Spotify Enhance Is Neat, but Music Apps May Be Stuck in the Past

How do we find new music?

Key Takeaways

  • Spotify Enhance slips new songs into your own homemade playlists.
  • Recommendations algorithms only offer more of the same.
  • Human DJs can help you discover new music.
person laying on bed next to a gray radio

Eric Nopanen / Unsplash

Spotify can now "enhance" your homemade playlists, just like computers on TV shows can magically enhance and zoom in on blurred photos. 

Music streaming services are neat—you can listen to anything, anytime. Playlists and AI curation are both great ways to find music, but they’re limited, because they aren’t geared to give you anything new. 

"There is one key element that music streaming services seem to neglect, and that would be a method of picking out music you might otherwise not listen to," writer, filmmaker, and music fan Daniel Hess told Lifewire via email.

"The problem with AI based curation is that it will always cater to what you are currently listening to. It does not challenge your musical preferences or try to help you discover anything new. Even the Discover Weekly section on Spotify takes information from your playlists."

Computer: Enhance

Spotify’s Enhance looks great. Take one of your existing playlists, tap the Enhance option, and it will add extra songs, weaving them between your own selections. You can remove them at any time, and your original playlist is not changed—just enhanced.

Spotify's new Enhance feature as it appears in the mobile app

Spotify

It really is a great idea, and should work well. After all, what better way to seed a limited AI-powered selection than a personally-curated playlist, with every song selected by you?

But still, you end up getting more of the same. In the case of enhancing and extending an existing playlist, more of the same is what you want. But how do you discover anything new?

Radio

We used to find new music on the radio. Forget US commercial radio that pumps out the same decades-old hits, year after year. What we’re talking about are indie stations, pirate stations, and other shows run by enthusiasts. 

UK readers of a certain age will remember John Peel, the rambling eccentric with killer musical taste who hosted a BBC One radio show for almost four decades. It’s hard to overstate the influence Peel had on a generation of listeners, crossing genres and at times even playing almost unlistenable noise.

cassette tapes and radio on wooden table

Abderrahmane Meftah / Unsplash

"It would help immensely to have human elements added to the service. Having someone that could pick out new and emerging artists, or just giving you something out of the ordinary," says Hess. "That is what always made radio great, the fact that not everything that they played was to your taste. Sometimes, it would lead to a station change, but a lot of the [time] that is how you discover your next favorite artist."

How do we get that today? We can follow Bandcamp’s daily blog selections, which are as eclectic as Peel’s. We can follow forums and influencers, or tune in to Dandelion Radio, but that’s the domain of the hardcore music fan. Shouldn’t services like Apple Music and Spotify build this in?

One option would be to make something like Apple’s Apple One radio show, only with less mainstream tastes. Human-curated, and deliberately highlighting new artists, not just promoting the same old acts. Integrating this into the streaming services is perfect, because you can just add those artists to your library with a tap. 

Better AI

We have playlists instead of a grid of albums, but streaming could be so much more. How might apps better pick songs in the future? Some of the ideas are pretty wild. 

"To give an example of this, imagine a wearable gadget that measures your heart rate, levels of endorphins, other hormones and possibly more things like brain waves to determine your mood and current physical state, to then recommend music that will make you feel the best at the current time, based on the song's genre, rhythm, frequency, and lyrics using artificial intelligence," Aleks Brzoska, founder of music-streaming platform Tunezeal, told Lifewire via email. 

"It would help immensely to have human elements added to the service."

Other possibilities can be found in existing apps. The music app Albums lets you drill down into your collection by tapping on the artists, producers, and engineers who worked on the songs, a kind of listenable Wikipedia. 

But maybe it’s not so bad after all. "I actually disagree with the premise that streaming platforms are just giant music collections. In fact, I think the streaming platforms do quite a good job with music recommendations," record-label founder Matt Benn told Lifewire via email.

"Streaming platforms are not perfect, but more new music is being discovered every day than ever before. The recommendations seem to be getting more personal and tailored all the time."

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