Way back In 1935, genius musician Duke Ellington in an effort to placate two ladies, placed each of them on two sides of his piano, he composed and played a song — In a Sentimental Mood. Such is the magic of the song that nine decades later I can’t stop listening to it — in fact, it was the second most listened to song on my list of the 2,492 songs I listened to on Spotify in 2022, according to their annual musical data story — Wrapped 2022.

There are quite a few nuggets from the story — that are kind cool and amazing to be made aware of — for instance, the artist I listened to the most in 2022 is Eric Hilton, the one half of Thievery Corporation, which has been my most listened to bands for a few years. I guess, I know what I like. In 2022, I tuned more to jazz classics, ambient electronica and ambient classical music for nearly 30,000 minutes. In comparison, in 2019, I listened to 17,126 minutes of music on Spotify. I guess the pandemic and isolation made streaming music a bigger part of my life.

Spotify Wrapped 2022

Spotify’s Wrapped is a data story done right. It is one of the reasons why every year it arrives with much fanfare. Though, in 2022 it seems that its arrival has been superseded by the actions of a growing army of tech’s bad boys. Lars Mensel, a Berlin-based designer, writer and photographer, when writing about the Wrapped notes:

The unveiling is a rare moment of synchronicity: On some arbitrary day towards the end of the year, millions of people are shown their listening behavior at the same time. The experience is communal—and the reaction predictably the same: There’s some knee-jerk sharing, some eye-rolling about the obscure micro-genres, and some complaining about Spotify being the behemoth that it is. It’s kept me from changing to a different service, and though I’m not proud to admit it, I dread “distorting the statistics” by listening to music elsewhere.

Lars Mensel

Well, I hadn’t thought of data as a lock in, but I have to admit that is the only thing I will miss about Spotify. Wrapped is the only vaguely personal feature about Spotify, apart from ability to follow artists, or create playlists. Spotify, in fact, has come to symbolize the new “app reality” – the consumer has a perception of control, but almost everything is controlled by the app-masters and faceless algorithms.

After being a Spotify member from its very genesis, I have quit using the service. I got tired of the dealing with an app (and a platform) that shoved podcasts and audio books in my face, despite having no interest in them. Spotify to me was about music, and ability to interact with music and artists, and then personalize that experience. I loved their recommendation engine, but that is not enough for me to put up with a decidedly dowdy app that exists not to delight its customers but instead meet the growth objectives of its stock market masters.

Spotify isn’t alone — a growing number of services are deprecating user experience in favor of their urgent financial growth needs. Uber and Door Dash, are good examples of companies cramming nonsense down our screens. And let’s not forget Apple and its App Store: putting ads in there is ruining what was essentially a wonderful editorial space and a directory that enhanced the experience of owning an iPhone.

Spotify, often likes to complain about Apple and its App Store Tax — but I wonder if they will ever allow Audible to sell books on their platform? Or an independent podcasting platform to use the Spotify platform? Just as Facebook won’t let others access Oculus marketplace for free. Deep down all these companies want to do one thing above all — maximize their revenues, though they like to use the argument: we are doing it for the consumers.

But back to Wrapped 2022. I am a little sad that it will be my last.

I have switched to Qobuz. It is a French streaming and downloading service — and for $10 a month, I get to stream music in pristine FLAC quality into my BluSound Node, which is plugged into my Hegel amplifier, that power my speakers. Node is an additional step — since Spotify is directly integrated into the amp, and I have to use the “BluSound” app to manage the listening experience. It isn’t that amazing, but it is a minor issue than having to deal with “podcasts” and “books” being shoved into your face every time you opened the Spotify app.

I was able to transfer all my playlists from Spotify to Qobuz using Soundiiz. There are a few songs that are missing in the playlists, but not enough to be a cause of concern. I can stream music, I can download and save tunes for offline listening. The music sounds exceptional on my custom in-ear headphones, as I found out on my flight to London.

What about the recommendation engine? Qobuz isn’t good, no two ways about it. However, what it lacks in algorithmic recommendations, it makes up in great editorial content. It is like reading liner notes and a magazine mash-up. And I have a little hack for recommendations: I pay for YouTube premium (to avoid ads) and it comes with YouTube music for free. I have transferred my Spotify playlists to YouTube Music as well — and I can tell you, YouTube recommendation algorithm is way superior.

Given, the most of my music discovery is analog — through friends, magazines and music blogs, I don’t rely on recommendation engines as much. Both my favorite song of the year and fifth most listened to artist, Hania Rani, came to me from a pianist friend in Iceland.

I guess, that’s a wrap.

Random Spotify Fact of The Day

Just 21.6% of artists on Spotify today – around 1.7 million of them – have a monthly audience on the platform greater than 50 people. Or, yup, to put it another way: Nearly 80% (78.4%) of artists on Spotify today – around 6.3 million of them – have a monthly audience on the platform smaller than 50 people. Music Business Worldwide