The power of music streaming platforms

March 15, 2022

Music is often what embodies life’s vivid emotions and moments, comforting us during difficult times. But, music is also a medium for artists to share their diverse stories and express their message. Streaming platforms, the most popular being Spotify, have the gift of amplifying the voices of musicians through playlists that are curated by users or the platform themselves.

Dougherty Valley music lovers curate unique, personal playlists

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Courtesy of Keira Punsal depicting Spotify interface

Freshman Keira Punsal is one of many Dougherty Valley students that creates original music playlists using Spotify to personalize her listening experience.

Few things are more personal than music. Good songs can become auditory memories, forever linked to important events in one’s life, or as sources of comfort to return to throughout the years like a worn patchwork quilt. Decades ago, making a mixtape for a friend was a gift of utmost intimacy. For teenagers today, streaming has long since replaced the iPod or Walkman, but platforms like Spotify give them the freedom to curate their own original playlists, with each one becoming a personal digital keepsake just as valuable as any physical memento.

Music streaming companies understand the importance of a perfectly-curated playlist and often hire employees specifically for that purpose. It’s the easiest way to help listeners navigate the flood of songs and artists on their screen. But their tactics are often more money- than user-oriented.

Screenshot of a spotify playlist
Courtesy of Keira Punsal

According to a 2017 Music Business Journal article from the Berklee College of Music, Spotify allows major labels to “pay-to-playlist” to increase the exposure of their artists’ new tracks. In fact, the three most popular non-Spotify playlisting companies are all owned by major record labels and aim to increase brand loyalty by promoting their own songs.

Spotify also looks to gain revenue from “cultural moments,” like spikes in streams after certain TikTok trends. Playlist curators use complex algorithms like BART, or Bandits for Recommendation as Treatments, which is supposed to introduce music that the listener hasn’t heard before.

All of these strategies prioritize profits and, for many, eliminate the organic feel of user-curated playlists which are indiscriminate toward the commercial success of the artists included. As a result, Dougherty Valley students favor making their own playlists. Each student has different approaches when curating their music libraries, and as a result, their library becomes a deeply personal extension of their character.

Freshman Keira Punsal prefers her original playlists over pre-made playlists because she finds the curation process to be a creative outlet.

“[My playlists] have emotions and feelings specific to me, unlike the ones on Spotify,” she said. “One of my playlists is called ‘idols,’ [with songs by] people I look up to. Another one, my favorite, is ‘bookstore boy bumps into bookstore girl.’ I love making playlists to romanticize my life through situations that have never happened to me.”

DVHS Music Club secretary Advik Nigam, a junior, enjoys creating original playlists because “it gives people an insight on who I am as a person, or even a musician. I might come up with ideas of structuring a playlist in a way someone else might not.”

Screenshot of Spotify playlist
Courtesy of Advik Nigam

Two of his playlists, “songs i wish i wrote” and “songs i wish i produced,” are filled with music that inspires him.

“[Each song has] something I’ve always wanted to say or hear in a song,” he described of the former playlist, listing FINNEAS’ “Love Is Pain” and Haley Joelle’s “The Boy From Class” as two examples.

Senior Lorenzo Velazco finds comfort in his original playlists, often listening while doing homework.

“I mostly listen to mellow music that I play in the background,” he said. “So I like my playlist ‘Lo tempo’ because it has most of my favorite artists and it isn’t too fine-tuned. I started adding songs in 2019 and add more songs spur-of-the-moment when I listen.”

He noted that the evolution of his song preferences is visible in the progression of the playlist, and that when shuffling, he can listen to both old favorites and new discoveries: “My music taste has changed a lot over the years but music itself remains a huge constant in my life.” 

Screenshot of a Spotify playlist
Courtesy of Lorenzo Velazco

In addition to the songs themselves, Dougherty Valley students have the liberty of choosing their own names and cover images for their playlists. For example, a search for “Spotify playlist covers” returns thousands of images on Pinterest. Many students organize these playlist cover images by a particular color theme or design aesthetic to create a sense of cohesion.

Punsal’s Spotify library, for one, utilizes subdued, dreamlike paintings as cover images that depict scenes she feels relate to each specific playlist.

Velazco, for another, said, “The artwork [I use as cover images] doesn’t really match with the music itself, but I formulate an image of what the playlists represent in my mind to choose them. It doesn’t make sense for other people.”

Still others prefer setting their own photos of moments with friends as cover images, viewing each playlist as a documented scrapbook entry in their lives.

Screenshot of a Spotify playlist
Courtesy of Pallavi Sengupta

An additional reason students prefer the versatility of Spotify is that the platform’s sharing functions are available for them to make unique playlists for their friends, not unlike customized mixtapes of the past. Senior Pallavi Sengupta fondly remembers exchanging playlists with close friend Natalie Hangad, another senior.

“There were some weird songs on [the playlist] I got,” Sengupta said. “Spotify doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

Punsal agreed: “I love making playlists for friends and [giving] them recommendations…Music is diverse so I think sharing it is really cool and personal.”

She added that, as an aspiring singer-songwriter herself, she often finds inspiration from lesser-known artists while curating new playlists, as the process helps her discover music she normally wouldn’t find on mainstream playlists.

Many students today have complex tastes for diverse types of music due to the sheer availability of songs to stream. They often use classifications that don’t fall under Spotify’s system of sorting by genre or mood and appreciate the ability to curate music to their taste, however specific it may be.

Nigam creates playlists by specific key and carefully orders them by release date— an unconventional yet meticulous approach that exemplifies his love for music.

“[Sometimes] the music nerd in me thinks, ‘I need a little B-flat major today,’ and then I know exactly where to go,” he said.

Spotify’s EQUAL initiative amplifies the voices and music of female musicians across the globe

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Kimberly Cui

Spotify’s EQUAL global initiative connects the world to hundereds of overlooked female musicians.

From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of female artists fell from 22.5% to 20.2%, according to  a Spotify-funded study done by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Institute. The study, which took into account 900 top songs of the last nine years, also saw a drop in the percentage of female songwriters and producers within the same time period. The study brings to light the increasing erasure of women in the music industry, an anomaly in our otherwise “progressive” society.

Though the disparity feels massive and almost overwhelming, Spotify has taken a step in the right direction through their EQUAL initiative, which was launched as a response to the USC Annenberg study. Among numerous other projects, the initiative brought about the creation of the EQUAL Hub, a space to showcase the work of female artists across the globe. 

The hub contains 35 “EQUAL local” playlists with female musicians from over 50 countries and each month, a new artist is featured on her respective country’s local playlist and receives promotion to help her reach new heights.

“With billions of songs and millions of podcasts on Spotify, it’s easy for fans to default to what they know and love best,” Marian Dicus, Spotify’s Vice President and Global Co-head of Music, told Forbes. “But the EQUAL Hub makes it easy for fans to engage directly with women creators and their content helps to increase awareness amongst fans so that more people listen, ensuring their music shapes the future.”

For listeners looking to quickly and easily sample these playlists, Spotify has something for that as well.”

For listeners looking to quickly and easily sample these playlists, Spotify has something for that as well. Their EQUAL Global playlist serves as a “flagship” and is updated regularly, displaying a mix of songs from a diverse set of women. 

If you’re interested in the playlist, maybe you press shuffle. Your listening journey could go something like this.

First up, “Phải Chăng Em Đã Yêu?” by Vietnamese artist Juky San. The song, which directly translates to “Reasonably I Fell in Love,” is about a charming and wonderful romance. The sweet melody perfectly conveys this feeling, despite the language barrier that might put some people off.

Then, “Deny Me,” a single from singer-songwriter Ananya Birla. This song is quite a turnaround from the last one but is just as good, featuring a strong beat and an empty chorus that fuse to create a memorable sound. 

The playlist might transition to Venezuelan singer Corina Smith’s “Obviamente.” It’s laid-back and relaxed, but the way Smith hits each beat with her voice also makes it great to dance to. Or maybe it sends you in the opposite direction to “a woman is a god” by Tommy Genesis, a fast-paced song that is as intense as it is stripped-back. “If a man is a man / Then a woman, a woman is a god,” Genesis murmurs, which is a message that we can all get behind.

Next, “Culpa” by Chilean musician Javiera Mena will flood your headphones with an addictive drumbeat and sultry vocals. The track is compelling in a way that is characteristic of so many of Mena’s songs.

If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter “Stereotype” by Korean girl group STAYC. It’s a bubbly, playful pop song, and definitely a standout track on this playlist. Each verse lets their unique vocals shine through, building up to a chorus that you’ll be singing for days. A deep-dive into their discography (like I found myself doing) would tell you that the inexplicably nostalgic nature of this song is imbued in all of STAYC’s music.

Last in the queue might be “Pesan Terakhir,” a hit from Indonesian singer Lyodra. Her voice is as clear as glass, lifted up by a sweeping melody that sounds straight out of a fairytale. The song is so gorgeous, but one I would never have found without this playlist.

The beauty of the EQUAL initiative is this: No matter what songs you experience, it’s sure to introduce you to something that you’ve never even thought of trying. That’s something that makes all the difference for hundreds of overlooked female musicians.

“The audio we consume should reflect the diversity of the world we live in,” explained Dicus. “[W]omen deserve to see themselves, and hear themselves, represented throughout it.”

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