Spotify’s Latest Algorithmic Playlist Is Full of Your Favorite New Music
Friday is the best day of the week in the music industry. It’s when the new stuff drops, the albums and singles that will dominate radio play for the next few days, weeks, months, and in Drake’s case, the next several generations.
Spotify’s New Music Friday is one of the best ways to see what’s out, and one of the service’s most popular playlists. But starting this Friday, you’ll probably first head to Release Radar, Spotify’s new, hyper-personalized playlist of new tracks. Today and every Friday after, it’ll serve up two hours of fresh jams you’ll (probably, hopefully) love.
Release Radar is a direct offshoot of Discover Weekly, Spotify’s first attempt at automatically making playlists for every one of its users. Discover Weekly refreshes every Monday, with 30 new tracks Spotify’s algorithms think you’ll love. The playlist has become sort of a phenomenon. More than 40 million people are using it to stream billions of tracks. It’s the best thing about the Monday morning commute, really.
It’s safe to say Spotify didn’t expect Discover Weekly to get this big this fast. “It was a complete surprise,” says Edward Newett, the company’s lead software engineer and the guy who originally hacked together Discover Weekly in 2014. “At the time,” he says, “I don’t think we were super focused on music discovery in that sense.” Spotify had the Discover page, and the artist and song radio, and that seemed good enough. “This just fell out of luck, in a way.”
Newett and Spotify’s other engineers have spent the last year tweaking the service’s infrastructure to be able to handle the workload of simultaneously making 100 million different playlists. Now they’re looking for other places to use the tech, starting with brand-new music. Release Radar’s a little different from Discover Weekly. Since the tracks are new, Spotify obviously has no listening data. Instead, the company relies on its deep and specific knowledge of the music itself, along with your listening history, to figure out what you might want to know about. In my case, it works really well: I got two hours mostly full of new releases from artists I already knew, along with a couple of well-placed wild cards.
Release Radar won’t be the last automatic, ever-evolving playlist from Spotify. In the company’s view, this kind of playlist is the future of music. For decades, we all listened by the album: drop it on the turntable, put the needle down, sit back, and let the LP wash over you. Then listeners flocked to music video countdowns and MP3 downloads, and eventually found themselves in command of the Internet Jukebox and its infinite catalog of videos and songs. Somewhere in there, we lost the ability to just press play, close our eyes, and enjoy. Playlists are giving that back. After trying lots of other formats, Newett says, “We’ve now found that the playlist format is actually a super successful way to ship product. It’s a similar, very lean-back experience.”
I’ve been testing the new playlist for two weeks, and Release Radar has been terrific so far. It’s showed me new albums from little-known favorites I never would have noticed otherwise. I’ve even discovered a couple of new debuts before all my friends did. (Which is, of course, the goal of music: to know the cool stuff first.) It’s not quite as horizon-expanding as Discover Weekly, and it’s probably not going to create the near-religious devotion that playlist has engendered. But it’s a great way to start the day on Friday. And it’s further proof that Spotify just gets me.