furia furialog · New Particles · The War Against Silence · Aedliga (songs) · photography · code · other things     ↑vF
16 April 2016 to 1 December 2015
[This is the script from a talk I delivered at the EMP Pop Conference today. It was written to be read aloud at an intentionally headlong pace, with somewhat-carefully timed blasts of interstitial music. I've included playable clip-links for the songs here, but the clips are usually from the middles of the songs, and I was playing the beginnings of them in the talk, so it's different. The whole playlist is here, although playing it as a standalone thing would make no sense at all.]  

 

I used to take software jobs to be able to buy records, but buying records is now a way to hear all the world's music like collecting cars is a way to see more of the solar system.  

So now I work at Spotify as a zookeeper for playlist-making robots. Recommendation robots have existed for a while now, but people have mostly used them for shopping. Go find me things I might want to buy. "You bought a snorkel, maybe you'd like to buy these other snorkels?"  

But what streaming music makes possible, which online music stores did not, is actual programmed music experiences. Instead of trying to sell you more snorkels, these robots can take you out to swim around with the funny-looking fish.  

And as robots begin to craft your actual listening experience, it is reasonable, and maybe even morally imperative, to ask if a playlist robot can have an authorial voice, and, if so, what it is?  

The answer is: No. Robots have no taste, no agenda, no soul, no self. Moreover, there is no robot. I talk about robots because it's funny and gives you something you can picture, but that's not how anything really happens.  

How everything really happens is this: people listen to songs. Different people listen to different songs, and we count which ones, and then try to use computers to do math to find patterns in these numbers. That's what my job actually involves. I go to work, I sit down at my desk (except I actually stand at my fancy Spotify standing desk, because I heard that sitting will kill you and if you die you miss a lot of new releases), and I type computer programs that count the actions of human listeners and do math and produce lists of songs.  

So when anybody talks about a fight between machines and humans in music recommendation, you should know that those people do not know what the fuck they are talking about. Music recommendations are machines "versus" humans in the same way that omelets are spatulas "versus" eggs.  

So the good news is that you can stop worrying that robots are trying to poison your listening. But the bad news is that you can start worrying about food safety and whether the people operating your spatulas have the faintest idea what food is supposed to taste like.  

Because data makes some amazing things possible, but it also makes terrible, incoherent, counter-productive things possible. And I'm going to tell you about some of them.  

Counting is the most basic kind of math, and yet even just counting things usefully, in music streaming, is harder than you probably think. For example, this is the most streamed track by the most streamed artist on Spotify:  

Various Artists "Kelly Clarkson on Annie Lennox"  

Do you recognize the band? They are called "Various Artists", and that is their song "Kelly Clarkson on Annie Lennox", from their album Women in Music - 2015 Stories.  

But OK, that's obviously not what we meant. We just need to exclude short commentary tracks, and then this is the most streamed music track by the most streamed artist on Spotify:  

Various Artists "El Preso"  

Except that's "Various Artists" again. The most streamed music track by an actual artist on Spotify is:  

Rihanna "Work"  

OK, so that's starting to make some sense. Pretty much all exercises in programmatic music discovery begin with this: can you "discover" Rihanna?  

Spotify just launched in Indonesia, and I happen to know that Indonesian music is awesome, because there are people there and they make music, so let's find out what the most popular Indonesian song is.  

Justin Bieber "Love Yourself"  

I kind of wanted to know what the most popular Indonesian song is, not just the song that is most popular in Indonesia. But if I restrict my query to artists whose country of origin is Indonesia, I get this:  

Isyana Sarasvati "Kau Adalah"  

Which seems like it might be the Indonesian Lisa Loeb. It's by Isyana Sarasvati, and I looked her up, and she is Indonesian! She's 23, and her Wikipedia page discusses the scholarship she got from the government of Singapore to study music at an academy there, and lists her solo recitals.  

It turns out that our data about where artists are from is decent where we have it, but a lot of times we just don't. 34 of the top 100 songs in Indonesia are by artists for whom we don't have locations.  

But remember math? Math is cool. In addition to counting listeners in Indonesia, we can compare the listening in Indonesia to the listening in the rest of the world, and find the songs are that most distinctively popular in Indonesia. That gets us to this:  

TheOvertunes "Cinta Adalah"  

That is The Overtunes, who turn out to be a band of three Indonesian brothers who became famous when one of them won X Factor Indonesia in 2013.  

But that's still not really what I wanted. It's like being curious about Indonesian food and buying a bag of Indonesian supermarket-brand potato chips.  

I kind of wanted to hear some, I dunno, Indonesian Indie music. I assume they have some, because they have people, and they have X Factor, and that's bound piss some people off enough to start their own bands.  

So if we switch from just counting to doing a bit more data analysis -- actually, quite a lot of data analysis -- we can discover that yes, there is an indie scene in Indonesia, and we can computationally model which bands are more or less a part of it, and without ever stepping foot in Indonesia, we can produce an algorithmic introduction to The Sound of Indonesian Indie, and it begins with this:  

Sheila on 7 "Dan..."  

That is Shelia on 7 doing "Dan...", and I looked them up, too. Rolling Stone Indonesia said that their debut album was one of the 150 Greatest Indonesian Albums of All Time, and they are the first band to sell more than 1m copies of each of their first 3 albums in Indonesia alone.  

Of course, they're also on Sony Music Indonesia, and I assume that at least some of those millions of people who bought their first 3 albums, before Spotify launched in Indonesia and destroyed the album-sales market, are still alive and still remember them. One of the hard parts about running a global music service from your headquarters in Stockholm and your music-intelligence outpost in Boston, is that you need to be able to find Indonesian music that people who already know about Indonesian music don't already know about.  

But once you've modeled the locally-unsurprising canonical core of Indonesian Indie music, you can use that to find people who spend unusually large blocks of their listening time listening to canonical Indonesian Indie music (most of whom are in Indonesia, but they don't have to be; some of them might be off at a music academy in Singapore, where Spotify has been available since 2013), and then you can calculate what music is most distinctively popular among serious Indonesian Indie fans, even if you have no data to tell you where it comes from. And that gets us things like this:  

Sisitipsi "Alkohol"  

That is "Alkohol" by Sistipsi. A Google search for that song finds only 8400 results, which appear to all be in Indonesian. Their band home page is a wordpress.com site, and they had 263 global Spotify listeners last month.  

PILOTZ "Memang Aku"  

PILOTZ, with a Z. Also from Indonesia! 117 listeners.  

Hellcrust "Janji Api"  

Hellcrust. 44 listeners last month. I looked them up, and yes, they're from Jakarta.  

199x "Goodest Riddance"  

199x. 14 monthly listeners! Also, maybe actually from Malaysia, not Indonesia, but in music recommending it's almost as impressive if you can be a little bit wrong as it is if you can be right, because usually when you're wrong you'll get Polish folk-techno or metalcore with Harry Potter fanfic lyrics.  

So that's what a lot of my days are like. Pose a question, write some code, find some songs, and then try to figure out whether those songs are even vaguely answering the question or not.  

And if the question is about Indonesia, that method kind of works.  

But we also have 100 million listeners on Spotify, and we would like to be able to produce personalized listening experiences for each of them. Actually, we'd like to be able to produce multiple listening experiences for each of them. And we can't hire all of our listeners to work for us full-time curating their own individual personal music experiences, because apparently the business model doesn't work? So it's computers or nothing.  

People, it turns out, are somewhat harder than countries.  

For starters, here is the track I have played the most on Spotify:  

Jewel "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"  

As humans, we might guess that it is not quite accurate to say that that is my favorite song, and we might have a very specific theory about why that is. As humans, we might guess that the number of times I have played the song after that has a different meaning:  

CHVRCHES "Leave a Trace"  

In the latter case, I love CHVRCHES so much. But in the former case, I love my daughter even more than I love CHVRCHES, and some nights she really needs to hear Jewel sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" at bedtime.  

And if we are still in the early days of algorithmically programmed listening experiences, at all, then we're in what I hope we will look back on as the early- to mid- prehistory of algorithmic personalized listening experiences. I can't tell you exactly how they work, because we're still trying to make them work. But I can tell you 7 things I've learned that I think are principles to guide us towards a future in which dumbfoundingly amazing music you could never find on your own just flows out of the invisible sea of information directly into your ears. When you want it to, I don't mean you can't shut it off.  

1. No music listener is ever only one thing.  

I mean, you can't assume they are. I have a coworker named Matt who basically only listens to skate-punk music, ever, and we test all personalization things on him first, because you can tell immediately if it's wrong. Right: Warzone "Rebels Til We Die". Wrong: The Damned "Wounded Wolf - Original Mix". But other than him, almost everybody turns out to have some non-obvious combination of tastes. I listen to beepy electronica (Red Cell "Vial of Dreams") and gentle soothing Dark Funeral "Where Shadows Forever Reign" and Kangding Ray "Ardent", and sentimental Southern European arena pop (Gianluca Corrao "Amanti d'estate"), and if you just average that all together it turns out you mostly end up with mopey indie music that I don't like at all: Wyvern Lingo "Beast at the Door"  

2. All information is partial.  

We know what you play on Spotify, but we don't know what you listen to on the radio in the car, or what your spouse plays in your house while you're making dinner, or what you loved as a kid or even what you played incessantly on Rdio before it went bankrupt. For example, this is one of my favorite new albums this year: Magnum "Sacred Blood 'Divine' Lies". I adore Magnum, but I hadn't played them on Spotify at all. But my robot knew they were similar to other things it knew I liked. Sometimes music "discovery" is not about discovering things that you don't know, it's about the computer inferring aspects of your taste that you had previously hidden from it.  

3. Variety is good.  

It is in the interest of listeners and Spotify and music makers if people listen to more and more varied music. If all anybody wanted to hear was this once a day -- Adele "Hello" -- there would be no music business and no streaming and no joy or sunlight. Part of my job is to crack open the shell of the sky. Terabrite "Hello". If you are excited to hear what happens next, you will be more likely to pay us $10, and we will pay the artists more for the music you play, and they will make more of it instead of getting terrible day-jobs working for inbound marketing companies, and the world will be a better place.  

4. People like discovering new music.  

They may hate the song you want them to love. They may have a limited tolerance for doing work to discover music, or for trial-and-erroring through lots of music they don't like in order to find it, but neither of those things mean that they wouldn't be thrilled by the right new song if somebody could find it for them. One of you will come up after this to ask me what this song is: Sweden "Stocholm". One of you, probably a different person, will wonder about this: Draper/Prides "Break Over You". I have like a million of those. I mean actually like an actual million of those.  

5. Bernie Sanders is right.  

It is in the interest of the world of music creators if the streaming music business exerts a bit of democratic-socialist pressure against income inequality. The incremental human value of another person listening to "Shake It Off" again is arguably positive, but it's probably also considerably smaller than the value of that person listening to a new song by a new songwriter who doesn't already have enough money to live out the rest of their life inside a Manhattan loft whose walls are covered with thumbdrives full of bitcoins and #1-fan selfies. Anthem Lights "Shake It Off". Taylor, if you're listening, I'm going to keep playing shitty covers of your songs until you put the real ones back on Spotify. That's how it works.  

6. If you're going to try to play people what they actually like, you have to be prepared for whatever that is.  

DJ Loppetiss "Janteloven 2016"  

That's "Russelåter", which is a crazy Norwegian thing where high school kids finish their exams way before the end of the senior year, so in the spring they get together in little gangs, give themselves goofy gang names, purchase actual tour buses from the previous year's gangs, have them repainted with their gang logo, commission terrible crap-EDM gang theme songs from Norwegian producers for whom this is the most profitable local music market, and then spend weeks driving around the suburbs of Oslo in these buses, drinking and never changing their clothes and blasting their appalling theme songs. I did not make this up.  

7. Recommendation incurs responsibility.  

If people are going to give up minutes of their finite lives to listen to something they would otherwise never have been burdened with, it better have the potential, however vague or elusive, to change their life. You can't, however tantalizing the prospect might seem, just play something because you want to. (Aedliga "Futility Has Its Limits") Like I said, you definitely can't do that. If you do that, the robots win.  

Thank you.
Thanks to a couple people's puzzled questions, I just realized that I wrote a pretty great bug a couple days ago in my code that makes the main genre map for Every Noise at Once. It needs to play one example song for each genre, so when my other code that makes a whole playlist for each genre runs, it copies the lead-off song from each playlist into another file for use by the main map. The genre playlists have logic that tries very hard to put songs in order by how well they represent the genre, so the first track is hopefully the one with the best combination of cultural and acoustic relevance. As you go down the list, you get further from the center.  

The line that saved a genre track for use by the main map was inside the loop of code that picked all the genre-playlist tracks. It correctly saved just a single track, so that was good. But it did so every time the playlist code picked any track, not just the first time. So it saved the best track, and then it saved the second-best track over the best track, and it kept doing that until it had saved the worst track on the playlist as the "best" example! And then it smugly stopped.  

It is an oblique and kind of impressive testimony to how well the whole process works that most of the worst examples were basically still plausible. And the bug prompted me to look more closely at the cutoff criteria, and tweak things so that sufficiently dubious tracks towards the end of the genre playlists aren't included at all.  

But as perverse results of small-seeming errors go, that was pretty impressive.
Along with adding a few more genres to Every Noise at Once, I've also just added two more levels of listening depth. So most genres now have three Spotify playlists instead of just one:  

The Sound of...: This is the existing one, which is an attempt at a data-generated algorithmic faintly-canonical introduction to that music. If you don't know the genre that well, this is where to start.  

The Pulse of...: This one uses our core data about the genre to find the listeners who know it best, and then uses the distinctive listening patterns of those listeners to find the genre's current heavy-rotation. This can be a mix of new and old, well-known and obscure, core and fringe. The math is merely organizing the collective will of the fans. For genres you already know well, this one might be more intriguing.  

The Edge of...: This one uses the same approach as The Pulse, but attempts to restrict the results to new and mostly unknown music that the genre's fans have discovered. This is the dangerous frontier, where your safety cannot be guaranteed. Explore with curiosity, and don't be afraid to keep a hand near the Next button.  

There are links to all of these at the top of each genre page. They're also linked in the description of each The Sound Of list.  

 

(There are a few genres that don't have enough new-and-unknown music to produce a meaningful The Edge, and a few that don't have enough listeners to even get a Pulse. But fewer than you might think. It's a big world, and even things you've never heard of usually turn out to be somebody's whole scene.)
For convoluted logistical reasons, the maps on Every Noise at Once haven't been updated in a while. The associated The Sound Of playlists have kept updating every week, but the genre list itself, the artist/genre assignments, and some of the other bits of map infrastructure have been involved in a slow belated technical migration as a result of the acquisition of the Echo Nest by Spotify two years ago.  

But this is all done now, or close enough, and the map is updated and updating again!  

Presumably nobody was really waiting impatiently to find out how many pixels left or right aggrotech should have shifted during this time. Encouragingly, ripping out all the data for the map and replacing it with new data didn't radically change everything. By which I mean, of course, that it initially wrought abject chaos, but after a day or two of frowning at code I wrote a long time ago I got the entropy basically re-contained. Mostly the products of this migration are straightforwardly good, and just magically make everything better. But sometimes the magic fails, and it takes a little human attention to allow the betterness to assert itself properly, so if you notice anything strange, let me know.  

More notably, reactivating the whole system makes it possible to add and remove genres again. A few marginal genres basically got absorbed by the data-fueled expansion of more prominent or interesting things, but mostly the deeper data made it possible to model known things I hadn't been able to include before, and to give names to obscure and/or emerging clusters that our old instruments weren't powerful enough to clearly discern. The net effect takes us to 1435 genres as of today, and these are the new ones:  

african gospel
alt-indie rock
anthem emo
anthem worship
bass trap
beats
chamber choir
chamber psych
channel pop
christian relaxative
cornetas y tambores
czech hip hop
danspunk
deep australian indie
deep big room
deep cumbia sonidera
deep danish pop
deep german pop rock
deep groove house
deep indie r&b
deep latin hip hop
deep melodic euro house
deep new americana
deep pop edm
deep pop r&b
deep southern trap
deep swedish indie pop
deep taiwanese pop
deep underground hip hop
drill
electro bailando
finnish dance pop
fluxwork
francoton
french indietronica
german street punk
groove room
hungarian hip hop
indie anthem-folk
indiecoustica
indie garage rock
indie poptimism
indie psych-rock
indie rockism
kids dance party
kwaito house
lift kit
norwegian indie
otacore
pixie
pop flamenco
pop reggaeton
post-screamo
preverb
redneck
romantico
russelater
slow game
spanish noise pop
spanish rock
strut
swedish eurodance
swedish idol pop
teen pop
tracestep
vapor pop
vapor soul
vapor twitch
voidgaze
west coast trap  

Some of these, to be clear, although not necessarily the ones you think, I made up. That is, they are names I made up for music and listening modes that I did not make up. Whether this makes them "really" genres is an existential question we can debate while we listen.
For a long time, I wrote a verbose, discursive weekly music-review column called The War Against Silence. For most of a decade, my listening life, if not my whole life, was organized around this, and thus procedurally dedicated to filtering through as much new music as I could physically buy and play in order to find a record or two each week to which I could attach some kind of story about what it's like to believe that music is the thing that humans do best.  

In my farewell column I said, among other things, that "Organizing my reactions to new music is no longer the central motif of my narrative of identity."  

I trust that I meant that when I wrote it, so apparently there was at least a moment in my life when it was true. Or, rather, it's still true, but there must have been a moment in my life when it seemed significant. I got married around then, and our daughter is now 8. So of course there's now more to it. I'm pretty sure my "narrative of identity", if I still have such a pompous-sounding thing, is not organized enough to have a central motif.  

But I've only gradually realized how much this is more than just entropy. My attention is, if anything, exponentially more focused on music discovery than ever before. This process used to be logistically constrained by the low bandwidth of pre-internet research and pre-streaming shopping, and the slow pace of album-sized listening, and the constant arbitrary discipline of annotating individual albums with over-explicated life-checkpoints. Now there's Spotify. And since I work there, too, I not only have the Spotify you see, but also a hundred strange extensions and elaborations and experiments that haven't evolved into public features yet. We all have an ocean of sort-of all the world's music to swim in, now, but I also have erratic prototypes of god-robots that can, sometimes, make the currents reflow to bring every yearning message-bottle straight to my private personal beach.  

And partly as a result, but also partly as cause, over the last few years I've more or less inverted my musical attachment-model. I do still listen to whole albums sometimes, and sometimes fall in love intensely with individual artists. But I used to draw the boundary of "my" musical life there, and "exploration" was a pre-listening thing I did on the other side of that line. Only the music I wrote about was really mine; I accepted no responsibility for the rest of it.  

That now seems to me like useless, inexplicable, atavistic and basically intolerable isolationism. I accept responsibility for nothing and everything. There's no line. Exploration is listening, not a way of preparing for listening. I can now spend a happy afternoon immersed in auto-collated Norwegian Hip Hop, and at the end I can't necessarily tell you a single name. But I'm not trying to become a Norwegian Hip Hop specialist, I'm trying to listen. It's all listening. More listening is better. More variety is better. More languages, more instruments, more surprise. More everything. I spend whole days awash in noises I haven't even made up names for yet. Stopping to write a 3000-word essay about every single record seems literally counter-productive and emotionally excruciating, a sacrifice of so much other possible listening that you might as well be summoning death.  

And yet, I still believe that thing about the unexamined life, and hearing without taking some kind of note isn't quite listening. You can't make tools for music discovery without thinking about the process. Without self-awareness and referentiality, you don't have discovery, you have wandering.  

New music still has a market periodicity, too, and my life has obvious weekly cycles, so I've found myself over the last year making weekly playlists of some of the things I come across. And instead of elaborate essays in which the music is used as an excuse for introspection, I've been annotating each track with the shortest possible explanation I can come up with for what I thought it was when I thought it was worth remembering.  

I originally started posting these annotated lists on a discussion board, just as part of an ongoing conversation. But as the conversation underwent its natural dissipation, I keep making the lists, and they settled into a format. And I finally got around to making an actual home for them, because I found myself wanting a better way to keep track. So although I've been making them for almost exactly a year, this is also kind of the beginning.  

Here, then, I introduce to you:  
 

New Particles  
 

It's a weekly annotated-playlist series. Some weeks there's a lot of music, some weeks there's less. In theory some weeks there could be nothing, but that doesn't seem to happen in practice. The annotations are brief and not guaranteed to make sense. The music is not likely to seem coherent to anybody but me, and the odds seem good that, no matter what your tastes, I will regular include some kind of thing you can't stand.  

Why you should care what music seems interesting to me, or why, I don't exactly know. Some people cared about my old column, but this is kind of the formal opposite of that. Maybe this is only for me.  

But I tried to not do it, and failed. So now it exists.  

Welcome!
The 2015 edition of the Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop music-critics poll is out.  

As has been the case for a few years now, since they got tired of me complaining about tabulation errors after they published it, I have been in charge of tabulating it. There is an obvious moral about complaining there. In the process of doing this I generate a lot of additional statistics, because that's a thing I basically can't stop myself from doing even when I'm asleep. There's a Tabulation Notes write-up I did that explains some of it.  

I also vote in the poll. I go back and forth on strategies for this, as I have way more than 10 albums and 10 songs I like in any given year. This year I did a metal-only album ballot and a synthpop-only singles ballot, because those felt like the things I knew the most deeply from the year. Not that this "depth" is actually apparent or significant to anybody but me, but it got me out of voting paralysis.  

Here's my ballot on the Voice's site and on my stats site.  

If you want to listen to a bunch of music that I liked last year, I have also expanded both these 10-entry lists into 100-song playlists, one for metal and one for "non-metal" (also sometimes just called "music").  

A couple days ago The Washington Post published a plaintive T Bone Burnett lament headlined "Our culture loves music. Too bad our economy doesn’t value it."  

The specific outrage that the piece builds from is this quote:  

"In 2014, sales from vinyl records made more than all of the ad-supported on-demand streams on services such as YouTube."  

which comes from this article at The Verge:  

Vinyl sales are more valuable than ad-supported streaming in 2015  

which is referring to this RIAA report:  

News and Notes on 2015 Mid-Year RIAA Shipment and Revenue Statistics  

But if you you read the actual report, you discover that this comparison is wildly and almost certainly deliberately misleading.  

In the case of ad-supported on-demand streaming (a category which, for technical reasons, really only counts YouTube and a small part of Spotify), the report is calculating actual royalties paid to the music industry, which is sensible.  

In the case of vinyl, however, the report is calculating the hypothetical total suggested retail prices of all vinyl albums shipped.  

So:  

- shipped, not sold
- suggested retail prices, not actual prices paid
- suggested gross prices paid to retailers, not net revenue to the music industry after taking into account wholesale prices and manufacturing and distribution costs  

This comparison is insane. It's like saying that your dog is taller than you based on how tall the dog would be if it learned to walk upright on the amazing stilts you dreamed about making.  

Tellingly, the RIAA does not provide any of the figures necessary to accurately correct the comparison, but my rough guess is that the vinyl figure is inflated by a factor of somewhere between 4 and 10.  

A more plausible conclusion, thus, would be something like "Even amidst a crazed temporary vinyl-fetish bubble-market, 'free' ad-supported YouTube and Spotify streams actually made more money for musicians by a wide margin."  

And of course this arbitrary legal streaming category excludes Pandora and other non-on-demand streaming, which added more than twice as much revenue to the music industry, and all paid-subscrition streaming like Spotify Premium, which added three times as much.  

Even more glaringly, the equation also excludes paid downloading, and CDs and other physical formats. But put together, all stream/download-based music sources contributed 4 times as much actual music-industry revenue as the hypothetical total retail value of all the physically-distributed music. So by my 4-10x guess at figure inflation, this would mean that these newfangled demons from the callous musician-hating technology cabal produced somewhere between 16x and 40x as much music-industry support as the old, supposedly-musician-loving physical objects.  

So while I'm not claiming that there aren't still serious systemic problems in the music economy, we're never going to fix them by letting disingenuous numbers lead us on literally counter-productive crusades against the future.  
 

(Minor PS to Burnett: It also makes particularly bad sense to portray Taylor Swift as a defender of musicians in this specific context. When she dramatically took her music off of Spotify, which has both free and paid tiers, she left it on YouTube, which at the time had only a free tier and later changed to exactly the same free/paid model as Spotify. This might be a defensible business decision for her or her corporate backers, but there's no coherent way in which it's a moral one that has anything to do with other people.)  

(PPS for anybody reading this who doesn't already know me: I work at Spotify, but this is my personal blog and these are my personal opinions. I am not directly involved in Spotify business deals or music-industry policy, but I have loved music for far, far longer than I have worked at Spotify, and I wouldn't be doing the latter if I thought it was hostile to the former.)
YOUR IMAGINATION
IS MORE POWERFUL
THAN YOUR ENEMIES
If you like new music but hate text, the Sorting Hat had a lot of both. I've changed it a little, in a way I should probably just explain with a quick before-and-after:  

 

And if pictures aren't exciting enough by themselves, I've hooked up these particular pictures to play preview clips if you click them. Two senses down, three to go.  

I didn't put images on the big list of thousands of releases on the right, because I did and my browser got very sad about it and I had to spend a lot of time apologizing. But you can click the little gray track-count numbers to hear previews on that side of the page, too.  

And if you really, really don't like images, there's a tiny inscrutable gray widget in the top right corner of the page that you can click to put things mostly back how they were before, except a little nicer, and with the previews.  
 
 

PS: In working on this I had another good reminder of the value of already knowing some right answers to the questions you ask. I made a new song of my own last weekend, and it comes "out" today, but when I generated this week's Sorting Hat initially, my song wasn't on the list.  

The reason turned out to be a small, subtle bug that only affected releases by extremely obscure artists (I currently have six (6) monthly listeners), which made it unlikely that I would ever have noticed it if I hadn't been looking for my own song.  

It's fixed now. See if you can figure out which one is mine. I'll give you a hint. It's this one:  

 

Maybe you don't care, but I do, and so does everybody else with 6 listeners who dreams of one day having 12 or even 20.  
 
 

PPS: And if you are interested in discovering interesting music that is not quite as obscure as mine, you might enjoy some of these:  

It's dark and cold and grim, and then the Christmas music starts.  

Whether that makes things better or worse for you is your own decision, but at Spotify we're trying to help you either way.  

So we try to keep Christmas music mostly out of The Needle, which is harder than you might think, because weary Christmas standards being dragged out of the bins show an activity curve disconcertingly similar to that of emergent new hipnesses.  

But this year, instead of just trying to suppress this surge, I decided to suppress it but also chart it. And thus we get this, The Approaching Worms of Christmas:  

 

This chart will be updated every day or two until Christmas, and then maybe a few days afterwards just so we can all feel calmer again.  
 

Watching the worms rise, actually, I also became morbidly curious what all that music was, and so I also also reversed the polarity of my anti-Christmas-music filters for The Needle, to try to only get rising (or re-surfacing) Christmas music. And of course the results of this could only be called Pine Needles:  

 

These will also be updated dailyish until Christmas. I don't actually know whether they will end up reverting to chestnuts, or splaying into unimaginable craziness. We'll see. What's the fun of building a machine if you already know what it's going to do?  
 

At any rate, welcome to the winter. Stay warm. There's music. It'll be OK.
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