🎧 Spotify Stations: on top of hands-off music listening

Spotify released its Stations app not so long ago, in ßeta in the US. Here’s a complete review of this very interesting project, before it comes down on our devices!

Full app review of Spotify Stations

Spotify released its Stations app not so long ago, in ßeta in the US. Here’s a complete review of this very interesting project, before it comes down on our devices!

Let’s say it once before examining the whole thing: Stations is a smart, modern and audacious project. Here are the main take aways

  • #TheApp : « Stations » is an independent Spotify app. It focuses on a feature that already exists on Spotify: the stations. When you play a station, the music basically never stops, because a track starts just when the other stops.
    You can have several different stations, for each genre or artist that you like. And each station’s queue of tracks is composed by the app, following your preferences.
  • #UX – Spotify Stations only contains… stations. That’s all. No podcasts, no playlists, no events, no artists or song search. Only stations. As such, the user experience is incredibly powerful while being very simple. In terms of features, the app « only » replaces a classic set of FM stations, but here, these Stations are powered by Spotify’s famous recommendation algorithm. Very audacious bet and proof of confidence of the company in its number one appreciated asset.  
  • #UI – The interface smartly delivers this experience. Turning on the app for the first time is enough to access a station without a single click. Then, the user has barely 4 or 5 moves to make to enrich their stations. No more. And native interface components are modern and very intuitive.
  • #Algorithm – The algorithm training of a station relies on adding artists into it and on liking tracks while they’re played. Sure, it’s satisfying. But in the use it is probably not pushed at its maximum since the app doesn’t cover on its front the complete set of links between artists/tracks/albums/events/playlists/etc. that the original Spotify app contains. Especially, the playlist concept has been completely wiped.
  • #Positioning – There was a place to take on the easy music-listening. So with this app, all of us who need – always or sometimes – to just let it play while we do something else, we will be satisfied. More precisely, « who exactly does Stations target? » I don’t know, but I would be so curious to see the analytics few weeks after the public release and try to draw core personae out of it…
  • #Deepness – Details around a track have been blown away too. Click on a track that’s playing: nothing will happen. You will access no related album, nor artist page or related stations. Experience is really about a « hands-off » mode. Launch the app, it will play the music that you like, that’s all you need to know. Some of us, passionated listeners that are interested into the content that surrounds a track, might be a bit frustrated.

A personal opinion? I spent a few hours letting it play and enriching stations… It’s incredibly powerful and accurate – as expected. And content around stations, if some is meant to be produced/curated/featured, could be key to further success. Let’s dig into it and try to understand Spotify’s project in a wider stand. 

Are you a Spotify user?


Next screenshots will be in english 😉 I couldn't retrieve these screens in english...

After first login – with classic credentials or Facebook connect-, you get to this nice three-screens slider. Short and quite usual.
Maybe you recognize the Circular font (Arial family) of Spotify?
There’s some new stuff: Spotify used to on-board their users with another atmosphere, especially with lifestyle pictures in background (see here). This new iconography and flat unified colors in the background might be a first shot for the ßeta version, but I like it this way. It’s rather punchy.
And it actually paves the way for the awe-inspiring simple UI of the rest of the app.

Wooops what happened to second slider's subtitle? Looks like they forgot to center it...

To finish the on-boarding, a little guidance is available in-app, if needed. And that’s it. You’re all set.

I find a bit old-school the « Back » and « Next » text links in bottom corners. Arrows would probably have been enough (see Instagram stories on-boarding).

Single-screen app

« So let’s start with the menu. Wait… Where is it? Where’s the menu? »
No menu my friend. Stations app only has one screen for the main layer. From here, you can only get down in the app, nothing to see on the sides! It’s already a huge gap of simplification compared to the classic Spotify app, that displays a four-pages bottom menu.

The main body of this .gif shows the top-down slide that switches playlists. A very intuitive choice of display and touch for this action. Hence, stations switching is supposed to be the major daily move made by users. Might be, yes. We’ll come back to this question later on.

When the user glances at the top bar, looking for the menu, they integrate that only one action will actually ever be available.

The top bar stages only one main action: « + Add station« . Very interesting choice. In fact, we better know top bars dedicated to title, search and even more frequently, to menu access. So when the user glances at it, they mentally replace the « Looking for other options » expectation with the « There’s only one option » reality.

Still on top bar, we find an easy-to-reach device controller, plus the settings. Again, I think it’s a lucid choice not to have merged them. My guess is that over the last years, smart home devices (Google Home, Alexa,…), connected speakers and wireless headphones/ear pods have proven their daily weight into music listening. Analytic review of this already-existing feature on classic Spotify must have guided this choice.

It’s already playing

Open Stations, it starts playing. Even on first on-boarding.
« But you had no pre-configured stations, had you ? ». In fact, Spotify groomed my favorite artists and my top songs and built a first batch of 4 Stations out of it. Remember 2018 wrapped content? This superbe retention campaign was ment to higher purpose than just engage their users in few clicks on January 2019…
In other words, if you already have a Spotify account with a bit of listening with it, you CAN NOT DISLIKE the first track that Stations plays. You’ve heard it, liked it, shared it, playlisted it so many times that it has to be a match with your expectations, had you any.

I must admit that I found it disappointing not to find any stations based on my dear Spotify Playlists. I mean, they’re juste like pre-built stations, aren’t they? « Maybe I’ll get them later… » I thought.

Enriching a station

Let’s come back on our UX journey.

Since we already have a few stations, it might be interesting to work on one of them.
You can enrich a station with two actions that will train the recommandation algorithm:

  1. Like or dislike the tracks that play
  2. Add artists to the « root » of the station (see .gif)

Artist search is pretty simple, starts with only 1 character, and artists pictures are helpful.

What’s interesting comes next: once you’ve added an artist, other ones related pop immediatelysmartly inserted in-between the one you’ve just added and the last artist you had added before.
Notice that within this discovery phase, it’s the first time that the user sees the recommandation algorithm in action. Everything before was just blind confidence into pre-built stations.
It’s like taking a breath with a behavior that we finally know, after all this newness.

A little down, to me, is this double « save » click that’s needed to complete the update of the station. I missed it once or twice.

Unless you try the app, you will have to trust me on this one: I think that 1 extra gesture is missing.
When I am listening to a station, it can happen that a song that I like pops up. But it actually would fit ANOTHER station – or several others. So I don’t wan’t to dislike the music, because I like it. But I don’t want to like either, because I don’t want the algorithm to integrate that it was a good choice to put this song into this specific station.
In that case, it might be useful to drag and drop the music played into the playlists that I aim.

Creating a station

Back to our « + Add station » button.
A click will take you to a two-tabs screen that will let you start your station with either « Artists », either « Genres & Moods » (see screenshots below).
For each genre/mood, you get sub-genres stations.

First thing about this artist recommendation: I really don’t like Damso‘s music. Nor Maitre Gims‘. I mean, that’s even possible that I disliked them in classic Spotify already.
So let’s cut this review right away, this app totally suc…
No wait. It’s actually interesting. Remember the point about playlist-based stations? Well they’re still missing here.
Why can’t I just turn on a station that’s based on a playlist that I’ve put so much effort into? If I could do so, I might not have to deal with artists that I don’t like.
It’s a real down to me here since I’ve spent literally hours on building them. Naming them. Picturing them. Spotify even had me creating folders, and subfolders of playlists…
Playlists are like babies to Spotify users. And now Stations wants us to forget about them? Tough.

Work, commute, drive = Stations

With an objective Product Management stand, I must say that this app is a remarkable shot towards all people used to listen to music when they work, commute, drive, ride, read, play,… it’s obvious that a big market hole was waiting for this to come. Well, actually Pandora was first on this field but I’m not sure they will last long against Stations. UX is still too complex, UI not as qualitative.

Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music… same thing. For sure, they all are great products. But not meant to deal a single feature.

  • Soundcloud doesn’t even suggest a default station that you would be keen to listen. And when you launch one, they prove being quite light on the recommendation part, since they invite you to modify the queue. So it becomes a self-made temporary playlist, not a station.
  • Deezer Flow and Apple Music have way more complex UIs than Stations with a lot of deepness and relations between objects. It’s great but it looses someone that just wants to launch a station right now, and then forget about the app while music continues.

Odds are great for previous generations too. We know that our parents were used to their set of 6 FM stations, but over the last decade, they might have neglected it – except in the car, for sure – because of other more powerful medias. If firsts releases’ data prove it, marketing & communication could hard-push on the 40-50 years old. They don’t have any relevant substitues to their FM stations yet.

Music is dead, long lives Music?

Now, in a more personal stand, I think I am too interested into the music that’s playing to be a core Stations’ user.

On Stations, click on an artist? Nothing happens. Click on a track? Still nothing. Looking for a song? You won’t find any. Want to check if this band released something lately? Trust the algorithm, it may bring it to you one day – or not.
So first, about internal objects’ linking: I am very frustrated to know that I will never get deeper (or sides) than the station level.

Second point, and more important to me, is about all the content that makes the music a living art.

Let’s talk a bit about what could have been added to Stations, so that profound music lovers become core users.

1. Easy integrations 📲

  • Spotify partnered with Genius and their lyrics database: Stations and Genius would be plugged. And stations would show the lyrics to those who want to sing or to learn what’s the music about.
  • Spotify launched Line-in in 2018, so that users can suggest edition on music metadata (release dates, genres,…): Stations and Line-in would be plugged too. And superpowers would be given to those who prove being educated/passionated/experienced users and contributors.

2. Share & collaborate 🤝

Again, easy stuff for Spotify, they already have every thing:

  • Sharing a playlist on classic Spotify is a very common action. Why not replicate it in Stations?
    Instead of URL link or emmebed, which exist today, sharing could be triggered from the app, and appear as push notif, or in-app notification on another device.
  • Exact same thing with multi-user collaboration on a playlist. Spotify already has it. On Stations, users would also collaborate with their friends and family on a common Station.

3. Beloved content

  • Spotify recently acquired Parcast and Gimlet Media, which are two huuuuge Podcast producers/broadcasters. They know how to deliver extraordinary content in a mic. What if they took the place of presenters? We would have so great stories about backstages, studios, events, talks about creativity or technique…
  • As « new generation FM presenters », these teams would also invite artists to perform live. For example, traditional Seattle KEXP 90.3 FM, and US NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts made there reputation out of it: they know how to push artists beyond their limits and create very emotional atmospheres (here are two examples 1, 2). Stations’ audio content would be sure also available in video format. To be broadcasted on website, social networks, personal channels…
  • Red Bull Academy (RBMA) has done a tremendous work on stimulating music industry. Without a single line of code. They curate lectures of artists, boost partnerships between labels, and broadcast high quality content. And they’re not even native of this industry. In a wider and very exciting version of Stations project, it would be so great to have Spotify fostering artists and communities around music.

All right I think that’s enough reviewing for today. I hope you liked it:)
It was a pleasure to me anyway.
Stay tuned for more or write me at tristan.bochu.pro@gmail.com if you feel like talking about this one or anything else 😉
By the way, here’s the song I had at Stations Opening:

Souls of Mischief – 93 ‘Til Infinity
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