February 26, 2024

The layoffs at Spotify put an end to a musical encyclopedia, and fans are angry

In a brutal way On December day, 17% of Spotify employees found out they had been laid off last year during the company’s third round of job cuts. Not long after, music fans around the world realized that the cult-favorite website Every Noise at Once (EveryNoise), an encyclopedic goldmine of music discovery, was no longer working.

These two events were not unrelated. Spotify data alchemist Glenn McDonald, who created EveryNoise, was one of 1,500 employees laid off that day, but his dismissal had wider implications; now that McDonald doesn’t have access to internal Spotify data, he can no longer maintain EveryNoise, which became a crucial resource for the most obsessive music fans to follow new releases and learn more about the sounds they love.

“The project aims to understand the listening communities that exist in the world, to find out what they are called, which artists are in them and what their audience is,” McDonald told TechCrunch. “The goal is to use math where you can to find real things that exist in listening patterns. So I see it as an attempt to help global music organize itself.”

If you work at a large tech company and get fired, you probably don’t expect the company’s customers to write nine pages of complaints on a community forum and tell your former employer how badly they messed up by firing you. You wouldn’t expect a flood of Reddit threads either tweets and wondered how you could get the axe. But this is how fans reacted when they learned of McDonald’s fate.

“I know without Glenn we’ve suffered a huge permanent loss, but if Spotify doesn’t do something to save what it can, I’ll happily drop it like a pile of hot garbage,” wrote one fan in the Spotify community. forum. “I will keep an eye on Glenn and where he ends up; it will probably be a service that really cares about music and its superusers (and its employees!).”

Another fan added: “Spotify doesn’t have the Netflix problem of dwindling content. Spotify has an unfathomably large music catalog and better metadata about that music than any organization on Earth has ever managed to collect, and Everynoise was an honest and highly successful attempt at making that music self-discoverable for those willing to do so. take the effort.”

And to quote a more succinct complaint: ‘Every sound was my library of Alexandria, and you are burning it from within. Stop it.”

McDonald created EveryNoise while working at The Echo Nest, a music information company that Spotify acquired in 2013. The site features a map of more than 6,000 music genres, which you can click on to hear music samples in every genre, from pagan black metal to Australian rockabilly. According to data from Zekereweb, EveryNoise averaged approximately 633,227 monthly web visits in 2023.

Whenever he came across a genre that didn’t have a name, he usually tried to name it as simply as possible: something like Bulgarian trap or Italian post-punk.

“I always thought this was part of what’s interesting about talking about music in general – the shared vocabulary we use to talk about music,” McDonald said.

But every now and then he took some creative liberty. One of his favorite genre names is “escape room,” which spawned a few memes when it appeared on a number of users’ Spotify Wrapped after he added it in 2020.

“It was added in an attempt to understand how people’s listening is organized, and I could see this cluster of artists that was Lizzo, and everything around Lizzo in every direction. I couldn’t think of a descriptive name for it at all, but it was kind of an escape from the roots of trap music, and it was about the time that escape rooms were starting to become big, so I thought let’s call it “escape.” room,” he said. “It was great to see people complaining, like, ‘What the hell is an escape room?’, and then finding ‘The Sound of Escape Room’ on Spotify and seeing, ‘Oh, those are all the artists who I like.'”

When Spotify bought The Echo Nest, the data McDonald collected and hosted on EveryNoise became the foundation of Spotify’s genre system. McDonald’s database supports the “Fans Also Like” feature, which appears on every artist page; Additionally, Spotify’s personalized ‘Daily Mix’ feature came from a project McDonald created at The Echo Nest.

“The genre project became Spotify’s genre system,” McDonald explains. “It’s my visualization of a dataset that was originally from the Echo Nest, which is now from Spotify, and that I worked on and was the lead curator of, and wrote all the algorithms and tools for. I wasn’t the only one adding genres. Many people over the years have helped build the data structure that powers some of the things at Spotify.”

Even though a feature isn’t directly tied to EveryNoise, the project’s meticulous categorization of every single genre means McDonald’s fingerprints are on dozens of Spotify features, even those he didn’t actually work on. The meticulous and ever-expanding map of the music genre provides the data that informs products like the viral Daylist, or many of the stats on Spotify Wrapped that fans share like wildfire.

McDonald has contributed to a number of Spotify Wrapped features over the years, such as Soundtowns, top genres, listening personalities and a Tarot-like feature. Soundtowns, which shows users which geographic location most closely matches their music tastes, was one of the most viral stories on Wrapped this year.

“Soundtowns specifically was an idea that I had internally, and people picked it up and said we wanted to do it, and I helped the guys who were doing that particular story to make sure it was successful,” McDonald told TechCrunch. “These are things we do because we love music, and we want people to have these experiences.”

But it was just days after Wrapped came out that Spotify made such staggering layoffs.

“The people like me who worked on Wrapped and then got fired had half a week to enjoy the work – we created the most viral thing on the internet again,” McDonald said. “The timing with the layoffs and Wrapped was just sad. I got my swag for contributing to Wrapped after I was fired.

EveryNoise was perhaps most popular for its New Releases feature, which allowed fans to easily browse new music filtered by genre – that might seem like something Spotify would have, but it’s not.

“I used Everynoise constantly, not only to discover new genres, but also to find new releases in genres I already cared about,” wrote a fan on the same community forum. “Spotify is sorely lacking features that support natural and user-led discovery and I used this site to help bridge Spotify’s failure.”

Spotify has an API for developers, but it’s not as extensive as the internal data McDonald used as a Spotify employee. So while developers can pull individual releases via the API, there is no way to create a complete list of popular new releases or new releases by genre.

“The thing about new releases… It could be revived if Spotify could do something that would make it possible,” McDonald said. “I still think it’s a bit stupid that I’m no longer allowed to work there. I’m still concerned about the problem. And if I could solve it myself with these public resources, I would.”

Now when you navigate to EveryNoise, it may appear as if the site is active. You can scroll around and click on one of 6,000 genres, which will play a sample song snippet via Spotify. And you can search for your favorite band, see what genres they’re associated with, and use those connections to explore undiscovered bands you may never have come across. But this isn’t the constantly innovative EveryNoise fans have come to love, with “New Music Fridays” and seamless links to Spotify. For now, the site shows just a static snapshot of its final state before McDonald’s layoff, with many of its best features no longer usable.

“All the stuff I was working on was still active – or I left it automated and active when I was laid off – but I have no idea what will happen, so I’m assuming some of it will be closed down,” McDonald said. . “If we are lucky, it will be closed voluntarily and deliberately. If we’re unlucky, it breaks and I’m not there to fix it.’

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