An algorithm takes a set of inputs and generates an output, the same way a recipe turns ingredients into a cake. For Spotify to rely on algorithms means it uses data from its consumers to generate music discovery delivered through playlists. Open Spotify’s home page and you can find any number of curated playlists that source user data collected from the app, from “Top Songs in the USA,” which aggregates collective data, to “Discover Weekly,” which draws from personalized data. To create these playlists, Spotify tracks the music you listen to, organizes it into certain categories, measures tracks against other listeners, and uses that information to choose what music to show you.
These choices and recommendations often come with their own sets of biases and assumptions around gender and mood. They help mold a ‘templated self’ or what David Marshall describes as a dual strategic personadual strategic persona:
Through a particular study of online entertainment reviewing, this chapter explores the emergence of a new strategic persona in contemporary culture. It investigates the way that the production of entertainment-related commentary, reviews and critiques online is increasingly defined by a complex relationship and intersection with what is described as a dual strategic persona. Along with a public presentation of the self as reviewer across multiple platforms, the new online film reviewer is also negotiating how their identity and value are aggregated and structure into algorithms.
Although these curations are designed to share, I am more interested in using them as a point of reflection. I am always intrigued about what they do and do not say about my listening habits this year, this goes with the regular recommendations as well. I actually wonder if Spotify Wrapped reflects the place that music has served at times this year, a form of fast food, consumed as a means of escape, rather than something to stop and consider. For me, this has led to more pop at times. In addition to this, my statistics are corrupted in that I often play music for my children.
In addition to this, there are quite a few albums not on Spotify, which have soundtracked my year, such as Kate Bush’s Before The Dawn and Damian Cowell’s Only the Shit You Love. Also, I created a playlist of all the tracks that Damian Cowell mentioned on his podcast, which I noticed totally threw out my recommendations at times too.