If Spotify Can’t Just Be Spotify Then What Is Even The Point?
At their Stream On event this week, Spotify announced a major redesign. And the bulk of this redesign is about beefing up their Discovery Mode, which The Verge recently dubbed, “part TikTok, part Instagram, and part YouTube.” It’s basically another full screen autoplaying algo-slurry of content.
I learned about this update when most folks did, on Wednesday afternoon. And, guys, I have been mad about this for the last two days. I think I even had a stress dream about it. And not just because Spotify is an app I actually genuinely enjoy and am made happy by and have running all day as I work. But because, as I wrote in the title above, if Spotify feels the need to contort itself into yet another TikTok clone then I’m comfortable saying the entire technological project that is/was web 2.0 has been a tremendous failure. Allow me to explain.
You can think about the last 15 years or so of Big Tech as an era, but you can also think about it as a big attempt at answering a couple big questions that arose at the tail end of the previous era. Those questions are:
How do we give users access to the most content possible without piracy?
How do we get users to pay for content?
How can we pay creators to make increasingly better content?
How do we monetize and utilize user data in non-destructive ways?
And, you know what, as of 2023, Spotify has kind of answered all of these. Have they created perfect solutions? No. I’m not sure perfect solutions even exist. But in terms of trying to find ones that work, I’d say the two most successful web 2.0 platforms have been YouTube and Spotify. And I actually think Spotify is further ahead on most of this stuff than YouTube.
Early on, Spotify was able to cut deals with existing record labels and get them on board for streaming. They created a free ad tier that is fine and, more impressively, created a subscription tier that I, personally, happily pay for because the benefits are worth it. Now, they pay very little per stream to artists, but they do pay. And they also completely redesigned how music discovery worked with Spotify-curated playlists like Rap Caviar and a genuinely pretty decent recommendation algorithm. And, finally, their data tracking is so good that their users literally share what the app knows about them at the end of the year. There’s a reason no other app Spotify’s size has a Wrapped feature. Can you imagine your aunt being like “this is the amount of times I posted in a right-wing militia’s Facebook group this year.”
And for their trouble, Spotify ended 2022 with over $12 billion in revenue, which is up 20% from where they were in 2021. And their user base is also still growing. And if you consider music piracy as the sort of original sin moment of the user-generated content era of the internet, then no other platform has done more to legitimize the social web than Spotify.
But for all the sustainable stability Spotify has achieved, they do have a problem. One that this redesign is clearly meant to address. TikTok has quickly become ground zero for new music discovery. If you’re an American under the age of 30, the majority of the pop music you hear has some sort of relationship with the short-form video app. So Spotify’s solution for this, just as Instagram’s was, is to simply look and feel like TikTok. Which is idiotic because that’s not why TikTok keeps surfacing new artists.
I’m going to guess that the majority of the people reading this have never uploaded anything to Spotify before. I’ve uploaded music (no you can’t hear it) and a podcast to the platform. Both require a middleman. There is no way to simply upload an MP3 or a WAV to the app. For music you have to use an intermediary site like DistroKid and for podcasts you have use something like Podbean or the Spotify-owned Anchor.
The upside of Spotify not having a direct upload function is that the platform is, relatively, free of low-effort junk (and copyright infringement). You can, for the most part, pick an artist, play their music, and then let the app run and it’ll start shuffling songs in that work. Music is also easy to categorize, so recommendation algorithms work pretty well. I have probably listened to every band on Spotify that features four nearly identical looking guys from Minnesota in over-sized T-shirts that scream about being sad and have band names like “grunk.,” “Anchored Down,” or “Racquetball Champs” that put out albums with titles like Home Is In The Rearview Mirror or Dorito Dustbowl. And I actually listen to podcasts on Spotify and I like the interface, but I do think algorithmic podcast recommendations are a failure and will never work, but I won’t get into that right now.
The downside is that without the low-effort junk of a typically user-generated platform, you don’t get the infinite-monkeys-at-typewriters alchemy that produces truly viral pieces of content. You don’t get bizarre remixes, memes, shitposts, or genre cross-pollination. SoundCloud and Bandcamp, in different ways, are good non-TikTok examples of what I’m talking about. SoundCloud gave us SoundCloud rap, SoundClown, and a zillion new niche subgenres like vaporwave, drain, and emo trap. And I’d credit Bandcamp as being the beating heart of the 2010s midwest emo revival along with a handful of other important movements in DIY music over the last 15 years. A lot of that stuff ended up on Spotify, but it doesn’t start there. And that is apparently a problem existential enough to redesign the app on a fundamental level.
TikTok is, at the moment, the most monkeys at the most typewriters you’re going to find on one platform. And it’s scaring everyone. But it shouldn’t! And if Spotify can’t just be Spotify, a stable, growing, incredibly profitable hub for a very specific kind of user interaction with music, with audio, then, truly, what is the point? Put another way: Why even try and build different platforms at all if they’re all just going to become video apps?
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Good Driving Hack
Cat’s Out Of The Bag
VICE has a great piece out about users hacking Facebook’s new AI model to create a racist chat bot. Well, you know, “great piece” in the journalistic sense, not in the “this is good for humanity” sense lol. If you haven’t been following this, Meta is releasing an AI language model called LLaMa. 4chan users leaked it via torrent because Meta, as a company, has never met a rake it didn’t want to step on. This means that, no matter what Meta does next, no matter how they alter subsequent versions of LLaMa, a completely open source version of it exists in the wild now. And VICE spoke to a programmer named Alfredo Ortega who has already used it to create a Discord bot, aptly named, BasedGPT.
Ortega told VICE that it’s not as good as ChatGPT, but a lot more lightweight on processing power. It’s also completely uncensored.
If you’re looking for points of no return when it comes to AI, this would be another one. Like when the open source generative-AI tool Stable Diffusion dropped, the LLaMa leak means this is now out there. Unlike Stable Diffusion, however, any homebrewed versions of LLaMa flying around won’t be official in any capacity. Which really just makes this a fun new tool for the internet’s many bad actors. Cool!
On the flip side, Discord announced an official AI-driven bot that’s coming to the platform next week that I’m actually excited to mess around with. Particularly the whiteboard function, which seems super fun.
Greenpeace Posted A Stim Edit
Reels don’t embed in Substack, but you can check out the video here. It was shared by the verified page for Greenpeace UK and, honestly, I think it’s great. I’m not sure what this says about my own brain chemistry, but I find it’s much easier to focus on what’s being said in a video if I can also occasionally look at someone playing Temple Run or cutting into a colorful ball of clay (seriously).
I saw this on Reddit’s r/ABoringDystopia subreddit and everyone over there was being pretty negative about it, but Greenpeace UK has published a few of these videos and, yes, they have a bunch of confused comments, but the view counts are high! The growth hack works!
I Love This TikTok Edit So Much
So this video is edited. In the real version, which you can check out here, the husband moves around and blinks and talks and stuff. But the edit above is incredibly funny. First, it’s just funny to look at it. And, second, it’s funny that someone would go through the effort of making this.
AI Tucker Carlson Reads The Vaporeon Copypasta
So I am not going to embed this video because it is very NSFW. You can click here to see a Reddit post about it if you so choose. But, once again, it’s very NSFW. It’s an AI version of Tucker Carlson reading an infamous bit of 4chan copypasta from 2018 about the Pokémon Vaporeon. You can see a screenshot of the original 4chan post here.
What is interesting about this, aside from how funny it is, is that it’s a really, really convincing facsimile of Carlson’s voice. If you’ve never tried to use an audio AI tool, the way they work is by analyzing source audio and creating a model that matches the timbre and cadence of the original. The more clean and clear audio you have of a voice, the better the AI version is. Which makes newscasters and TV personalities particularly easy to clone because they’re probably the most professionally produced public figures speaking the most often in a studio environment. Joe Rogan is also a common person to clone because there’s just so much audio of him to analyze.
And it feels like mainstream media hasn’t totally grasped this yet? And it feels like we’re inching closer and closer to an absolute meltdown over this stuff. So, I guess, have with it while it lasts.
YouTube Removed A Video Doxxing Corpse Husband
Corpse Husband, or Corpse, for short, is a Twitch streamer and musician, that is known for having a really deep baritone voice and is completely pseudonymous. He has never publicly revealed his face, but is usually depicted with an avatar of someone who has one red glowing eye and black hair wearing a face mask that’s sort of a mash up of Frank the Bunny from Donnie Darko and Ken Kaneki from the anime Tokyo Ghoul. If those references mean anything to you, then you can imagine what kind of music Corpse makes.
A YouTuber named ShamPee recently made one of those “rise and fall” kind of videos about Corpse, titled, “Why Corpse Husband Abandoned his Audience” and used footage that showed Corpse’s face and home address. YouTube was super fast in taking down the video, but it did cause a whole bunch of backlash not dissimilar from when fellow pseudonymous Minecraft streamer Dream unmasked himself a few months ago.
In both instances, the fan art couldn’t really live up to the fact that they’re, you know, just normal looking human beings who aren’t actually anime boys. Which is sort of the double-edged sword of the pseudonymous e-celeb thing. If you allow the internet’s imagination to run wild, the result can be extremely powerful, but it can create a whole lot of energy to manage.
The timing of the Corpse doxx though is interesting. He’s putting out new music that sounds a bit different than his older material, so it’s possible he’s slowly coming around to an actual face reveal or at least some kind of new era.
Goats Eat Tomatoes
Some Stray Links
“MrBeast and Chill? What Lies Beyond Peak Streaming” (I wrote this one!)
P.S. here’s the amen break pig.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
this is why physical media is important to collect. also, burning cds off of soulseek is a great hobby and makes great “novelty” gifts (lol) in the year of 2023
Feel free to delete Ryan, but you just make people more ravenously curious when you say they can't listen! https://thetallboys.bandcamp.com/album/hangovers