More of the Same – On Spotify Radio
Keywords:Spotify Radio, digital methods, music looping, bot intervention, reverse engineering
Spotify Radio allows users to find new music within Spotify’s vast back-catalogue, offering a potential infinite avenue of discovery. Nevertheless, the radio service has also been disliked and accused of playing the same artists over and over. We decided to set up an experiment with the purpose to explore the possible limitations found within “infinite archives” of music streaming services. Our hypothesis was that Spotify Radio appears to consist of an infinite series of songs. It claims to be personalised and never-ending, yet music seems to be delivered in limited loop patterns. What would such loop patterns look like? Are Spotify Radio’s music loops finite or infinite? How many tracks (or steps) does a normal loop consist of? To answer these research questions, at Umeå University’s digital humanities hub, Humlab, we set up an intervention using 160 bot listeners. Our bots were all Spotify Free users. They literally had no track record and were programmed to listen to different Swedish music from the 1970s. All bots were to document all subsequent tracks played in the radio loop and (inter)act within the Spotify Web client as an obedient bot listener, a liker, a disliker, and a skipper. The article describes different research strategies when dealing with proprietary data. Foremost, however, it empirically recounts the radio looping interventions set up at Humlab. Essentially, the article suggests a set of methodologies for performing humanist inquiry on big data and black-boxed media services that increasingly provide key delivery mechanisms for cultural materials. Spotify serves as a case in point, yet principally any other platform or service could be studied in similar ways. Using bots as research informants can be deployed within a range of different digital scholarship, so this article appeals not only to media or software studies scholars, but also to digitally inclined cultural studies such as the digital humanities.
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