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Spotify’s audio revolution

“The bet we’re making with the whole company is that audio is now software,” Spotify’s chief R&D officer Gustav Söderström told me yesterday. “And once it’s software, it’s going to start moving faster.”

Things really are changing at Spotify. The company made a slew of announcements yesterday: More automatic playlists, more dynamic ad tools, a HiFi version of the service, paid subscriptions for podcasters, a podcast starring Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen that missed a huge opportunity to be called “Rad Dads,” and a bunch more.

  • Underpinning it all is the idea that audio can be more interactive and more collaborative. The first iteration of that, Söderström said, came in things like the music-and-talk playlists that users can already make.
  • But Spotify wants to do for audio what TikTok made possible for videos, or Snapchat’s AR filters for photos. Söderström is trying to innovate, because there’s just more you can do with more flexible tech.

One thing that isn’t changing: Spotify’s love for podcasts. And a big to-do on its list is trying to figure out how to solve podcast discovery. Its machine-listening tech has been transcribing and summarizing every podcast episode on the platform, to make them searchable but also to make it easier to understand them.

  • The tech isn’t perfect, Söderström said, but it’s enough to get the gist. It might not help you search for one specific recipe, but it knows when a podcast is about, say, cooking, or even about vegan cooking.
  • And as language models continue to improve — which is happening fast — Spotify’s system will get smarter about every podcast it listens to.
  • Listener data is the most important thing, though. The “other people who liked this podcast also liked that podcast” algorithm is still hugely important. And Söderström even said that the music people listen to is a pretty solid predictor of the podcasts they’ll like.

Spotify still wants to be a good citizen of the audio world, Söderström said, making podcasts available outside the platform and giving its tools to anyone. But he’s really excited about what’s possible when the industry gets off open-but-old standards like MP3s and RSS. “You can see it already,” he said. “We’re adding formats, like you can add feedback and Q&A. We think audio is just going to start evolving like crazy again, because it’s now just software.”

Vic
Editor / Writer / Producer For Drop the Spotlight