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

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 that we consume entertainment has also shifted dramatically in the last ten years. In this brave new world, content is king. On-demand streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, YouTube and Spotify are all looking for as much content as they can humanly cram onto their platforms, but this naturally means we have to sift-through more content than we ever have before, just to get to what we want.

To combat this, how many of us simply utilize the ‘Trending Now’ section on the Netflix homepage when looking for a new binge-worthy 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 to us?

But 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 both distributed and consumed isn’t going to change anytime soon. And so, my philosophy is; if you can’t beat them, join them. So, ever since the start of 2020, I have allowed my music taste to be defined by targeted ads on social media.

It started with Instagram Story ads. Then came YouTube video ads. But 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. The Australian nu-metal band released ‘SILVER LINING’ in Jan 2022, and to date it has reached 46,957 views. On the flip side, hugely successful Reggae artist, Boy Boy, released ‘Adrenaline’ in 2019, and it has 12 million views. This is something I never would have found organically, but I love it nonetheless.

This shows the diversity of music you can discover if guided by targeted ads. Other bands that I’ve discovered through this journey 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”, writes Emhammed Faraq. On ‘Delete Me’ by K Williams, Lisandro Ochoa states, “I saw you on an Instagram ad, and I love your music!”

With 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 categorized within an ad set group and deemed appropriate to serve these ads, through my location, demographic, interests or behaviours. But it doesn’t affect my readiness to accept their suggestions – it’s a matter of efficiency.

Increasingly, our lives are being steered by AI, targeted ads and machine learning. Coupled with this, the way that we consume content has changed significantly, when compared with the past. On-demand streaming propositions are now the dominant – and preferred – method of consuming entertainment.

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In the past, the channels through which we would receive music, comedy, politics etc, have been rigid. The channels were limited – limited TV stations, limited radio, limited press. The latest musical record was dictated to you by radio DJs, TV talk show guest appearances and newspaper profiles. However 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 the creator economy has meant that there is now truly something for everyone. But that’s a lot of work to go and find it.

The crate-diggers will hate me, but I say, embrace it. The technology knows what you like – and it has the data to back it up!


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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