Spotify: The Rise of the Contextual Playlist

Will music playlists be more content-based or context-based?

Spotify: The Rise of the Contextual Playlist
Jason Joven
Jason Joven
March 12, 20187 min read
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Concept by Chaz Jenkins, Analysis/Writing by Jason Joven

“People don’t look at things like hip-hop or country anymore — they are looking at things based on events and activities…We need to be able to deliver the right music based on who we are, how we’re feeling and what we’re doing, day-by-day.” — Daniel Ek, Spotify 2015 press conference (via Cherie Hu at Billboard)

Since we’re all about tracking playlists at Chartmetric, we’re curious about the future: will playlists be more content-based or context-based?

Content-based (CN) would be what some of us older music fans were used to growing up: genres or language or geographical boundaries playing major roles in not only what radio stations played for record labels produced for us, but psychologically, what even we allowed ourselves to listen to.

If I grew up on Garth Brooks, how likely was I also listening to LL Cool J? If I grew up on Alejandro Sanz, how likely was I bumping BoA? My opinion is that in the pre-iPod era (early 2000s): not very! Our limitations were more or less bounded by what a handful of record executives in our respective countries wanted the mainstream to hear.

Top 10: Content-based playlists (by total followers)

Fast forward to 2018 and we have Spotify dominating the streaming game and soon to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. With it comes their data-fueled strategy and how they can better serve the listener by shaping the ecosystem to them, generating what we’ll call context-based (CX) playlists. Whether it be an activity (e.g., running, romantic dinner) or time-related event (e.g., Women’s History Month, Lunar New Year, or just a day of the week), CX playlists are quickly becoming the new paradigm in which we experience the music we knew yesterday and will discover tomorrow.