Last year was a pretty brutal time for many Spotify employees, with thousands of jobs cut in three separate rounds of layoffs. But the loss of one particular engineer is threatening the future of the innovative music encyclopedia Every Noise at Once – and fans of the service are not happy …

Spotify layoffs

Spotify started last year with some 600 layoffs, killed several hundred more jobs in the summer, and ended the year by laying off some 1,500 employees.

CEO Daniel Ek labelled the massive job cuts as a ‘strategic reorientation.’

This is not a step back; it’s a strategic reorientation. We’re still committed to investing and making bold bets, but now, with a more focused approach, ensuring Spotify’s continued profitability and ability to innovate. Lean doesn’t mean small ambitions; it means smarter, more impactful paths to achieve them. 

We noted at the time that, however Ek labelled it, the company’s fundamental challenge remains unchanged: Streaming music subscriptions are an extremely tenuous business model, with little potential for profitability. Apple Music competes because it doesn’t have to make money on the subscription – it’s simply another attraction of the ecosystem.

Every Noise at Once

Every Noise at Once is a fascinating innovative and interactive visual musical encyclopedia, much loved by its users.

“The project is to understand the communities of listening that exist in the world, figure out what they’re called, what artists are in them and what their audiences are,” creator Glenn McDonald told TechCrunch. “The goal is to use math where you can to find real things that exist in listening patterns. So I think about it as trying to help global music self-organize.”

You might call it the intersection of mathematics and the musical arts.

You can search for an artist you love, and see the ways in which Spotify categorizes their music. You can then click on one of those categories to see a visual map of matching artists, with the size of the name reflecting their popularity.

The above screengrab, for example, reflects a search for Anna Nalick and then selecting acoustic pop. Big names shown here include The Paper Kites, Sara Bareilles, Brandi Carlile, and Ray LaMontagne. You can click on any name for a brief sampling of their music, and click the chevrons for a discography and much more.

Threatened by layoff of creator

The future of Every Noise at Once is now under threat, as McDonald was one of those laid off by Spotify. Aside from the personal impact, he said it also means he no longer has access to the internal Spotify data needed to keep the site updated.

With my layoff from Spotify on 2023-12-04, I lost the internal data-access required for ongoing updates to many parts of this site. Most of this, as a result, is now a static snapshot of what, for now, will be the final state from the site’s 10-year history and evolution, hosted on my own server. Some pieces may get disabled and reenabled over time, and some that only made sense with current data may never return. But we’ll see.

TechCrunch reports that fans of the site are not impressed with Spotify’s decision.

If you work at a big tech company and get laid off, you probably won’t expect the company’s customers to write nine pages of complaints on a community forum, telling your former employer how badly they messed up by laying you off. Nor would you expect an outpouring of Reddit threads and tweets questioning how you could possibly get the axe. But that’s how fans reacted when they heard McDonald’s fate.

It seems a pretty bizarre layoff given that McDonald’s earlier work actually forms the basis of Spotify genres, as well as other popular features.

McDonald’s database powers the “Fans also like” feature, which appears on every artist page; plus, Spotify’s personalized “Daily Mix” feature came out of a project McDonald made at The Echo Nest.

Hopefully sanity will prevail, and Spotify will realise its mistake, and rehire him.

Graphic: Every Noise at Once

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