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Spotify’s layoffs doomed its best (unofficial) music discovery resource

Spotify sucks at new music discovery. That’s not exactly a hot take considering how long users have been complaining about it over the years, but it used to be much easier to forgive when alternative services like Pandora and SoundCloud could help to make up for Spotify’s shortcomings. With the company’s domination over the music streaming industry now becoming difficult to ignore, it’s getting harder to organically find new songs and artists — especially on the Spotify platform itself.

As a near-decade-long Spotify Premium subscriber, one of my favorite workarounds was Every Noise at Once — a website created by Spotify data alchemist Glenn McDonald that essentially served as a directory that mapped out and tracked each music genre hosted on the platform. Until recently, clicking on one of the over 6,000 music genres available showed a list of artists under that genre, popular tracks within the genre, and new and undiscovered releases. That changed in December 2023, when McDonald became one of the over 1,500 employees impacted by Spotify’s layoffs and, in the process, lost access to the data required to update Every Noise at Once.

You can still rummage through the genre map on the Every Noise at Once website (pictured), but it’s no longer being updated with new music.
Image: Glenn McDonald / Every Noise at Once

Every Noise at Once was never an official Spotify resource. According to a recent interview with TechCrunch, McDonald created the website while working at The Echo Nest, a music intelligence firm that Spotify acquired in 2013. His genre mapping data was eventually built into native Spotify features like “Daily Mixes” and “Fans also like” recommendations. McDonald is even responsible for naming niche genres like “escape room” that gained attention after appearing on people’s 2020 Wrapped playlists. 

You can still access Every Noise at Once to browse the immense encyclopedia of music genres that McDonald accumulated, but it now serves as a time capsule. No new artists or music can be added, and if anything breaks, McDonald won’t be able to fix it. That means Spotify users will have to navigate through the streaming service directly to discover up-and-coming tunes, which is easier said than done.

Spotify’s music discovery is a walled-off garden

I can’t recall the last time that Spotify recommended a user-made playlist to me over numerous options assembled directly by the platform.
Image: Spotify

The platform has launched a bunch of different discovery features in recent years. We got Spotify Mixes in 2021, which are playlists themed around particular artists, genres, and decades featuring songs you already listen to, alongside similar tracks that Spotify thinks you’d like. Niche Mixes, which follow the same process, only with quirkier music genres like “goblincore” and “funeral doom” that McDonald possibly had a hand in naming, came later, in March 2023. Around the same time, Spotify DJ was introduced — another customized playlist feature with an AI “host” that provides commentary over what’s being played.

The novelty of these greatly entertained me for a few weeks after they rolled out but quickly became stale when I realized I was being fed much of the same recommended music repeatedly across each mix, effectively building my listening experience into a walled-off bubble. Playlists created by other users within the Spotify community continue to be an alternative option, of course, but these are poorly promoted compared to Spotify’s own recommendations, even when you’re manually searching for something with a specific vibe.

It’s made the process of discovering new music on Spotify a real farce, despite the company redesigning its homescreen last year to improve that very issue, taking inspiration from TikTok’s superior platform for new artist discovery. In a Decoder interview back in March 2023, Spotify co-president Gustav Söderström called its relationship with TikTok “symbiotic.”

Last year, Spotify co-president Gustav Söderström said the company was working to improve music discovery

“Most of the foreground discovery has happened there, but fortunately for us, so far and still, we get almost all the background listening from that discovery. It trickles down to us,” said Söderström, before adding that the company is working to improve music discovery directly via Spotify.

I certainly haven’t noticed any improvements since that interview. If anything, the current Spotify user experience has made me more nostalgic for outdated “internet radio” services that provided more user control, like Pandora and 8tracks, which previously led me to discover then-emerging performers like Hozier and Billie Eilish before they had even released their first albums. And because TikTok is now the service introducing me to up-and-coming artists like The Last Dinner Party before they’re featured on mainstream radio stations, I’m sorely tempted to see if its dedicated music streaming platform can serve me better than Spotify has, even with the loss of Universal Music Group’s catalog.

What Every Noise at Once provided to Spotify users was simplicity — a set of basic discovery features that allowed people to explore new genres and browse new music within those genres without filtering through a deluge of algorithmic recommendations. It’s a native utility that Spotify is noticeably lacking, despite having the data readily available to implement it if the company wished to do so. If it is something that Spotify is planning to introduce, then I can only hope McDonald receives the credit he sorely deserves — the ever-updating music encyclopedia he created with Every Noise at Once was truly one of the best things about Spotify, despite never being an official part of the service.

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