The Real Magic Of Streaming Music Is The Data It Generates

What Spotify and Echo Nest know about listener behavior is about to change the music industry.

The Real Magic Of Streaming Music Is The Data It Generates
[Photo: Flickr user Sascha Kohlmann]

Music’s shift to an all-you-can-stream model is convenient for listeners, tough for many artists, and potentially lucrative for the tech companies involved. It also has a hidden perk that could benefit all of them: Data. Lots of it.


As more and more people listen to music on digital platforms, our collective understanding of music and the culture that surrounds it is exploding. Spotify, the streaming music market leader, was already sitting on an incredible amount of data before it acquired music intelligence firm The Echo Nest in March. Now the company is armed with a trove of insights about music and listener behavior. To help corral it all, the company just launched a data storytelling blog called Spotify Insights.

“We’ve kind of been doing this already,” says Eliot Van Buskirk, Spotify’s in-house Data Storyteller. “We just didn’t have a place to put it all.”

If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Van Buskirk has been writing about digital music since the late ’90s for CNet, Wired, and most recently for The Echo Nest’s music tech blog. Since Spotify acquired his employer, Van Buskirk has transitioned into this new role.

“What excites me about this is that I have access to data that I wouldn’t be able to see if I were still at Wired or CNet,” says Van Buskirk. “I can work with software engineers to be like, ‘What is going on with music in Australia right now? Why are so many of my favorite bands coming out of Melbourne?'”

Map via Spotify Insights

This kind of geographic music data is exactly the kind of thing that The Echo Nest is great at digging up. Since its founding in 2005, the company has mastered the art of combining machine listening with cultural insights scraped from the Internet and mashing it all into one complex algorithm that learns how and why music is consumed around the world. Spotify, which is available in over 60 countries, has meanwhile been amassing listening data from its millions of users, which packs its own insights, geographic, and otherwise.

In fact, before it acquired the Echo Nest, Spotify’s internal music data was starting to get so good that the company opted to build its own recommendation technology into the “Discover” tab, rather than rely on its longtime partner The Echo Nest, which powers the Pandora-eqsue “Radio” feature.


To kick things off, the Insights blog launched with a post examining how different genres of music have migrated from their countries of origin to other places around the world. Fascinating material for music geeks and data visualization nerds alike, but it’s just the beginning.

The marriage of big data and music is expected to have a major impact on the industry as a whole, a process you can already see beginning to unfold. The rise of Lorde, for instance, was fueled in large part by Spotify, whose data team noticed the pop star was trending on the service long before she became an international star. Internally, the company has a team of people dedicated to spotting these types of trends and cultivating the artists behind them. They’re also working with traditional radio stations to help spot regional surges in popularity previously invisible to deejays.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.