There used to be nothing appealing about the arrival of Monday mornings. After a too-short weekend, all that awaited was an hour-long commute and a busy week of work. But a few months ago, during said commute, I stumbled upon a playlist while listening to Spotify on my phone. Well into my ride, I realized I hadn’t once skipped a track, something that rarely happened when I decided to try new music. While I had never heard any of the songs that were playing, strangely enough, the mix was exactly the kind of music I loved to listen to.
That was my first encounter with Discover Weekly, an algorithm-made playlist of 30 songs released every Monday morning on Spotify. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on it—and I found out I wasn’t alone. Since Discover Weekly launched last July, it has become one of the most successful features of the company. Last week, Spotify shared that more than 40 million listeners had subscribed to the weekly-curated mixtapes. And more than half of those listeners, like myself, were returning every week for more.
All of the streaming services (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Pandora) have similar browsing pages with album covers or radio stations that recommend music based on your taste. But Spotify’s Matt Ogle, who oversees discovery and personalization at the company, saw that no one was really using those recommendation features. “One of our hunches for why that was [happening] was that it was a little too much work,” he said. “It was a bit like the virtual equivalent of going to the record store and starting with A and going through the stacks.” Ogle and his team landed on the idea of creating an automatized playlist of new music every week that users could simply press “play” and let roll.
The genius of Discover Weekly, though, isn’t its convenience; it’s just how scary good it is at finding music you’ll eventually find yourself playing on repeat. Its weekly recommendations pull from all corners of Spotify’s immense catalog. You might find songs and remixes from popular artists you’ve somehow never heard before, or new releases by indie bands that don’t even have a full record out yet, or a track from an obscure group from Brazil. For example, a recent mix of mine contained songs from Lana Del Rey, The Bird and the Bee, BOSCO, Alabama Shakes, and a band called Dirty Art Club. “Even though there’s an algorithm programming it for you, we wanted to feel a bit like a friend, a bit like a mixtape,” said Ogle.
There are two main ingredients that help the algorithm do its job. First, it breaks down your music profile by taking a look at what you’ve been listening to and emphasizing your most recent plays. Then it searches for user-generated playlists that feature those same songs, and pulls other tracks from the same mix. The algorithm is essentially finding other people out in the world who have your same taste in music and harnessing their preferences into a mix especially for you. (Be forewarned: These perfectly curated playlists are ephemeral and disappear every Monday to make room for a new collection of songs—so save your music!)
Discover Weekly doesn’t just benefit music lovers every Monday either; it has also done wonders for up-and-coming musicians who have found a new way to disseminate their music online. More than 8,000 artists on Spotify had half of their total listeners find them on Discover Weekly. “The power of online is that it can level the playing field,” said Ogle. “If this many millions of people get into this habit every Monday, it’s a really big opportunity for artists to get heard that wouldn’t otherwise.”