A while back, a couple of friends and I were returning to the District from a day’s nature escapade when a phenomenon came to our collective attention. We were driving down Route 70 in Maryland, and it was at that point in the drive where the radio was playing crackled music over every song, and every clear channel decided to coordinate their commercial breaks at the exact same time. We were exhausted from the day out, and music was essential. A friend of mine fumbled in the glove compartment to find an aux cord, although the effort was in vain.
The lament of a drive sans-aux cord descended upon us, and we decided to give up on any hope of listening to anything — no static, no commercials, just silence. It’s then we wished there was a CD handy, and this diversion led to the realization only one of us regularly listens to albums in full — and I won’t even bother lying, it wasn’t me.
Our silent-car-ride frustration opened a door to question our personal relationships with the ways we listen to music. The manner in which we consume media is inextricably linked to the internet, and beyond the Spotify verse Apple Music debate, there is one algorithmically curated playlist that all of us agreeably, and reluctantly, love — Spotify’s “Discover Weekly.”
Whether you listen to the playlist or not, we’re undeniably living in the “Discover Weekly Era” — an epoch of AI sound curation that chooses the music we adore. Singles, and the most popular songs of a singular album, are praised, leaving little time for albums to be listened to in full.
On its face, “Discover Weekly” is the music assistant we’ve always wanted. It knows what we like, and feeds us the sounds we enjoy. Passively speaking, I love the concept, and I listen to the playlist every time it refreshes. But regardless of its convenience, the “Discover Weekly” lifestyle certainly poses its own dangers to the music world.
The platform works by capturing the essence of an individual’s personal music selection and curates a list of undoubtedly similar-sounding songs — whether it’s the tempo, the key, the voice, etc. But, it’s hard to ignore the massive consequence that occurs when being exponentially fed music of this nature. At its core, while it’s a great tool for finding new music, “Discover Weekly” leaves little room for exploring the albums that singers and songwriters have spent copious amounts of time working on.
Hence, regardless of the consequences for us mere music consumers, the playlist is more problematic for the artists who dedicate months creating LPs and EPs.
In that way, “Discover Weekly” encapsulates our tendency to partake in throw-away culture and harms artists in more ways than we can imagine. Hence, as constant consumers of media, do we sift through music too quickly? Is “Discover Weekly” just capitalism at its finest? Should we just say hell to the algorithm?
While it’s certainly not niche for music lovers to listen to albums in full, or to purchase albums on vinyl, living in the “Discover Weekly Era” lends itself to only listening to the most popular songs of a particular artist. Whether this is a call to mobilize music-lovers not currently consuming albums in full to do so (myself included), or perhaps to just recognize this meta consumption habit, it’s certainly difficult to beat the algorithm that’s so knowledgeable of the media we enjoy.
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