Spotify, song pairs, and the future of work

Listening to Spotify today, I start with Pink Floyd‘s classic Meddle. After the album completes, Spotify takes me off to “radio” based on the album. I love this feature, btw, I’ve discovered a lot of new music this way. Inevitably this includes more Pink Floyd, which is – of course – awesome.

On comes Brain Damage from Dark Side of the Moon. As anyone who is familiar with this particular song knows, it is actually just the first part of a two-song series that includes the album’s closing track, Eclipse. (To be sure, DSotM is really just one long song, but I digress.) So of course I’m expecting Brain Damage to seamlessly segue into Eclipse.


It doesn’t really matter what song comes on next, I’m sure that will vary depending on the seed of a given “radio”. What matters is that the next song is not Eclipse. For someone who grew up listening to actual radio, Brain Damage should be followed by Eclipse.

It boggles the mind that Spotify, with all of their big data and microservices, don’t know this and can’t figure out how to do this. And not just with this pair of songs. The one that comes instantly to mind is Queen’s We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions combination, but there are countless others.

Obviously, I am not actually under the illusion that the talented folks at Spotify are not aware of these types of song pairs or that they are not capable of ensuring that these song pairs always play together. (Or provide an option for listeners to make it so.) My guess – which I may or may not confirm with a Google adventure later – is that they simply decided that in the big picture it is not worth pursuing.

Which brings up a whole series of questions in my mind, the first of which is, “Why do I think it is worth pursuing.” For me personally, it’s familiarity. It just sounds weird, I mean ridiculously weird, to have a song like Brain Damage simply end and a song that isn’t Eclipse start playing. A definite case of, “But that’s how it’s always been done.”

Which leads to the question, “Why was it done that way in the first place?” Having spent a few years on the radio in college, back when we spun vinyl on multiple turntables, I actually know the answer to this question. At least in some cases.

If you were playing from an LP, and you wanted to play one of these songs, you had no choice but to play both of them. Unlike CDs, where the software “knows” when one song ends and the next begins, switching between songs on different turntables required a bit of manual dexterity and some good timing. And there are some cases where the gap between songs is so small, in the case of Brain Damage / Eclipse non-existent, that it is a fool’s errand to even attempt to make the transition to another record. Hence, the songs get played together. And sometimes it just sounded “right” to play songs together. (I’m sure there was some creative marketing going on, as well.)

But that reason is no longer valid. When these songs are played together today it is out of tradition, not any type of technical limitation. If the technical limitation no longer exists, should you constrain yourself to those limits anyway, just because “that’s the way it has always been”? And for those situations where it was not a technical limitation but an aesthetic or marketing choice, should those decisions made by the artists or their labels (or whomever) be honored? If so, who enforces it?

What about the experience of someone who has never heard the song pair in question? Or the only time they’ve ever heard the songs in the pair was separately, or when playing the album straight through? Who is not familiar with this particular bit of history when they hear Brain Damage transition into some other random song? Do they notice? Do they care? Should I care that they care? Or don’t care?

The way music is published has changed, with corresponding changes to the way it is consumed. It used to be you got an LP or a cassette (or 8-track) tape and listened to the songs in the order in which the artists intended. CDs brought about shuffle play (“What, shuffle the songs, listen to them out of order? NEVER!”). Now, for many people, their consumption of music consists of a random selection of algorithmically related songs. Or bits of songs.

In the same vein, the nature of work has changed, as has the way we accomplish that work. It used to be that someone else would define the work that needed to be done and tell you how to do it, that the way it had always been done is the way it would always be done. Now, for many people, the work that is done and the way it is done depends not on what / how it used to be but on the possibilities and opportunities that you may not even know about yet.

Sure you can just do what you’ve always done the way you’ve always done it, but think of all that great music you’ll miss out on.

Update: the idea has been suggested to, and rejected by, Spotify.