Spotify Playlists Are The New Genre
When thinking of streaming music, Spotify will probably come to your mind immediately. The platform allows its users to browse for new music as well as it suggests new songs based on their listening behaviour. However, it seems that where genre used to be leading in looking up songs and musicians, Spotify now suggests music that belongs to certain moods or ambiences.
The Shift From Genre to Playlists?
On September first, the University newspaper of the University of Groningen published an article regarding research by Robert Prey. The media scientist working at the University introduced a new perspective on playlists that can be found on Spotify (Ukrant.nl, 2020, n.p.). He argues that genre is no longer important, but music will revolve around the context in which someone is listening to music (Ukrant.nl, 2020, n.p.). Not only Prey has noticed this shift, Siles et al. (2019, p 1) also argue that playlists function as a sort of genre in the present time.
The existence of this ‘new genre’ seems to be influenced by Spotify itself, as the platform decides how its interface looks and what is there to offer. The streaming platform states on its website that their playlists are either generated by algorithms, their employees of Spotify or users (Spotify.com, n.d.). Prey (2020, p 1) argues that these mood playlists are an example of how Spotify has the power on who listens to what. Therefore, the scope of this blogpost will be what effects the ‘new genre’ has on musicians and Spotify users.
The Spotify Interface
When looking at this new media object that might be replacing genre, it also seems to be present on the ‘browse’ page of Spotify. The platform first presents the playlists that relate to one’s mood or period in time, such as ‘summer’. When clicking on the ‘mood’ suggestion, you can browse for music that fist your mood at that time. This feature directs users to search in a certain way. This creates the effect of music being left out of certain playlists because they might not belong to a specific mood or period in time. This phenomenon was also noticed by Slate.com (2019, n.p.) when they wrote an article on the reinforcement of music industry power imbalance that Spotify contributes to. They argue that the playlists force artists to adapt their music to get noticed by Spotify (Slate.com, 2019, n.p.). On the contrary, playlists also seem to pave way for new artists to get noticed due to their popularity in comparison to genre-based searches (The Guardian, 2017, n.p.).
Playlists and Artist Visibility
The playlists available on Spotify are a way to discover new music and musicians. There are playlists for popular songs at the moment from known musicians as well as playlists that include upcoming artists. However, to what extent has Spotify an influence on who will get noticed? Is there a difference between major labels and smaller or unknown artists?
Research has shown that Spotify favours promoting their playlists over playlists made by major labels or individual users (Prey, Esteve del Valle & Zwerwer, 2020, p 14). The major labels are not left out due to this choice. The Spotify-owned playlists include more music produced by these labels than smaller artists (Prey, Esteve del Valle & Zwerwer, 2020, p 14). When comparing Spotify to its precursor radio, there is more room for new musicians on the generated playlists (Prey, Esteve del Valle & Zwerwer, 2020, p 14). So, from this perspective, Spotify has power over the reach of its artists.
Do The Great Ones Only Get Great Returns?
More visibility to listeners equals more profit because each time a song is played, it generates revenue for the artist. The major labels would benefit more from the Spotify playlists than smaller artists due to their share in these Spotify-generated lists. Vonderau (2019, p 3) notes that these revenues are reliant on how many times a track is played in relation to all other tracks played on the platform. Even if a smaller artist has a high streaming rate, how much they receive depends on how many streams the big players get. Mostly resulting in lower royalties for smaller artists (Vonderau, 2019, p 3).
Especially mainstream audiences that do not specifically search for a type of genre, playlists are a good tool to browse for music (The Guardian, 2017), enhancing the imbalance in streaming rates. Aguiar & Waldfogel (2018, p 26) researched the power of Spotify to influence song success with its general playlists. They found significant evidence that Spotify has the power to influence streaming decisions. The outcomes of the research show that major global playlists, such as “Today’s Top Hits”, raise streams for popular songs substantially (Aguiar & Waldfogel, 2018, p 26). However, it seems to depend on what playlists songs are added to as the major global lists tend to promote major label and music from the US, while playlists that target newer artists provide heavier coverage of independent and domestic music (Aguiar & Waldfogel, 2018, p 26). Therefore, playlists are also positive for upcoming artists.
Genre will probably not become obsolete and will stay useful for people who know what they are looking for. However, the ‘new genre’; playlists are a powerful tool for the mainstream audience to search for popular music as well as new artists. Nevertheless, Spotify has great power in who gets discovered and who won’t. It is important to understand how these playlists influence us and artists on the platform to help the unknown artist in times of a playlist saturated streaming world.
Aguiar, L., & Waldfogel, J. (2018). Platforms, promotion, and product discovery: Evidence from spotify playlists (No. w24713). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Prey, R., Esteve Del Valle, M., & Zwerwer, L. (2020). Platform pop: disentangling Spotify’s intermediary role in the music industry. Information, Communication & Society, 1-19.
Prey, R. (2020). Locating power in platformization: Music streaming playlists and curatorial power. Social Media+ Society, 6(2), 2056305120933291
Siles, I., Segura-Castillo, A., Sancho, M., & Solís-Quesada, R. (2019). Genres as social affect: Cultivating moods and emotions through playlists on Spotify. Social Media+ Society, 5(2), 2056305119847514.
Slate.com, Tensley, B. (2019, January) Retrieved from https://slate.com/technology/2019/01/spotify-streaming-music-industry-future-independent-artists-upload.html
Spotify, n.d. Retrieved from https://artists.spotify.com/guide/playlists
The Guardian, Forde, E. (2017, August) Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/aug/17/they-could-destroy-the-album-how-spotify-playlists-have-changed-music-for-ever
Ukrant.nl, Fens, T. (2020, September) Retrieved from https://www.ukrant.nl/magazine/stuck-in-a-spotify-bubble/?lang=en
Vonderau, P. (2019). The Spotify effect: Digital distribution and financial growth. Television & New Media, 20(1), 3-19.