What’s a “Listening Personality”?

January 5, 2023 Published by glenn mcdonald, Data Alchemy

We did a couple of new things in Wrapped this year, and one of these is a thing called Your Listening Personality. You got one. There are 16 of them, in total:

2022 Wrapped Listening Personality Table

It’s not a lottery or a horoscope, though. As the four-letter codes at the bottom of each one hint, each Listening Personality is actually a combination of four binary attributes that each try to measure and describe one aspect of how you listen to music, independent of what music you like. Four combinations of two make 16 unique codes.

Here’s what each attribute means:

F/E: Familiarity vs Exploration

This one measures how much of your listening is spent playing your favorite artists, vs discovering artists you don’t know. Technically we have a score called “affinity” that measures your apparent dedication to each artist you play, and the F/E score is the sum of the inverses of these affinity scores. So if you only ever listened to one artist on permanent repeat, that would produce the maximum possible Familiarity score, and if you spent every waking moment playing music but never played any single artist more than once, that would produce the maximum possible Exploration score.

T/N: Timelessness vs Newness

This one measures how much of your listening is spent playing new or old music. The newer a new song is when you play it, the more it nudges you toward Newness. Every song you play that isn’t new nudges the other way, toward Timelessness. If you spent every week listening to only that week’s new releases (like, for example, you were me), that would produce the maximum possible Newness score. If you studiously manage to listen to a lot of music without ever playing anything new, that would produce the maximum possible Timelessness score. Both ways are fine. The past is effectively just as infinite as the future at this point.

L/V: Loyalty vs Variety

This one measures how much of your listening is spent playing the same songs or different ones. If you played just one song on repeat all the time, that would produce the maximum possible Loyalty score. At least with streaming you can’t wear out the bytes. If you had music going constantly but never played any song more than once, that would produce the maximum possible Variety score. (If you want to try this, I maintain a playlist that automatically updates every day with 1,000 songs chosen randomly from the whole Spotify catalog: here.)

C/U: Commonality vs Uniqueness

Sometimes you listen to music in order to know the songs that everybody else knows, or that your friends know. Sometimes music is how you differentiate your own identity. This one measures this by keeping track of how popular each song you play was on each day you played it. If you played each day’s #1 global song on Spotify on repeat all that day, every day, that would produce the maximum possible Commonality score, and you would definitely be prepared to talk to strangers about Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. If you played nothing but artists nobody else had listened to yet, that would produce the maximum possible Uniqueness score, and you would definitely be prepared to annoy Harry Styles and Taylor Swift fans by talking to them about music that neither they, nor anybody else, has heard of.

Each of these four measures is then normalized across the Spotify listening population. So if your listening leans further toward Familiarity than half of the other listeners on Spotify, you get an F as your first letter, and if it leans further towards Exploration, you get an E. Likewise for the other three. The four letters are each calibrated individually, but the 16 combinations are then allowed to appear in whatever proportions occur naturally. If you’re the sort of person who looks forward to Wrapped all year, that might be because you listen broadly and want to show off that breadth, or it could be because you followed your favorite artists obsessively and want to see how much you contributed to their year. And if you listen to playlists and radio, you still choose which playlists and radio, so you always have a way you listen, no matter what inputs or influences inform it.

And although we’ve presented this to you as Your Listening Personality, as if it’s a thing about you like your heart rate or your vocal range, of course it’s only a description of how you’ve been listening, recently, on Spotify. Your listening can change. If your Listening Personality doesn’t match how you think of yourself, maybe it will help you think about how you spend your listening time. Maybe you’d like to explore more, or less. Maybe you got out of the habit of listening to new music without meaning to. Maybe it’s time to find out what the kids are listening to, or to go back and play the records your parents loved, or to find out what the artists on the Top Hits playlist actually sound like.

Or not. It’s not a contest. You can’t lose. There’s no wrong way to listen to music, and these are 16 of the right ways.