For decades, radio was the dominant way for music lovers to explore new artists and songs. DJs and station programmers curated what listeners heard, effectively acting as A&R for the airwaves by introducing up-and-coming acts. However, the rise of streaming services upended this model.

In the digital age, playlists took radio’s place as the primary vehicle for music consumption. Major platforms like Spotify cultivated vast libraries of playlists crafted by both in-house curators and independent tastemakers. Listeners flocked to these on-demand playlists not just to discover new tunes, but to shape their daily soundtrack. This shift moved the locus of music fandom away from albums toward playlist culture.

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However, the reign of playlists may now be challenged by the growing role of artificial intelligence. In recent years, Spotify has invested heavily in personalization powered by algorithms and machine learning. Its signature “Discover Weekly” playlist mines user data to serve individually tailored mixes of unfamiliar songs. The platform has also rolled out personalized radio stations generated in real-time based on a user’s tastes.

Some question if AI is diminishing the human touch. Notorious rap playlist “RapCaviar” saw major labels lose up to half their streams, perhaps reflecting a broader trend away from centralized curation. Independent labels also report waning impact from certain playlists. With algorithms steering more recommendations, are music’s former gatekeepers facing redundancy?

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As streaming subsumes record revenues, Spotify’s focus on AI could simply reflect economic drivers to automate content selection. The company insists human curators maintain the importance of maintaining diversity in a medium with infinite options. New technologies may change how fans interface with music, but passionately outlives any platform. Discovery relies on multiple sources interacting in synergy, as genres, eras and tastes continuously shape each other. The future of music likely has room for both algorithms and aficionados to play their part.

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