Just how much music streaming is or isn’t like traditional radio has been much debated in recent times, not least in the UK where the answer may influence any decision to apply broadcast-style ‘equitable remuneration’ to streaming royalties.
With that in mind, Spotify has made a very interesting announcement today: it’s launching an AI-powered DJ feature – as in radio DJ – driven by a partnership with one of the companies making headlines in the field of creative AI: OpenAI.
“This feature, first rolling out in beta, will deliver a curated lineup of music alongside commentary around the tracks and artists we think you’ll like in a stunningly realistic voice,” explained Spotify in its announcement this afternoon.
“It will sort through the latest music and look back at some of your old favorites – maybe even resurfacing that song you haven’t listened to for years. It will then review what you might enjoy and deliver a stream of songs picked just for you.”
OpenAI’s role in this is supplying the generative AI system behind the commentary side of this, although Spotify was notably keen to stress that “we put this in the hands of our music editors to provide you with insightful facts about the music, artists, or genres you’re listening to”.
“The expertise of our editors is something that’s really important to our philosophy at Spotify,” it added, in what seems a clear attempt to stave off ‘AI putting the humans out of work’ reactions to the news.
(Spotify is right to give humans a strong input, though. There have been enough stories about chatbots going rogue in recent years to make any streaming service wary of letting a generative-AI-powered DJ say whatever they like about artists between tracks. Imagine the ramifications if it started defaming Taylor Swift, repeating Kanye West’s anti-semitic comments, or having a Bing-style breakdown…)
The other tech company involved in Spotify’s new AI DJ is Sonantic, the text-to-speech startup that Spotify acquired for €91m in June 2022. Spotify applied that company’s technology to voice recordings from its head of cultural partnerships, Xavier Jernigan, who clearly has a good radio voice since he’s already hosted Spotify’s ‘The Get Up’ morning podcast.
For now, the new feature is only available in the US and Canada for Spotify’s premium subscribers, accessed from the homescreen of its mobile app.
“I’m personally so excited about DJ because we’re able to harness this power to tell an artist’s story, to be able to provide context around their work and their songs in a broader cultural arena like never before,” said Spotify’s global head of editorial Sulinna Ong in a statement.
In its announcement, Spotify also claimed that its early tests of the tech indicated that “when listeners hear that additional audio context alongside their music recommendations, they’re more willing to try something new and listen to a song they may have otherwise skipped”.
This is not the first time an AI-driven, radio-style DJ has been developed for streaming services, note. A startup called Super Hi-Fi developed exactly this technology, telling us about it in 2019. The company subsequently worked with text-to-speech firm WellSaid on an iteration of this DJ called ‘ANDY” in October 2021. It was capable of linking music tracks as well as reading out news stories, weather reports and ads.
Another startup, Radiant, created its own AI radio DJ called ‘Rad’ for a mobile app that tapped Spotify for its music. We profiled that company in 2020. Like other third-party apps, it encountered challenges when Spotify closed its native streaming SDKs in 2022, although a quick fix got it back up and running.
Spotify’s news today is the highest-profile, widest-scale test of this kind of technology so far, as the world’s biggest [subscription] music service continues its steady evolution towards something that’s still far from a facsimile of traditional radio, but nevertheless borrows some of the key features from that older medium.
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