Spotify’s Change in Its Shuffle Albums Function, Explained

Adèle’s latest album, 30, dropped on November 19, and around the same time, the superstar asked streaming music giant Spotify to stop making the shuffle option the default on album pages. .

“Our art tells a story and our stories should be heard the way we intended,” she said. tweeted on November 20. The move was applauded on the internet, and it marked a sea change in the way we consume music – from the early 2000s celebration of the shuffle function to a rejection of it by default.

“Most people don’t change the default settings unless they almost have an ideological reason to do so,” says Devon Powers, associate professor at Temple University, whose research focuses on popular music. . “So it’s a big change for a lot of people who have been basically prepped on Spotify.”

Here’s how it happened and what the change means for Spotify. 172 million the subscribers.

What is the shuffle function?

The shuffle function as we know it today was in the spotlight in the early 2000s, with the advent of the iPod, although shuffle music has been around for a very long time. “Shuffle is a way of listening to music, where you give up some control of what’s going on next to a machine or an algorithm,” Powers explains. This means that if you are using a disc changer Where CD changer, or listening to the radio or even your own broken mp3 collection you are mixing music.

But it was on January 11, 2005, when Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod Shuffle, a screenless device smaller than a pack of gum, capable of playing music only randomly, the shuffle function became a national sensation. While other iPods were equipped with a shuffle function, this version referred to this function as an Apple feature.

Even before Apple offered an iPod specifically dedicated to the shuffle, this feature was celebrated. “I’ve seen the future, and it’s called shuffle,” music critic Alex Ross wrote in the New Yorker in 2004. In The Guardian, it was called “a radically different way of meeting music”. The famous scholar Michael Bull noted shuffle has turned its devices into “a treasure trove of hidden delicacies”.

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But there were also reactions from music purists. “Personally, and I think I speak for a lot of old farts here, I enjoy listening to music, whether it’s an opera or a pop album, in the order in which the artist decided to present it”, said marketing professor James Kellaris. Wired in 2004.

Eventually, Apple and the shuffle function became closely linked. “The change has been marked and very closely tied to Apple technology,” says Powers. “Other people were doing it, but Apple seemed to own it. “

How has this affected the way we listen to music?

The existence of the iPod isn’t the only thing that made the shuffle popular. Amanda Krause, a researcher in musical psychology at James Cook University, points out that it was actually iTunes that had the most effect.

“ITunes has really changed the way we buy music, no longer having to buy an album, but having the ability to buy unique songs,” she says. “It started a shift in the mainstream way of listening to music, moving away from albums and playlists.”

Music piracy has also had an effect. In the 90s, downloading a four-minute song could take about three and a half hours. In the 2000s, the mp3 compression format had seen the light of day and the same song could be downloaded in a matter of minutes. As piracy began to increase, people who downloaded music often opted for single tracks because they were faster to download and add to a playlist.

Now we have streaming services, which also encourage random listening because people don’t even have to own the music they are listening to. In general, says Krause, we tend to like music less when we know it too well. Some researchers have suggested this mixing is a way to keep a collection of music fresh, while avoiding the phenomenon of over listening.

“What our digital listening technologies allow us as listeners is a lot of power over how, where and when we listen to music,” says Krause, “so we have more control than ever before, with portable devices that we can take and use anywhere and anytime.

How it works?

Since the early 2000s, people have complained that the shuffle function is not random, often grouping songs from the same singer or genre together.

Steve Jobs came up with a Smart Shuffle feature in response to complaints, a feature that controlled the likelihood of you seeing songs from the same album or artist grouped together, saying “We make it less random to make it more random. “

When the Spotify system was launched, it was using the Fisher-Yates algorithm for brewing. It’s the algorithmic equivalent of randomly picking tickets from a hat until they’re all gone. But like Apple fans, users started to complain about the function.

As software engineer Martin Fiedler wrote on his blog in 2007, “The problem with conventional shuffle algorithms is that they are too random. They lack fairness and even distribution. The human brain likes to find patterns and randomness, and will interpret chance as not being truly random if the same artist performs more than once per hour.

Fiedler created a brewing algorithm that Spotify tweaked to revamp its own brewing function in 2014, which makes it impossible, for example, to hear five Billie Eilish songs in a row in shuffle mode.

So what happens to the shuffle function now?

Powers, of Temple University, have been using shuffle play since high school, when they had a three-disc CD player that could play different tracks from each compact disc. For her, the shuffle embodies the moment when modern technology began to change the way we consume music. “Shuffle represents that beautiful moment in the mid-2000s when people were super excited to have more power over the way they listened to songs,” she says, “but that’s also part of all the things that were happening. back then, like downloading music, and everything, just streaming beginnings, with piracy.

But the shuffle feature isn’t going anywhere, and Spotify’s change doesn’t exactly herald a total change in the way we listen to music, Powers points out. The era of the album as an art form, which spanned from the 60s to the 90s, is pretty much over and musical singles reign supreme.

But plenty of research shows that people rarely change their default settings. For example, a Microsoft to study found that 95% of users kept all features by default. It is the same logic that has led some employers to register automatically their employees in 401k retirement programs because often the employees would not enroll themselves.

So this change from the default album shuffle to something you must opt ​​in means that more people may be about to start listening to albums in the intended order, although they will then switch to those same songs on their playlists in shuffle mode.

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