Voices: I let targeted social ads define my music taste – and the results were unexpected

·4-min read
The technology knows what you like – and it has the data to back it up (Getty Images)
The technology knows what you like – and it has the data to back it up (Getty Images)

Algorithm overlords grow stronger every day. Now more than ever our lives are being driven by artificial intelligence, targeted ads and machine learning.

The way we consume entertainment has also shifted dramatically in the last 10 years. In this new world, content is king. On-demand streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, YouTube and Spotify are looking for as much content as possible to cram onto their platforms. This naturally means we have to sift through more content than we ever have before to get to what we want.

To combat this, how many of us simply use the “trending now” section on the Netflix homepage when looking for a new bingeworthy series? How many of you use the autoplay feature on YouTube? And how many of us click on social media ads that we know have been targeted at us?

Taking the recommendation of a digital platform isn’t some wild new thing. Many of us take the quickest route suggestion on Google Maps or select the top restaurant recommendation on food delivery apps when looking for something to eat, for example.

The way content is distributed and consumed isn’t going to change anytime soon. And so, my philosophy is: if you can’t beat them, join them. Ever since the start of 2020, I have allowed my music taste to be defined by targeted ads on my social media profiles.

It started with Instagram ads. Then came YouTube video ads. And then I began to use the Spotify “enhance playlist” feature which automatically adds songs that fit with the existing style and theme of your playlist. After doing this for the last few years, I’ve curated playlists full of artists that I may never have heard of otherwise. I’ve developed some new tastes in music, while still staying largely in tune with the genres I listened to before.

I’ve also found smaller artists, as well as veterans of the industry. For example, the post-hardcore rock band Give In from Los Angeles, released “Flinch” in October 2021. To date, it has reached 22,000 views. On the flip side, hugely successful Reggae artist, Boy Boy, released “Adrenaline” in 2019, and it has 12 million views. These are songs I never would have found organically, but I love them nonetheless.

This shows the diversity of music you can discover if guided by targeted ads. Other bands I’ve discovered that are now very much in my playlist rotation are NYC rap group Coast Contra, indie-folk band The 502s, alt-rock band Culture Wars, Scouse punk band STONE, and Florida rapper Xammy.

It seems that I’m not alone in my thinking. Consider the top comments on the YouTube video of “Bleu Cheese” by LA rapper Cody Ray: “You know maybe Instagram ads aren’t too bad”, wrote one user. On “Delete Me” by K Williams, another user commented, “I saw you on an Instagram ad, and I love your music!”

With my experience working in social media for national corporations and brands, I know first-hand how targeted ads and algorithm suggestions work at a technical level. I know that I am most likely a “look-alike” user, or that I have been categorised within an ad set group through my location, demographic, interests or behaviours. But it doesn’t affect my readiness to accept their suggestions – it’s a matter of efficiency.

Our lives are being increasingly steered by AI. Coupled with this, the way we consume content has changed significantly, when compared with the past. On-demand streaming propositions are now the dominant method of consuming entertainment.

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In the past, the channels through which we would receive music, comedy and politics, for example, have been rigid. The channels were limited to a number of TV and radio stations. The hottest record was dictated to you by radio DJs, TV talk show guests and newspaper profiles. But now the onus is on you to seek out what you want to listen to. That is equally burdensome as it is liberating.

The internet and creator economy has meant that there is now truly something for everyone. There’s just a lot of work to go and find it. The crate-diggers will hate me, but I say embrace the technology. It knows what you like, and it has the data to back it up.

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