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Spotify is harnessing the power of the internet's hipsters to make new playlists for you

Now you can enjoy listening to music like this guy.
Now you can enjoy listening to music like this guy.
Bridgett Henwood is the supervising story editor at Vox, managing editorial coverage for Vox's YouTube channel of over 11 million subscribers.

Spotify has a new way for users to discover music: Fresh Finds, a group of curated, weekly playlists that surface songs from lesser-known artists before they become popular.

The goal? To introduce users to music they might not hear otherwise.

With Fresh Finds' recent launch, Spotify is branching away from exclusively using internal algorithms to curate playlists. Now it's looking to trend-setting music blogs and review sites to find up-and-coming artists. Taking tips from these external sources, the platform will create distinctive playlists full of brand new bands and singers.

How this works

For the past few years, Spotify has been combing music review sites and blogs to find the best new artists. One problem: A lot of these artists are so new their latest songs aren't on Spotify.

To combat this issue, the company figured out how to use its biggest asset — the Spotify user base — to its advantage.

For its Fresh Finds playlists, Spotify uses information from review sites to identify a new trending artist. Then, using technology from Echo Nest — the music analytics firm the company acquired in 2014 — it creates algorithms to identify the 50,000 or so users who are listening to that particular artist.

Spotify then turns these first listeners into a sort of focus group for discovering more new songs. The company trusts that whatever other popular new music these hipsters are listening to will make great fodder for First Finds playlists. (There isn't a specific play threshold for songs to make it onto a playlist — according to Quartz, some bands have scored a spot on Fresh Finds after only 10 plays.) Spotify's employees curate the tunes (minus any chart-topping hits) and then filter them into playlists.

Spotify doesn't alert these "tastemakers," as it calls them, that their musical acumen is being used to curate Fresh Finds. They will, however, get the eternal pleasure of saying, "I listened to that band before it was popular."

What do "regular" listeners get?

The Fresh Finds master playlist — a mashup of all genres — has existed on Spotify's Browse feature since July 2015. On Tuesday, five new genre-specific playlists were released: Hiptronix (vocal pop), Fire Emoji (hip-hop), Basement (electronic), Six Strings (guitar-driven), and Cyclone (experimental). Spotify employees take all the new tracks they've culled from the service's uber-users and drop them into one of the five categories; time will tell if more genres will be added. New playlists will be pushed out every Wednesday.

Unlike Discover Weekly, Spotify's extremely popular playlists tailored to individual users, Fresh Finds aren't specific to certain people. All Spotify users see identical playlists. According to Brian Whitman, Spotify’s principal scientist and the founder of Echo Nest, these new tunes are "supposed to challenge you a little bit." Instead of getting music you're certain to like, Fresh Finds forces you to dip into something new. And if you're into hip-hop and experimental music, there's a lot to offer.

Undiscovered artists win

The platform-wide playlists can be a boon to lesser-known artists just starting out. Many bands and singers on the current Fresh Finds playlists have fewer than 1,000 plays on all their songs — except for their song featured on Fresh Finds.

For example, Acid Dad, a band from Brooklyn, New York, have one EP featuring four songs on Spotify. Three songs have fewer than 1,000 plays (Spotify doesn't show exact plays under 1,000), while their song on the Six Strings playlist, "Don't Get Taken," has 11,722 and counting. The same goes for lots of other artists. This might not translate to big bucks — streaming services are not huge revenue drivers for artists, as this Guardian graphic shows — but it can help them gain name recognition and a bigger following online.

And if Spotify's algorithms and tastemakers are up to the task, we might all edge a little closer to becoming hipsters.