First Click: Spotify Running is a surprisingly great music discovery tool

June 1st, 2015


My running playlists are sacred. They’ve been tuned over the years to provide just the right amount of anger and aggression at just the right time. So it’s with some angst that I turned over playlist control to Spotify Running and its promise to serve me a “non-stop mix of music you love.” Love.

The wonderful thing about music is the way it affects emotion. It’s not like other art forms where the mind has to consciously engage and interpret the poem, painting, or play. Music rides an instantaneous link to the heart. We play “whatever we’re in the mood for” — sometimes to enhance it, sometimes to change it. This human fickleness is hard for a computer algorithm to predict.

Surprisingly, Spotify gets me.

Although buried between Spotify’s own “Running Originals” and a variety of playlists designed to pump pop, country, metal and more into our ears, the “Recommended For You” playlist is where the magic happens. Spotify’s selections were, for the most part, perfect. Over the last week I've heard industrial, riot grrrl, dubstep, hip hop, house, something I guess you’d call electroclash, and some good ol’ hard driving rock n roll. What surprised me wasn’t that Spotify played songs that matched my running tempo from artists similar to those found in my own collection (that’s easy), but that it could match my tastes with songs I never heard before... and liked. The excitement felt at discovering a great new song or band is the kind of extra motivational oomph I can't achieve from my own curated playlists.

It did make some mistakes, however. Although Miles Davis might indeed be bop along at 160 steps per minute, I don’t want to hear his horn unless I’m sitting on a barstool with a glass of whiskey and pack of smokes. And really, there’s no place in my life for Celine Dion. Ever. But those were the few exceptions over the week.

I’m not saying Spotify Running can adapt to all my moods. It can't. But it's quickly usurped my workout playlists while also becoming my most reliable tool for discovering new music.

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