How Your Listening Data is Shaping the Future of Music

Every time you stream a song on any platform–Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, YouTube, Tidal, Deezer and all the rest of them–you leave behind a little mote of data. That data–and the data generated by millions of other music fans every second of every day–is parsed and studied and organized in other to understand how people consume music. The results are then used to determine what sort of new music should be made.

It’s all about metrics. Everything about the online music experience can be measured. What genres you like. How long you listen to a song before you skip it. The songs you use to make playlists. What you share with other users. All of this and more is explained on a microscopic level so that The Powers That Be can work to keep you listening longer and more often.

Nordic head of shows and editorial Daniel Breitholtz for Spotify gave a speech in Helsinki this week on the subject.

Breitholtz said that he’s heard labels of every size talking about skip rates – Spotify defines a skip as a listener jumping away from a track less than 30 seconds in – as the main metric that matters for its programmed playlists.

“That is simply not the truth. Yes, skip-rate is a metric that we editors take into consideration on how to move on songs, but it’s just one metric out of many,” he said.

“We’re also looking at saves. How many people are taking songs from our playlists and putting them into their own playlists? How many people repeatedly listen to the same songs within the playlists? For how long are people listening to the song? What is the completion rate? What is the historical data about this artist? There’s a bunch of stuff that we take into consideration.”

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But what is that doing to the very nature of music? How is this affecting composition, production, marketing, promotion? A

Pigeons and Planes goes deeper.

In their 2013 interview with NPR, Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples discussed why they keep their circles small. Their reasoning: because of the internet’s low barrier to entry, there are too many pseudo-artists taking their stabs at what they think will get them famous, and the industry doesn’t acknowledge a difference. “The internet is life now,” said Staples. “There’s no hierarchy or type of shit like that… [There are] 100,000 idiots on this street, and they can give somebody 100,00 views on YouTube. And that can get somebody a deal.”

There have been countless debates about whether the quality of popular music is decreasing as labels chase quick hits, but a label alone can’t make a song a hit. The public still needs to listen to it. Perhaps the industry’s not entirely to blame for feeding us lesser quality content. Maybe it’s becoming our responsibility to do something about it before they do.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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