If you want to change Spotify policy, first sell 120 million albums

As anybody who has ever filled out a feedback form will know, most suggestions — no matter how well intended or sensible — go straight in the bin. If you’re lucky, they may be read by and possibly laughed at by a human first, but don’t hold your breath.

But one woman has found a loophole, managing to get Spotify to change its policy on how albums should be played. It seems that all you need to do to get Spotify to listen to you is just follow her example:

  1. Sell 120 million albums
  2. Break the Spotify most-streamed song of all time record

Yes, it’s a high bar, but if Adele can do it, you can too.

The Hello singer (not Lionel Richie) successfully lobbied Spotify to make shuffling tracks on albums harder to do, encouraging users to play songs in the order intended, rather than letting people listen to her music the way they might actually want to.

“This was the only request I had in our ever changing industry,” Adele tweeted in response to the news breaking, which must have delighted those who consider themselves lucky if they break the $1 mark on monthly Spotify earnings. 

“We don’t create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason. Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended.”

“Anything for you!,” Spotify’s account replied, presumably grateful that those words weren’t subsequently put to the test with requests that would have been harder to get shareholder sign-off on.

Personally, I have no idea why anybody would want to shuffle albums at random: that way leads to tonal whiplash. And while Spotify will no longer encourage it, you can still randomise album track order via the shuffle button in the ‘Now Playing’ view.

But it’s hard to think of any other artform where the creator would have that much creative control after their art has been purchased (or, in this case, rented) for private consumption. After all, there’s nothing stopping you buying a copy of Moby-Dick today, and skipping straight to chapter 113 for the first sighting of the whale: it’s your book, knock yourself out (quite easily done with a hardback copy.)

Equally, the creators of Shortland Street aren’t going to insist that you go back 7,357 episodes to the 1992 pilot if you just want to tune in on your lunch break. Which is just as well, given it would take you over five months to catch up — and more if you insist on making time for things like “sleep” and “food.”  

And, of course, music is better suited to this kind of randomisation than other art forms. If you took my earlier example and skipped straight to chapter 113 of Moby-Dick, you wouldn’t get too far before you found yourself wondering what the hell a Pequod is when it’s at home. An Adele track, meanwhile, can be listened to in isolation without too much lost in translation — and with the greatest respect to the artist in question, you should know the kind of thing to expect if you’ve listened to her previous albums (in or out of order).

I’m sure musicians would like their audience to listen to every track on a new album in rapt attention, in the same way that I’d like to think you’re reading this having previously consumed every single piece I’ve published in the past decade. But any musician who has felt the audience deflate in response to the words “here’s a new song” will know that that’s wishful thinking: some people are just there for the hits and don’t care for the full story, no matter how important it is for you.

A 2020 study from Deezer backs up this anecdotal feeling. The streaming company asked 8,000 people about their music listening habits and found that 54% were listening to fewer albums than a decade ago. No doubt the likes of Spotify, and indeed Deezer, have had a hand in this seachange: with nearly every song in history at your fingertips, who has time to listen to the dud album tracks? 

But at the same time, trying to push people into listening to albums in full via a UI change feels like trying to stop a bulldozer by putting a bollard in front: technically it may make the bulldozer’s job a little harder, but not in any measurable way.

Of all the things to lobby Spotify about — from its annoying insistence on putting podcasts front and centre to its derisory rates for artists — this feels like a small-fry request that’s remarkably easy to ignore. No wonder Spotify was so happy to roll over.  

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