Henry: Welcome back to Magnolia On Mic. I’m Henry Frazier. AI has been taking over the world from OpenAI’s Chat GPT and DALL-E to Midjourney, everybody has some sort of experience with AI. Jumping on the AI bandwagon is an unlikely competitor, Spotify. Spotify’s AI DJ was launched back in February and it’s available for all premium payers. How it works is when you open up Spotify and you go to the music tab, you tap on the AI button. And greeting you will be Xavier (X) Jernigan, who is Spotify’s Head of Cultural Partnerships. If that name sounds familiar, it probably is. X has hosted multiple different Spotify podcasts, including Spotify’s The Get Up or Spotify’s Morning show. It garnered 6 million listeners and was a Top 10 podcast on Spotify. In addition to that, X is considered to be the quote unquote voice of Spotify. He’s always around and he’s someone who you’ve definitely heard before, whether it’s from his interviews with BTS and SZA or it’s when he was at the Oscars or the AMAs red carpet. If you know anything about Spotify, you’ve probably heard X. 

Henry: Spotify, the company, although influential has been killing off some of their products. Barely a year ago in July of 2022, Spotify killed Off Car thing, a product that people were really enjoying and even recently they killed off Spotify Stations, their Pandora like app allowed people to discover new music. Spotify has stated that AI DJ is trying to kind of work as a gap between Spotify stations and the radio program. Now I’m gonna talk a bit about the Spotify AI dj, both in my personal use as well as in other people’s uses that I’ve asked about and I’ve read about online.

Henry: In June of 2022, Spotify acquired Sonantic. While you may not have heard the name, you might have heard it if you’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick. Sonantic is an AI that is able to take what people have said and make an AI model off of them. Then after that, you’re able to use text and it’ll make the speech sound like someone else’s voice. The startup is famously known for being the way that Top Gun Maverick’s crew made Val Kilmer’s voice in the movie. Sonantic did a good job with modeling X’s voice. The sounds very clean and smooth, and honestly, it doesn’t sound like an AI at all. It sounds exactly like someone speaking to you, which is a huge positive and also very big positive in AI as a whole, as mimicking someone’s voice is still very new and very hard to do. Yet Spotify did it almost perfectly. 

Henry: While the voice is good, the AI overall is lacking. The music recommendations aren’t that good. The song recommendations aren’t the greatest and the genre and playlist recommendations just never kind of feel right. I’m mainly use the Spotify radio function, which has been around for years. Spotify radio is what comes after you finish an album or a song and it starts playing songs kind of similar to the album versus playing music or recommended from this album.

Henry: When looking more deeply into how Spotify’s AI DJ works, you can see that it’s AI generated but not as much as people would think. The way that Spotify pulls these songs is actually just through different playlists. When using Spotify, there’s usually an automatically generated playlist for everything. It’s playlists that people know, value, and use, such as Discover Weekly and On Repeat or other playlists like your own personal mixes. Mixes are playlists that are generated from music that you listen to, and there’s basically a mix for anything from a hype rap mix to an Amen break mix, to a classical music mix. These are all the songs that you listen to the most that follow under a genre, and they make a tailored playlist for those. Spotify’s ai dj, rather than giving you the songs by himself, just looks through your different mixes and playlists and clicks one to play.

Henry: There’s not really much science behind it as he’s not really observing what you’ve been listening to before. He just kind of picks the playlist and plays it. It’s the same as going into like a record store and looking at the shelves and just pulling a record out and putting it on a turntable. There’s not much thought or science behind it. In addition, when he quote unquote goes back in time, what he’s doing is taking your top songs playlist from different years. For example, when he says, let’s go back in time to 2015, what he is doing is he’s taking the top songs of 2015 playlists, or he’s taking your 2015 rap playlist and just playing the songs from there. The AI DJ is not also tailored to what you’re listening to at that moment in time. For example, if you wanna listen to rap music, there’s a good chance that the AI DJ won’t play rap music and instead we’ll just play you whatever it’s feeling. 

Henry: In addition, while X is a very welcomed addition, it’s not the most liked. In a Wired article called “Spotify’s AI DJ has no soul” goes in depth about how X is the same as a bad radio DJ at times, offering a little quip and then playing music. While X can be funny, sometimes he’s not as relevant or not as up to date on events and can also be a bit annoying if you’re just trying listening to music. In addition, not many other people on social media have liked Spotify AI dj. If you search Spotify AI DJ on Twitter, most people state how much they don’t like it stating that feels just like a glorified shuffle. It’s really interesting, however, Instagram and TikTok have both had memes made from the Spotify AI DJ saying that people have bad music taste or someone needs to open up and listen to new artists and more. Across TikTok, Instagram and YouTube there’s been hundreds of millions of views about these videos and it has been a way that people have discovered the AI DJ, including myself. The funny videos show, like on the culture side of the AI DJ, how people find it funny and interesting how the fact that there is a DJ on Spotify is something new, different, interesting and creative, and how the world will always try to meme something or make something funny even when they don’t expect it.

Henry: Now, I’ve talked a lot about the AI dj, but now I wanna talk a bit about how Spotify uses artificial intelligence as a whole. According to Tony Jebara, the company’s VP of Engineering and head of machine learning, machine learning is at the heart of everything we do at Spotify. Everything at Spotify is usually machine learning based as it is a platform that is designed to kind of recommend music and give new music to different people and new people. 

Henry: Going back to that point I just made one of the main ways that Spotify uses artificial intelligence is through hyper personalized recommendations. When you play a song and it goes to radio or when you suggest a song or when you listen to a song, The first thing Spotify is gonna do is gonna take that song and all the other songs you listen to and try to make a playlist or try to recommend a song that you’ll like.

Henry: A way that a lot of people have been able to discover new songs they like is because Spotify recommended them a song that they’ve never heard before. I’ve mentioned this before, but another way that Spotify uses AI is in their curated playlist. Spotify has a surprising amount of playlists that are specifically tailored to one person. Usually if you click on a playlist such as Discover Mix, Discover Weekly, a Daily Mix, or a daily Drive, or even a mixes playlist, usually it’ll say Made for your name. If you ever click on one of these playlists such as a Daily mix or mixes playlist, most of the time what you’ll find is music that you’ve listened to before, music that you like listening to, music that falls under a genre, and songs that are very, very similar to the music that you’ve listened to before. This is all done through AI and machine learning.

Henry: Now, on a bit of a different side, there’s also playlists such as Discover Weekly, which is brand new music that Spotify specialty curates for you. Discover Weekly also uses AI. When you listen to a bunch of music, Spotify keeps track of that and then will make you a playlist of about 30 songs every single Monday, and it’s all gonna be 30 brand new songs that you’ve never heard before. Spotify’s use of AI also comes in searching for a song. Say you remember a song lyric but don’t remember the name of the song. You’re able to type that lyric into the search bar and it’ll match the lyrics with a song. There’s also a natural language search. For example, when you’re searching for a podcast and you search True crime, then Spotify will recommend True Crime podcasts based on that. Spotify also uses AI for analytics.For example, if you’re in the top percentage of fans on Spotify, sometimes you’re able to get early access to concert tour tickets or merchandise or even discounts on merchandise. 

Henry: Spotify has also been a big acquirer of different AI companies going all the way back in 2013. Some of the AI companies that Spotify has acquired include tuning Go, which was for music recommendation algorithms, Echo Nest, which is to improve recommendations. Seed Scientific, which is a data science company, solantic, which is to detect audio and recommend music, Noland, which is to optimize music searches and recommendations. Of course, Sonantic, which we’ve talked about before. All these AI companies have actually been the reason that Spotify’s been the number one streaming service. It’s because Spotify’s really good at being able to detect and recommend very specific things. It’s also able to, of course, listen to music and then say what song it is. Very similar to something like Shazam. However, for that, everything is all inside of the Spotify app. 

Henry: Spotify also regularly holds an event called a Machine learning day with AI researchers from Spotify, Pandora, and even Google to talk about how to fix algorithms and make the overall world of streaming music, not just Spotify streaming world better. Spotify has also designed an open source to a lot of AI based apps, such as Basic Pitch, which is an audio to Midi converter or Cleo, which is a pipeline that allows engineers and researchers to build pipelines for processing audio. 

Henry: When looking back at the AI dj, what it is right now is a glorified tech demo. It’s something gonna show that it exists and it works, and in the future it’s probably gonna be a lot better. The fact that this can happen is a lot. The world of AI is really interesting as sometimes AI programs are just held together basically with duct tape. So the fact that Spotify has been able to make an AI and make a design that is able to fully talk and and recommend music is something completely new and completely different. 

Henry: Will the AI DJ ever be good? Yeah, it probably will. Spotify’s poured millions of dollars from acquiring new startups to training in AI, which is not a cheap endeavor, and they’ve done not the worst job at it. However, when looking at the world of AI, more companies are probably gonna take this approach from YouTube to Pandora. I think it’s obvious to say that AI is gonna become more and more a part of our daily lives. Chat GPT already is used by hundreds of millions of people every single day, probably including people listening to this podcast. The way that Spotify has jumped on the bandwagon is an interesting take and one that hasn’t been done before. 

Henry: AI is always gonna be used in the world of music streaming. It is always gonna be very machine learning based as the entire idea of recommending a song is based on machine learning and Spotify, with their rich history of AI and having AI tools and using AI to make the platform better has entered the space with a bang.

Henry: When looking at AI technology, it’s only gonna get better. Chat GPT makes advances to open AI every single day. So I think that the future of Spotify’s AI DJ is gonna be interesting. I personally think that what’s gonna happen is this gonna get really, really good at predicting what a person wants to hear and wants to hear next. I think also that they’re gonna get other musicians, artists, and rappers to come on and be the voice of AI DJ. For example, if an artist is launching a new album, I think that’s only right that for promotion, they will work with Spotify to have their voice turned into an AI to help promote their album. I’m also excited to see how Spotify uses AI again in the future. I don’t think AI DJ is gonna be their last foray into AI, and given the companies in startups they’ve acquired, I don’t think it’ll be theirs as well.

Henry: I think in the future, Spotify’s also gonna be able to use AI to help even make music or help recommend more music. Currently, Spotify’s AI recommendations and Spotify’s machine learning recommendations for new music are okay. They’re really good. However, I think there’s always a chance that they could be better. Spotify has always been known for hiding some music if a person is say, not signed to a record label. So I believe that Spotify’s AI is gonna help get more traction to those artists, and I think Spotify is also gonna have a bit of a lighter hold on artists who aren’t signed to a label in helping them try to reach more people. I think that Spotify AI DJ is gonna be a great way for that. Young artists and new artists are gonna be the future, so I think that a good place for Spotify’s AI DJ is to help recommend new music and help recommend music from artists that aren’t that big so that they can get a new following and new traction. For Magnolia on Mic, I’m Henry Frazier. Thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

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