Leaving Spotify & The Echo Nest
My last day at Spotify was last week. I’m not working on music discovery for the first time in my life since May 2000. I’m going to take some time off to finish some personal projects and start something new in 2017. I love Spotify: the people, the product, the creators, the users, and the mission. Their acquisition of my company The Echo Nest in 2014 was excellent for everyone involved but especially for artists and listeners. We’ve changed the landscape of music. It took me a long time to come to this decision, but it’s now time for me to learn more things and try something new.
The view from my public exit interview in front of my dear team in Somerville, last week: ♥️ (afterwards, I DJed Teddy Riley for 2 hours) pic.twitter.com/llMR8TFulJ— Brian Whitman (@bwhitman) November 16, 2016
My professional & personal life for so long has revolved around scalably helping artists find fans and fans finding new artists. I was a musician and computer science grad student in NYC at the top of the millennium, trying to tie together all the fast changes in distribution, recommendation, machine learning, signal processing and natural language understanding. Over the next five years I became an an academic at MIT working to fully explore the connection between the sound of music, the way people described it, and how it was received. With my labmate Tristan’s focus on musical signal processing we started The Echo Nest in 2005. We quickly built our research into products and grew our team to include our CEO Jim, Paul, offices in Somerville, NYC, SF, London and 70 amazing engineers, scientists and music-crazy people. Over the next 9 years, we powered the world of music for practically every single online service out there with a novel developer platform strategy.
The acquisition by Spotify in March 2014 was simply perfect. Both sides put endless amounts of effort into making it work, and within a few months we had fully integrated teams with a stunning new focus on making the best recommendation and music understanding products. The personalization, retrieval and knowledge graph team is now one of the biggest at Spotify. Almost every single former Echo Nest employee is still there after close to 3 years and loving the opportunity – very rare for technology acquisitions. I moved to our NYC office, still regularly visited “Spotify Boston” and was very lucky to sit next to the combined team as they built out our now-tentpole discovery products: Fresh Finds, Discover Weekly, Release Radar, and Daily Mix. Independent artists write me every day with a beautiful story about their appearance on Fresh Finds or an editorial playlist that then scaled to hundreds of thousands or millions of listeners via Discover Weekly or Daily Mix. We’re scaling with them: we’ve heavily invested in the future of discovery through research, machine learning, curation and data engineering, and there’s so many amazing things yet to come. The fight for care & scale in music discovery is far from over, but I can now step back and let their magic happen. It’s extraordinary to be able to watch an entire field form up from under you and even more amazing to be able to walk away to see where it goes.
I’m taking about three months off to rest, regroup, visit companies and friends and finish up some long-simmering personal projects. After that, the only thing I know right now is that I’ll be ready to do it all over again. Like many of my friends, I’m especially reflective these days on the role of prediction, privacy, information retrieval and machine learning on our culture. Music at its best acts as both a lens towards as well as a projection on the rest of our society. We’ve made great strides increasing the diversity of styles and the musicians themselves that people are listening to through careful editorial & algorithmic approaches. We take bad results very personally. We do everything we can to help surface creativity of all types and scale that beautiful moment when a true message hits its receiver. I need to do more, particularly beyond music.
Please reach out if you’d like to chat. You’re all great.
Nov 16 2016