FEATURE: The Roots Beneath the Stream: Is Spotify’s D.N.A.-Related Playlist a Step Too Far?




The Roots Beneath the Stream


IMAGE CREDIT: Nick Veasey/Getty Images

Is Spotify’s D.N.A.-Related Playlist a Step Too Far?


A few things have been happening…


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that relate to Spotify and its quest to be the biggest player in the market. With SoundCloud and other music-sharing sites available; it is always a challenge keeping ahead and ensuring others do not nip at your heels! Audius is the latest name on the market that hopes to redress what they see as Spotify’s (and SoundCloud) unfair compensation/payment to musicians. Many see these sites as a bit lax when it comes to paying artists and ensuring they get adequate remunireations. This article looks at the new venture and how it differs from Spotify:

It’s the latter that’s primarily in its eyeline at first, with the project’s website arguing that “Audius is building an audio distribution, attribution, and monetization platform that puts power back into the hands of audio content creators”. It initially secured venture capital backing to the tune of just under $6m, and now it’s confirmed to CoinDesk that it’s pressing on with the next part of its plan.

It’s introduced a white paper, that in turn has revealed the two cryptocurrency tokens that Audius is looking to launch. The one that most people are likely to engage in is the Loud token, that’s going to be used for transactions on the Audius service. Loud tokens are core to the idea, in that through them, the service aims to properly reward those who create material on the platform”.


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The Audius token itself is the second, and that’s described thus far as a token of governance.

Its white paper explains the difference, saying that “[Audius will be] used by service providers to participate in staking protocols and earn proceeds from the minting of loud tokens … This separates the mechanism for price-stable value transfer (loud) from the mechanism for value capture and accrual (audius), better serving the needs of users of each token”.

Details of the two tokens are also provided at the Audius website, here. The white paper is here .

The first beta release of the Audius streaming platform is scheduled for early next year, with the aim being for a full public launch before 2019 is out”.

I love Spotify and the fact we can get any album (pretty much) and, if you pay a subscription fee, you can have what you want and unfiltered access to a world of music. I have always been a bit conflicted when it comes to the site. It seems reserved, in the most part, for bigger artists – they are most likely to profit – but I wonder how much they actually make when their big hits receive millions of streams. The issue is more pronounced for minor musicians who put their new songs online. Do they ever make much money and are they being paid what they should!? It is hard to say for sure but there is that feeling sites like Spotify and SoundCloud are not spending enough money when it comes to the songs/artists on their sites.


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It is tough to keep the site popular and showing a unique edge and, in a bid to move it ahead of its rivals; Spotify is giving the options for artists to upload their material onto the site without having to go through record labels and the usual mechanics. Independent musicians can upload directly without paying a fee and suffering by not being signed by a label. The Verge covered the story:

Spotify has announced a new beta feature that will allow independent artists to upload their music directly to the platform instead of through a label or digital aggregator. Normally, artists who aren’t signed to a major label (which can directly upload music to Spotify) have to pay a fee to a third-party service like Tunecore to upload their music to Spotify. The upload feature will be contained within the service’s existing Spotify for Artists platform, which, among other things, allows artists to view data about their listeners and directly submit their songs for editorial playlist consideration.

The new upload feature won’t work like SoundCloud, where songs can be instantly available. Instead, Spotify views it as a way for artists to have control over their own music in advance of its release date. Those who are part of the program will be shown an interface where they can upload their music and accompanying artwork, pick a release day, input additional information (like if it’s a single or an album), and then preview how it will look once published. Direct upload is being offered as a free service”.


 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/Getty Images

This is the least alarming recent initiative from Spotify but there are good and bad aspects to this scheme. It is good artists do not have to pay to put their music onto the site and it means those who, before, could not afford to pay to have their music on Spotify now have an open route. It means independent artists can have the same freedom and access as those big-label acts and it seems parity is coming in. There is a problem regarding quality control and the fact, now, the floodgates are open. Already, we have all the big releases and usual collection of songs and the choice seems bewildering. Now, with this extra and free option; I worry there is going to be a flood and it will be hard to decipher the genuinely worthy – too much choice and music coming to us and an attempt for Spotify to keep its reputation and name strong in the wake of rivals/other ventures emerging. I still worry, even though independents have a free option and way of getting their music out there; will they be paid anything and is this a misguided measure from Spotify? I understand why they decided to allow this option but I think it will exacerbate the issue of artists/payment; not adequately profiting musicians who do get their music streamed and get a lot of traffic for Spotify. Any measure that allows unsigned artists greater exposure is good but that lack of quality control and ongoing issue regarding royalties/payment is going to be a big problem. The Verge’s article helped to explain that conundrum:

Regarding payments for the artists who upload directly to Spotify, Kene Anoliefo, senior product lead for Spotify’s creator marketplace, tells The Verge that the company will offer artists 50 percent of Spotify’s net revenue and 100 percent of royalties for the songs they upload. “We created a pretty simple and fair deal for uploading music where artists receive 50 percent of Spotify’s net revenue, and Spotify also accounts to publishers and collection societies for additional royalties related to the musical composition,” Anoliefo said. “Artists will receive automatic monthly royalty checks. They will be able to view all of that information and check all their data within Spotify for Artists”.


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Whilst Spotify have been finding ways of benefiting independent artists/keeping a lot of press; they seem to be keen to mess with our heads and D.N.A. The self-upload news will be welcome to some and it is debatable whether it is a genuine attempt to benefit independent artists or something more cynical. A couple of recent news stories tied to Spotify have worried me. It is not news to say Spotify has been increasing its data analytical capabilities and keen to see what mood we are in. They target us with adverts depending what songs we choose/how we feel; bespoke playlists make us feel loved and like Spotify knows what makes us tick; collating all this data (personal and third-party) to target us with music and advertising. The Guardian recently ran a piece that covered this and how we are being targeted depending on the songs we listen to. I would rather be left alone when it comes to my moods and what adverts I am sent and, if anything, I do not want a service like Spotify giving me adverts at all. I pay a subscription so I do not get bombarded with stuff but I feel the mood-based marketing is a way of lining their pockets and a bit intrusive!


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One of the biggest flaws of Spotify – I maintain how much I love and use them but there are flaws – is the lack of music-based advertising. By that, they are not using the data we put out and what we listen to in order to open our minds and introduce us to great music. I would be happy for them to monitor what I listen to if they can get their boffins to look through music’s catalogues and uncover gems I am not aware of. I feel music is a very personal thing and, if I listen to a sad song to lift my mood or help me get through; is it rather unsettling this Spotify machine is gauging that and preparing to send tailored adverts me way?! They are, as The Guardian observed, not the only service that does this:

You see, Spotify is far from the only platform helping brands target people according to their emotions; real-time mood-based marketing is a growing trend and one we all ought to be cognisant of. In 2016, eBay launched a mood marketing tool, for example. And last year, Facebook told advertisers that it could identify when teenagers felt “insecure” and “worthless” or needed “a confidence boost”. This was just a few years after Facebook faced a backlash for running experiments to see if it could manipulate the mood of its users”.


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Whilst the giants are keen to tie our moods to perceived consumer desire and take the soul away from music; they are now using D.N.A. in order to recommend music to us. Spotify members can input results from the AncestryDNA website; the streaming site will then generate selections based on the results and, as they see it, it’s a chance for people to connect, musically, with their family tree and history. I have my own thoughts regarding this venture but I read an article written by Sarah Zhang that highlighted some flaws:

Genetic-ancestry tests are having a moment. Look no further than Spotify: On Thursday, the music-streaming service—as in, the service used to fill tedious workdays and DJ parties—launched a collaboration with AncestryDNA. The partnership creates custom playlists for users based on DNA results they input: Oumou Sangaré for Mali, for example, and Ed Sheeran for England.

If this were simply about wearing kilts or liking Ed Sheeran, these ads could be dismissed as, well, ads. They’re just trying to sell stuff, shrug. But marketing campaigns for genetic-ancestry tests also tap into the idea that DNA is deterministic, that genetic differences are meaningful. They trade in the prestige of genomic science, making DNA out to be far more important in our cultural identities than it is, in order to sell more stuff”.


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The problem with the new scheme is it fails to recognise people’s musical tastes are personal and subjective. So far as I know, my family is English and we do not go much further than Ireland. I do not think there is anything exotic in my family tree and, as such, the music that will be recommended to me will be, what they see as, quintessentially British. There will be a lot of Ed Sheeran and The Kinks; songs that celebrate Britishness and do not, as music always should, encourage me to look at the wider world and uncover musical D.N.A. that is foreign to me. I appreciate genealogy and your heritage is important and it should be a personal and un-musical pursuit. Finding out where you come from and who your ancestors are is a precious and emotional thing. It is a process of discovery and shock; learning where your very roots and marrow descends from – having a streaming service use this semi-sacred inquisition as a means of targeting you with music seems, to me, rather shallow and pointless. Unless the music they are suggesting is from a member of your family – not many of us can say that – then it seems like a rather pointless thing. The same article raised a very good point regarding genetics and how this initiative can emphasise differences:

The most charged criticism against genetic-ancestry tests is that they emphasize people’s genetic differences, ultimately reifying race as a meaningful category when it is in fact a social construct. A 2014 study found that when people read a newspaper article about genetic-ancestry tests, their beliefs in racial differences increased. And white nationalists have taken to DNA ancestry tests to prove their European heritage”.


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I have put ‘my’ playlist below. All I typed in was my nationality and it came up with the results. I did not put in my name and details and it seems, if this is the way it is done, it is quite a vague and generic selection. There is nothing I have not already heard and it does not define me as a person. I feel the playlists are like astrology. Nearly every prediction for star signs can apply to pretty much anyone. There is no science and facts in any of it and people get sucked in something stupid and facile. Among the selections, there was music I have heard and will never listen to again – including Ed Sheeran and The 1975 – and I am not sure they are more British than The Beatles or Nick Drake (music that is more personal to me). It seems the selections are based on popularity and a vague sense of national excellence rather than any actual science and soul-searching. This article, written by Ashley Reese, saw her crunch the data/D.N.A. and discover something unsettling: just how naff the British music selections were!

When I first received my results in early 2017, my top ethnic region was Senegal. But thanks to Ancestry updating and enhancing their reference samples, I started off my playlist adventure with the realization that Senegal actually represents a mere blip of my ethnic roots. I was admittedly bummed out—Senegal seems cool—but I moved on. As of right now, my top ethnic region is “Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples” at 26 percent, followed by Mali at 20 percent, Benin/Togo at 18 percent, England/Wales/Northern Europe at 13 percent, and Ireland/Scotland at 11 percent”.


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“…My problem with this entire affair rests in the British Isles portion of the playlist.

Admittedly, I’m an Anglophile who could spend an inordinate amount of time talking about British alt rock of the ’80s, Brit pop of the ’90s, and the British indie/garage rock revival of the ’00s. I am also an expert on the Spice Girls. It’s obnoxious, but I know my shit! I can say, with confidence, that despite bringing a grim, nonconsensual scourge upon my DNA, the English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish do a pretty good job with that whole music thing”.

I would be behind Spotify if they offered something that broadened our musical minds and helped get us away from the overly-commercial and much-hyped. If they genuinely wanted us to connect with the world in a more profound and illustrative way – in a divided and broken time – then it would be a beneficial and impressive move. I feel our D.N.A. and where we are born is not the sum of our personalities and it does not take into consideration measures for musical love: personality and emotional demands; what our parents listened to and other concerns. It is a very limited and overly-simplistic search that, in my view, is more commercial and advertising-based than it is a chance to make the subscribers feel heard and enriched.


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I think it is important services like Spotify keep moving and find new ways to get people invested and stimulated. It can be soulless and boring scrolling through endless playlists or having to listen to the mainstream artists Spotify promote. What they should be doing is fixing issues surrounding artist payment and help subscribers get involved with rich and unexpected musical sources. Spotify is obsessed with the new and trending; the big artists that are all about now – there is so much in their archive that many people are not aware of because they are not being led that way. I feel Spotify are spending too much time manipulating our moods and trends to suit advertisers and make us feel too watched and more like a number. I am interested to see where I come from but I feel Spotify cannot adequately provide a playlist that shows the complexity of a nation and its D.N.A. There is that problem with racial division and the fact most of us do not discover music based on our nationality – it is rather limiting and problematic. I know how hard it is to wrestle and tussle with newcomers in a competitive market but Spotify could do so much more if they just concentrated on music itself and less on advertising/monitoring us. Maybe it is a sad inevitability of the times we live in but I feel, in an attempt to get ahead of the competition, Spotify has taken a step that is unnecessary…


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AND far too flawed.