How Spotify uses Spotify

The best playlists to listen to at work, and more insider Spotify tips.

Spotify app with headphones on

Spotify’s use of Spotify goes beyond the fun of “Wrapped” trivia and work playlists.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Ever wondered how the companies behind your most-used tech use their own products? We’ve told you how Slack uses Slack, and how Twitter uses Twitter. We talked to Spotifiers about how they use Spotify, and crowdsourced some tips for maximizing your music-listening experience.

For a few days every December, our social media feeds erupt in Spotify Wrapped results. We gawk at each other’s top artists and genres, judging ourselves as much as we do each other. But Spotify employees can do more with “Wrapped” data than share their stats with friends. At Spotify, “Wrapped” season means "Family Feud"-style trivia, competing to see who can guess 2021’s most-streamed music among users and employees.

You might not consider Spotify a tool for the workplace, but Spotifiers use Spotify at work all the time. One obvious example: listening to music. They’ve nailed down the perfect work playlists for ultimate productivity. If you’re a coder, senior engineer Rich Soni recommends "Kid A" by Radiohead, Deltron 3030 and the playlist "Songs to Test Headphones With." Web engineer Sophia Ciocca recommends the "Orgánica" playlist for its “earthy beats.” Ziad Sultan, VP of Personalization, can’t do songs with lyrics at work. He goes for Spotify’s "Melodic & Euphoric" playlist.

Spotify’s use of Spotify goes beyond the fun of “Wrapped” trivia and work playlists, though. Employees regularly test out new features before they launch, build playlists for teams and even receive work communications through Spotify itself.

A special Spotify testing app

The easiest way to test your product is to let employees play with it internally. Spotify “dogfoods," just like any other tech company. The almost 7,000 employees can interact with new Spotify features through a special internal app. The app is a “nightly build,” updating with Spotify’s new programs every evening. Features like blending playlists with another user, enhancing playlists with song recommendations and Spotify Wrapped went through Spotifiers first. Spotify’s engineers can see how frequently their co-workers use certain features and judge whether that feature is worth rolling out to the masses.

“We learn qualitatively by asking people and surveys, but we also learn quantitatively because we can compare usage and run tests,” Sultan said.

This process is make or break for new Spotify programs. Sten Garmark, global head of Consumer Experience, said “most commonly if we don't use it ourselves on the inside, we're not going to launch it to the world.”

In line with the music giant’s focus on podcasting, it launched a “behind the product” podcast in 2021 hosted by Chief R&D Officer Gustav Söderström, called “Spotify: A Product Story.” The mini-series documents how Spotify came to be, from its roots trying to tackle music piracy in the early 2000s to its lofty plans for the “future of audio.” Söderström interviews early Spotify employees about Spotify scrambling to adapt as people started primarily listening to music on iPhones, and Spotify’s pivot to podcasts.

Podcasts, but just for Spotify employees

If you’re one of the biggest audio platforms in the world, using audio to communicate with employees is a no-brainer. “Audio is a very powerful medium, whether you're transmitting information or actually conveying emotion,” Sultan said.

Every Spotifier has access to an internal employee podcast hub on Spotify. Garmark said the hub was built in conjunction with Spotify’s foray into podcasting.

“The hub is used to make insights and discussions about mental wellbeing, product, team, and culture available to all,” Garmark wrote in an email.

The hub includes recordings of town halls, as well as a podcast called “Heart & Soul Conversations” that features conversations with Spotifiers and guest speakers on mental health. One episode featured different Spotifiers talking about managing their mental health during the pandemic, and changing lifestyles as Spotify announced employees could work from anywhere (barring time zones). Another focused on how to manage anxiety and depression. Sultan said the audio format is an effective way to reach employees because as Spotify users themselves, it’s intuitive.

Spotify, of course, has other ways of communicating with employees, too. It sends out newsletters, which are peppered with musical references to Led Zeppelin or Olivia Rodrigo. It also has more synchronous methods of communication. Employee concerns or larger controversies — which Spotify has had a few of in recent weeks, facing petitions and challenges from Neil Young over hosting Joe Rogan’s misinformation-laden podcast as well as laying off workers in one of its podcast studios — are best addressed in an interactive Q&A video call. The podcast hub is not the best format for these conversations, and instead exists to “provide information in an enriching way,” Sultan said.

Miscellaneous tips

Spotifiers spend all day with the product, so they’re bound to have some tips to improve your Spotify experience. Here’s a roundup:

  • Folders are a godsend when it comes to organizing my library of ~575 playlists. I literally have folders in folders.” —Alya Fetyani, associate technical account manager in New York
  • “I asked friends and family to add tracks to a collaborative playlist I listened to during a half marathon. It made it feel like they were cheering me on via music.” —Katherine Richardson, advertising in Nashville
  • I favourite my friends with good taste['s] Discover Weekly playlists. That way, I have a few new playlists to explore each week instead of my one only, and theirs are usually much better than mine!” —Marcin Wolniewicz, engineer in Stockholm
  • “I finally found out how to batch remove/add tracks to my Liked songs: Press shift while clicking the first and last song you want to change, then right-click for a context menu.” —Niklas Herder, engineer in Stockholm
  • Copying a friend's playlist or popular playlist on Desktop: Hold the command key and press C → N → V. (Then [tweak] it so it's exactly what you like to listen to.)” —Ross Simpson, technical operations specialist in Liverpool
  • “When you bring up the share dialog to get the link of a Spotify song, press the option button on your keyboard to get the Spotify URL instead of the https link!” —Roel van der Ven, senior product manager in Potsdam

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