I've tried Spotify's new DJ feature

Is AI going to take over radio?

When I was in high school, I was an avid radio listener, specifically daily listening to WFLY 92.3FM in the mornings/early afternoons, and WAMC 90.3FM in the late afternoons. This meant that I spent most of my time listening to music on the radio. We didn’t really have streaming services, so radio was the next best thing!

When Spotify announced their new DJ feature, I was excited, because it made me nostalgic for those “old days” of listening to the radio. It’s by all accounts a radio DJ, powered by AI, in your pocket at any time. And it’s one that sounds suspiciously like Spotify’s former The Get Up host and current Head of Cultural Partnerships Xavier “X” Jernigan. (Wait, it’s his voice model? That’s really cool! I knew he sounded familiar!) You can thank Spotify’s previous acquisition of Sonantic for that…

This new feature was rolled out to my phones today (both iOS and Android), and I was able to fully try it out. The first launch of the DJ felt like a personal greeting from “X” himself, explaining what was going to happen, and immediately rolling into Taylor Swift. The way DJ works similar to Pandora’s “Thumbprint Radio” feature, although this goes off of your exact listening habits and Library contents, and not necessarily what you give a “thumbs up.”

Also unlike Thumbprint Radio is the way DJ’s own format is structured. The DJ is narrated by X, and not only is it hosted like a radio show with your style of music, but it also tries to push new music your way, too. Nothing too dissimilar to your style, of course, but a small helping to let you discover new content. At any time, should you know like the vibes, you can hit the DJ button in the bottom right-hand corner of the Now Playing screen to have X switch it up.

My first two breaks to listen to new “music” were put forth in the form of Spanish folk, a genre I’ve never touched before, and is not similar to anything in my library. My best guess is that I hadn’t really trained the AI much, so I gave it a few pointers by liking songs and hitting the little DJ button in the corner to have things mixed up. I’m listening to this while writing and can confirm, that helped significantly. I’d recommend everyone using DJ as their primary way to interface with Spotify to do that if it’s getting it too wrong.

Spotify’s approach to this is incredibly smart, and unlike Pandora’s similar Thumbprint Radio, and Apple Music (which does have a “[Your name here] Radio” feature, but not all the bells and whistles that DJ does.) It’s taking what it already knows about you, and using that data to provide something that, dare I say, could replace the shuffle button altogether. Rest in peace.

To answer the question I set out in the beginning — Is AI going to take over radio? — Well, it’s hard to say if it really will (or has a chance of doing so) yet. Spotify’s DJ certainly acts like one, and does it really well, too. Is it perfect? No. It struggles, like getting stuck on folk music or heavy metal, even if you’ve never listened to anything like it before. But it’s also a brand new feature, which is bound to have some quirks. And I’m stating all of this as an early adopter of said feature. Obviously Spotify will tune their own AI as feedback comes in during the rollout, and DJ will improve the more you and I use it. That’s a give in.

In summary, I believe radio in general has the potential to be “uniquely yours,” a curated ‘station’ just for you with a mix of the latest hits, selections from your library, and a bit of new (in general OR to you) music, too. There’s potential here and I’m absolutely a fan. I’m very excited to see where it goes!

I certainly hope it becomes a staple of Spotify, and that other services will follow in their footsteps…