new songs and artists, sure. But outside my usual playing fields of R&B and K-Pop? Not so much.
While it isn’t perfect, having the option of turning to Discover Weekly is more convenient—immeasurably so—than my previous means of music discovery. Instead of clicking through YouTube recommendations one by one or manually combing over Google search results for “best insert-genre-here albums of insert-year-here,” I get a 30-piecer to play in the background while I work. And while the algorithm may be both its best part and its downfall, the upside to it being reactive to our tastes is that we can, to a certain extent, shape the Discover Weekly outcomes we receive over time. We know that Spotify is on the pulse of public patterns and personal passions, and we can affect the latter. Hit the heart button for the songs you like. Add them to your own playlists. Follow your favorite artists. Enable private mode when you lend your phone to someone else, or when you don’t want Spotify to keep tabs on what you’re listening to. And if you’ve found a new genre that has won you over, consistently listen. It’ll likely make a cameo in one of the next churns Spotify sends your way.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver