Spotify’s new AI-powered DJ builds and commentates on custom playlists

Spotify’s newest feature is an AI-powered DJ that curates and commentates on an ever-changing personalized playlist. Spotify describes it as an “AI DJ in your pocket” that “knows you and your music taste so well that it can choose what to play for you.”

We’ll have to test the feature for ourselves to see how well these claims stand up, but in a launch trailer and clips shared on social media, the feature seems to rather accurately mimic a radio station presenter, dropping in little bits of trivia and commentary about the artist or track while smoothly transitioning between songs.

The playlist is endless, but users can apparently switch genres or artists by hitting the on-screen DJ button. Based on this feedback, the feature should improve on what tunes it recommends to you — scanning fresh releases to suggest new artists you might like, or taking you back to older tracks you previously enjoyed.

There’s only one voice option for the DJ feature for now, but more are likely to be added

The DJ’s artificial voice is powered by voice tech from Sonantic AI, a startup Spotify purchased last year. Spotify says the actual words the DJ is saying are created from a mix of sources, including a writer’s room filled with “music experts, culture experts, data curators [and] scriptwriters” and generative AI technology provided by OpenAI (presumably this means the company’s language AI models, though Spotify didn’t specify).

When we asked how personalized this output was (is it unique to every user or are there certain templates the DJ uses over and over?) Spotify didn’t give a clear answer. Emily Galloway, Head of Product Design for Personalization at Spotify told The Verge that while “the commentary around each artist is similar, the order in which users receive the commentary is unique and based on each user’s listening habits.”

Said Galloway: “[W]hile the DJ is launching in Beta, we have a high element of human touch to ensure commentary is accurate, culturally relevant, and matches the personality of the DJ. We’re working with some very emerging technology so we’re definitely going to be evolving this process as we go on.”

Reading between the lines, it seems the model has some stock phrases that it customizes based on the music that’s coming up next, but can perhaps ad lib a little in some pre-defined safe zones. (After all, as we’ve seen with ChatGPT and Bing, AI chatterboxes can quickly go off the rails.) You can listen to another example of the DJ’s cookie cutter chatter in the tweet below, but we’ll have to wait to test this feature out more widely to see how truly custom it is, or whether it starts to repeat itself and get boring.

What does seem impressive is the quality of the artificial voice. In the clip above the synthetic DJ sounds just as smooth as in Spotify’s launch trailer (a form of information that is always best treated with suspicion). Only one voice is available right now, based on the vocals of Xavier “X” Jernigan, who previously worked as an exec at Spotify before taking on hosting roles for the company’s podcast The Get Up. However, Spotify says this is the “first model for DJ,” suggesting that there will be more virtual hosts to select from in the future. It’s easy to imagine users being able to select not only different voices, but different styles of presenting — from upbeat to relaxed and so on.

The DJ beta is rolling out today, though it’s only currently available in English for Spotify Premium subscribers in the US and Canada. If you tick those boxes then you can find the new AI-powered feature by heading into your Music Feed on the homepage of the Spotify mobile app. From there, you should be able to just tap “Play” on the DJ card to try the feature for yourself.

Spotify’s DJ is one of the more interesting applications we’ve seen out of the recent slew of AI-powered tools. In particular, because the service is returning to radio, which many jumped to streaming to avoid. If you ignore the fancy wrapping of the AI voice, Spotify’s new DJ feature is basically a halfway house between a radio station you have no control over and a playlist you’ve meticulously curated. Does adding a virtual DJ to that help? Who knows. Some say Spotify’s attempts to diversify the platform have already left it feeling cluttered. Let’s see if an AI DJ can cut through the noise.

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