https://thebaffler.com/downstream/bi...-machine-pelly

June 10, 2019

MUSIC IS EMOTIONAL, and so our listening often signals something deeply personal and private. Today, this means music streaming platforms are in a unique position within the greater platform economy: they have troves of data related to our emotional states, moods, and feelings. It’s a matter of unprecedented access to our interior lives, which is buffered by the flimsy illusion of privacy. When a user chooses, for example, a “private listening” session on Spotify, the effect is to make them feel that it’s a one-way relation between person and machine. Of course, that personalization process is Spotify’s way of selling users on its product. But, as it turns out, in a move that should not surprise anyone at this point, Spotify has been selling access to that listening data to multinational corporations.

Where other platforms might need to invest more to piece together emotional user profiles, Spotify streamlines the process by providing boxes that users click on to indicate their moods: Happy Hits, Mood Booster, Rage Beats, Life Sucks. All of these are examples of what can now be found on Spotify’s Browse page under the “mood” category, which currently contains eighty-five playlists. If you need a lift in the morning, there’s Wake Up Happy, A Perfect Day, or Ready for the Day. If you’re feeling down, there’s Feeling Down, Sad Vibe, Down in the Dumps, Drifting Apart, Sad Beats, Sad Indie, and Devastating. If you’re grieving, there’s even Coping with Loss, with the tagline: “When someone you love becomes a memory, find solace in these songs.”

Over the years, streaming services have pushed a narrative about these mood playlists, suggesting, through aggressive marketing, that the rise of listening by way of moods and activities was a service to listeners and artists alike—a way to help users navigate infinite choice, to find their way through a vast library of forty million songs. It’s a powerful arm of the industry-crafted mythology of the so-called streaming revolution: platforms celebrating this grand recontextualization of music into mood playlists as an engine of discovery. Spotify is currently running a campaign centered on moods—the company’s Twitter tagline is currently “Music for every mood”—complete with its own influencer campaign.

But a more careful look into Spotify’s history shows that the decision to define audiences by their moods was part of a strategic push to grow Spotify’s advertising business in the years leading up to its IPO—and today, Spotify’s enormous access to mood-based data is a pillar of its value to brands and advertisers, allowing them to target ads on Spotify by moods and emotions. Further, since 2016, Spotify has shared this mood data directly with the world’s biggest marketing and advertising firms.

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