I am a begrudging fan of algorithmic playlists. I miss putting together my own “new favorite songs” lists and assembling the perfect order of tunes for a burned CD. But damn if Spotify’s Discover Weekly and Your Daily Mix playlists aren’t convenient, and generally, really good.
Spotify flexed its algorithmic playlist-making muscles again Friday when it released a new tool meant to provide the perfect soundtrack for an upcoming road trip: “Soundtrack your ride.” It’s a partially human, partially computer-directed playlist generator assembled to fit the length of your road trip.
A portal takes you through a series of questions about your upcoming road trip as well as your music taste. Ostensibly combined with what it knows about your music listening habits (you agree to let the portal look at your Spotify history when you begin), the answers help to generate a playlist that is on theme for where you are going, who you’re with, and what your vibe is.
First, it asks for the start and end points of your ride. This lets it know how long the playlist should be, as well as specifically where you’re traveling. To try it out, I pretended I was taking a trip from L.A. to San Francisco, since this is actually a drive I take a few times a year.
Next, it asks who you’re with. The options are solo, kids, friends, pet, or partner. I chose partner, but am truly not sure what bearing this has on the results (maybe more love songs)?
After that comes your favorite genre for the road (I chose “indie”), and then your “drive vibe.” To me, this usually fluctuates every couple hours, but if I had to choose just one, I went with “sing alongs.” Next it asks about your “ultimate driving song,” which gives you six options to choose from. I went with Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” because Vanessa still bangs.
Finally, it asks about “your wheels.” Conceding that I drive a “sedan” was a sad moment for me, a 30-year-old (it’s actually a hatchback!!).
And then, the moment of truth. The playlist takes just a few seconds to generate, but sure enough, my new Soundtrack My Ride playlist showed up in my Spotify side bar, and at 5 hours and 48 minutes, it perfectly fit the length of the drive.
The song selection was on point! It was clear that it took my listening history into account. On a recent road trip, I DID listen to a lot of Lana Del Rey, thank you very much. And it had some of my favorite artists and songs, like tunes from Jenny Lewis and Christine and the Queens. But, beyond my general taste, it was definitely road trip-inspired and conformed to some of my questions; “sing along” songs + love for Vanessa Carlton = lots of Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, and even Shania Twain.
I like that it generated a playlist for me because six hours is a lot of time to fill. It also selected songs I like but wouldn’t have thought of, whether because I don’t know them, or because they fall on the “guilty” end of the guilty pleasure spectrum. But that doesn’t mean that while going fast up the 5 I wouldn’t enjoy singing along to a little Hillary Duff.
Then again, in the past, part of the fun of going on a road trip was making the playlists and burning the CDs for the road, especially if I had a passenger I wanted to impress. Until I got a new car a few years ago, I still kept my CD binder with CDs from those road trips past under the right front seat. Popping in a burned mix would immediately take me back to 2008 or 2009 when I drove up and down the 5, between home and college, several times a year. Burned playlists are time capsules in a way that algorithmic playlists just aren’t.
But those CDs still exist if I want ’em. And in the meantime, Spotify’s bag of tricks just keeps getting cooler. Who’s to say we can’t have both.
Here’s my playlist if you want to check it out.