8tracks is the Unsung Hero of Social Listening

Alice Bai, Editor-in-chief

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Long gone are the days of having to download thousands of songs onto an iPod touch in order to listen to them. The new age of music lies in streaming: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon. For a monthly fee, we can listen to whatever we want, whenever we want it, our listening data used by algorithms to create custom-generated playlists all the while.

But as much as we have gained from this new, highly flexible method of audio streaming, there is still one area of in which streaming platforms fall short: playlists.

I personally use Spotify, so I cannot speak to the playlists generated by other streaming platforms. But what I will say is that, in spite of the wide selection of music available on Spotify, its ability to match me with the songs I want to listen to is lackluster.

Spotify is big on social listening; users can see when and to what their friends are listening, and are encouraged to use special song, album, or artists codes to share their favorite music. The platform also pushes several custom tailored playlists, along with recommended albums, in its the “discover” tab. I, for one, receive a total of 8 personalized cuts from Spotify: my Discover Weekly Playlist, a new releases playlist, and a whopping 6 daily mixes, each of which caters to a different genre of music that I seem to like to listen to.

Unfortunately, I struggle to enjoy any of these playlists. Perhaps it’s because I’m just not great at listening to new music, which seems to be a primary focus for Spotify. I want to broaden my musical horizons, sure, but somehow, the songs and artists that Spotify pushes at me always seems to fall flat. For all the information about my listening habits and preferences available to its computer programs, the music never quite clicks with me.

This is the area in which another music platform, 8tracks, far surpasses its competition.

8tracks is all about social listening, just like Spotify, but the difference is the personal touch involved — every playlist is curated by its users, and tagged with key artists, moods, or descriptions. While I struggle to differentiate between the dozens of “focus” playlists available on Spotify, I frequently find the exact tone I’m looking for with just a quick search of “instrumental study” music and a scroll through results until I see a cover photo of a cute desk or a beautiful library.

8tracks is old-fashioned mixtaping designed for twenty-first century listening habits, set apart by its clean, easy to navigate user interface. Its tagging system is thorough, and the ability to filter results by popularity, favorites, or date mean that I can further differentiate between how polished or eclectic the playlist will be.

I think the personal touch involved in making these playlists shows in a way that Spotify playlists simply cannot capture. Surely, there exist amazing user-made playlists on Spotify as well, but finding them is near impossible without a developed tagging system–and after all these years, I have to wonder if this is an issue that Spotify will ever fix.

In the end, I think 8tracks and Spotify simply have complementary, but inherently different purposes. Spotify promotes music streaming; 8tracks enables true music sharing. My hope is that one platform or the other might someday reconcile the two.