Ahead of Beats Music launch, Spotify adds some human curation of its own

Spotify is adding a new way to browse its catalog to its mobile devices Monday, enabling users to listen to hand-selected playlists for their workout or morning commute. Separately, the music service is getting ready to roll out messaging, allowing users to chat with their friends about the music they like without ever leaving the service.
Messaging will be made available to Spotify users over the coming weeks. But to anyone who has been following the ins and outs of the digital music biz, Spotify’s new browsing functionality, which is launching now on iOS and Android and on the service’s other platforms in the near future, is a much bigger deal.
That’s because some time in the next few months, Spotify is going to get competition from Beats Music, the music subscription service that’s being developed by Jimmy Iovine’s and Dr. Dre’s Beats Audio. And Beats Music’s big point of differentiation is human curation. Beats Music has hired a number of music experts to program playlists based on moods, genres and artists to help listeners find something to play after they’ve run out of band names to search for.
It’s a good idea in theory, since those millions of music tracks can be kind of overwhelming to people who are new to a music-subscription service. Some of Beats’ competitors try to solve this problem by either relying on social curation, allowing users to follow friends and taste makers, or by generating automated playlists to give users Pandora-like never-ending streams of music.
Beats execs have argued that both methods can’t replace human curation. With Monday’s launch, Spotify seems to be signaling that it can do human curation as well — but also saying that it doesn’t rely on it entirely. Instead, Spotify is combining human experts with algorithms and social, something the company likes to call a “three-dimensional approach.” The press release announcing the feature launch quoted Spotify Chief Product Officer Gustav Soederstroem:

“We don’t rely on one source for recommendations in real life — and music discovery can’t be one dimensional.”

Ouch, that hurts. I can’t decide if remarks like this mean that Spotify is scared of Beats, or if it simply wants to settle the debate before the rival has even launched. Either way, we can expect more drama in the online music space in the coming months. If you’re interested in learning more about the Beats brand, we’ll have one of the designers of the Beats by Dre headphones, Ammunition Partner Robert Brunner, speaking at our experience design conference RoadMap in November in San Francisco.
Check out a few screenshots of the playlist browsing feature on iOS below: