Are you genre fluid? A new collaboration on Spotify by Cheng Lin and Benjamin LeBrun

Are you genre fluid? A new collaboration on Spotify by Cheng Lin and Benjamin LeBrun

A new student collaboration is out. It’s called “Streaming Bias: studying music curation on Spotify” and represents the lab’s first attempt at studying online music content. Lin and LeBrun did an amazing job in conceptualizing the project and working tirelessly from data collection to analysis to writing a great piece.

Their data consisted of collecting song information over the course of 16 weeks for 148 of the most popular playlists on Spotify, resulting in a collection of 198,435 playlist entries and 20,017 unique songs. They divided their playlists between Spotify-curated lists and “user-generated” lists to assess differences in curatorial practices when it comes to making playlists.

Some of their major findings:

  • men artists comprise 76% of the tracks in their dataset and occupy more genres (see figure below)
  • however they did not find that women artists were subject to higher popularity requirements to be included in lists
  • like most creative industries (including academia), there are high levels of concentration around leading artists. 10% of artists accounted for 55% of space on playlists
  • Spotify curated playlists will include tracks with low popularity (but not artists), while user-curated lists only include tracks with higher popularity
  • this has to do with one of the interesting findings they discovered during their research: “user-generated” actually mostly means “record label” generated. All top user-generated playlists were dominated by a few record labels. While some were clear about acknowledging this through their playlist names, others were not.

Cheng and LeBrun’s work is the first of its kind (to our knowledge) to study curatorial behaviour with respect to music streaming. Once again, they have shown how the arts are dominated by men as well as high levels of concentration within the industry — a winner-take-all art system. Along the way they also discovered revealing fingerprints of that perennial bump-in-the-night Bogeyman, the record label.