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Spotify Maps Its Global Listeners

Spotify’s updated Musical Map of the World lets users tap green dot to see — and hear — what people in other cities are listening to.

Music has always been the easiest way to cross boundaries from time and space to culture and mood, so it’s fitting that streaming music player Spotify has unveiled a listenable map that shows users what people in different global cities are listening to.

Spotify worked with geo-data visualization platform Carto to create the Musical Map of the World 2.0 to allow its 100 million users (30 million of whom are paid subscribers) to access lists of what people are listening to in over 100 cities across North and South America, Europe, and parts of Asia and Australia.

This is the second version (hence the “2.0” of Spotify’s “audiographic map” (first version is here). The update includes new cities, as well as four additional country-level playlists, and a native pop-up player so users can hear the places without leaving the map.

Like most interactive apps, users can drag and zoom in across the globe. Clicking on a country will bring up cities — the green dots — and the songs that are enjoyed there “disproportionately a lot relative to in other places” will appear in a drop-down list, says Eliot Van Buskirk, Spotify’s Data Storyteller. “It’s a great way to understand the musical character of well over a thousand cities worldwide.”

GeoMarketing: How does Spotify manage, understand, and analyze its location data?

Eliot Van Buskirk: People here use anonymized, aggregated location data in lots of different ways. In terms of data storytelling and this map specifically, these “distinctive” playlists for the cities and countries, created by Glenn McDonald distill the musical essence of a place — the songs that are popular there that aren’t popular elsewhere, basically.

We often find that looking for the most popular music across various locations leads to finding that the same music is generally popular everywhere, so this is a way to tease out some signal from the noise. And version 2.0 of the map includes country-level data – not just the distinctive music found on the city playlists, but the most popular, emerging, and viral music as well. The foundation of all of that is anonymized, aggregated listening and location data.

Did Spotify work with a third party geo-data provider to build the Musical Map?

The city playlists on the map derive from our own anonymized, aggregated city- and country-level data, and then in this case, we used Carto’s geomapping to generate longitudes and latitudes for the city points and country polygons for the countries.

Is Spotify’s location information all accessed and processed in-house via users automatically sharing their location through the unique IDs on their smartphones?

No, this is general (i.e. city or town level) location data, the same level of data that a website can see (see this example of Where is Geolocation of an IP address).

Do all users agree to share their location with Spotify automatically as part of the terms, or is there an opt-in location share function?

The location data involved with this doesn’t require any special arrangements, since it comes from public IP addresses (see link above).

What’s the value of the insights from the Musical Map of The World?

I think the majority of the value comes from the music itself, which is what we’re all about.

This audiographic map is a different kind of music interface that accesses many new slices of listening, but which can also be used for various cultural studies, and by anyone who wants to understand places through music.

My cousin recently saw version 1.0 on a screen at a Latin-American education conference — they were using it to study regional variation in musical taste there, and a radio station in Naples, Italy was using their playlist to program a weekly show.

The map’s playlists update every week, so at any given time, the map shows an accurate representation of what people in a city or country are listening to, relative to people everywhere else — a different, more nuanced view than you get from the charts. You can zoom out to encompass all the countries on the globe, or zoom in close enough to hear the difference between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the music plays right there on the map.

So I’m hoping that as with version 1.0, plenty of other blogs, publications, and websites will embed it as a new kind of music chart, because it’s a reflection of how the world is listening that week.

Is there any advertiser or marketer benefit?

For the typical listener, I think it’s mainly a fun way to listen your way around the world, which might be especially fun if you’re about to travel somewhere on the map, or want to revisit someplace you’ve been. But all kinds of professionals who need to understand culture through the lens of geography might find it useful as well.