Spotify’s New AI DJ Could Drive You Crazy or Find You Great New Tunes

But does it really have to talk so much?

  • Spotify's AI DJ picks songs and tells you about them
  • It's like the radio, only personalized and without all those '90s 'hits.'
  • Human DJs are one of the best ways to find new music.
A radio dj in a studio.

Marc Romanelli / Getty Images

Spotify is bringing back one of the most annoying features of radio: the talking DJ.

Back in the old days, I used to tape top 40 hits off the radio, and many of those recordings ended up with the DJ's chatter over the beginning or end. I always suspected this was a not-so-subtle anti-piracy measure. Now, Spotify is using an AI-generated voice, in the form of the new Spotify AI DJ, to talk between songs on personalized playlists. But why? Is DJ chatter worth bringing back, or was it the worst part of music on the radio?

"I was a DJ at a cool little rock club, The Beat in Port Chester, NY, back in the '90s. Moby was one of the other DJs. I rarely spoke at all unless it was a fresh track I was introducing for the first time. So, I'm not a fan of DJs inserting themselves into the music experience in general, and skeptical about how an AI-generated DJ experience would be an improvement," Ann Henningsen, owner of artist development company 360 Degrees of Media, told Lifewire via email. 

Spotify'a AI DJ

AI (artificial intelligence) is the hot new thing in tech, and everybody is trying to force it into their product, from Bing’s existentially-challenged Sydney chatbot to today’s news: Spotify’s AI DJ. It combines personalized playlists with a DJ voice that addresses you by name, tells you why it’s picking songs, and maybe tells you a little about them. It sounds like a terrible idea, but listen for yourself in this promo clip from Spotify. It’s actually kind of neat. 

The benefit to Spotify is clear. One, it's a neat gimmick that makes it stand out. And two, it might end up with people listening to more entire songs instead of skipping tracks. 

"AI curated playlists help the streaming platform by generating more songs less likely to be skipped by each individual listener," music producer Orville Wright told Lifewire via email. 

Spotify pays labels per play, so if you keep skipping tracks before the end, you can listen to more songs. Reducing the number of streamed songs is probably also behind Spotify's push into podcasts and audiobooks

Chatty AI

AI playlists are conceptually the same as regular old algorithmically-generated playlists. They’re just software using programmed or self-learned criteria to come up with songs you might like. We’ll have to wait and see if AI does a better job than other automatic recommendation engines. But at least Spotify’s DJ has free rein over the choices it makes, unlike most human radio DJs. 

"The worst thing about radio since the '90s when it turned into like two companies owning pretty much all the stations in the country; individual DJs lost all programming power, and it just became this corporate monolith structure, musical McDonald’s?” Eleot Reich and Christopher Lowe of Nashville indie-rock duo VOLK told Lifewire via email. 

Someone listening to a boombox walking down the street.

Cecille_Arcurs / Getty Images

On the other hand, there might be nobody better than human DJs when it comes to finding new music. Instead of trying to guess what you might like (and getting it wrong 90 percent of the time in my experience), which is what the music-recommendation engines do, DJs play things they themselves dig, and if your tastes line up, then you’ll be in music-discovery heaven. 

Many folks have experienced a great college or local radio DJ who sings the most amazing tunes. UK readers may remember John Peel, an incredibly eclectic magpie of a DJ, who turned more than one generation onto all kinds of rad tunes. 

"If the AI were programmed to be more like, say... college radio where the DJs there seem more interested in music that pushes the envelope rather than regurgitating the status quo... then maybe it could be a good thing,” says VOLK.

The problem with human DJs is that they have to be paid. And for a streaming service serving multiple genres, you’d probably need a lot of them.

So, depending on your point of view, Spotify’s AI DJ might be just another way to pay humans as little as possible while maximizing profits, or it could be a neat twist on the current trend of AI-powered gimmicks. You decide.

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