1- Chill and Serve: Spotify Playlists and the "Will to Nothingness" - T. Andrew Braun, University of Western Ontario

10:30 AM, Friday 24 May 2019 (2 hours)
Lunch   12:30 PM to 01:30 PM (1 hour)

Eighty-three million individual music consumers pay Spotify’s monthly $9.99 subscription fee and “choose freely” from 30+ million songs. But what forces guide the listener to “choose” one song out of 30 million? How do producers/artists distinguish themselves in this mass of music and Big Data? “Spotify can tell if you’re sad. And... that should scare you,” writes Arwa Mahdawi in a recent Guardian piece (guardian.com, 2018). In its role as a new intermediary, Spotify collects data about its subscribers’ moods and emotions, and this data plays a role in the construction of playlists and the rotation of songs into and out of them, suggesting that Spotify’s coding of emotion and mood contributes both to users’ experience and performers’/producers’ professional success.

This presentation will explore the layers of hierarchization and algorithmic sorting articulated through the categorization, consumption, and creation of music in the realm of the Spotifyplaylist. First, I identify three paradigmatic songs (a “hit” that thrives in Spotify’shierarchization and amasses millions of plays, a middling tune maintaining a steady presence on the platform, and a “flash in the pan” that quickly disappears after its introduction). Then, I compare these examples’ differing trajectories in order to illuminate how the platform’s features support or detract from a song’s longevity and/or “success.” Finally, I examine the implications and complications that arise for producers and consumers as individual choices are divided into a vast bank of data. This research asks: Who are the winners and who are thelosers with Spotify as the new gatekeeper?
Western University
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