The Art and Science Behind Your Summer Listening Picks

Summer 2024 is officially underway, and with it comes our possibilities for personalizing the soundtrack that’ll have you grooving through August. For example, have you seen what’s on our 2024 Songs of Summer predictions list? You know it’s got Sabrina Carpenter’s “Espresso,” “Gata Only” by FloyyMenor and Cris Mj, Shaboozey’s “A Bar Song (Tipsy),” and Chappell Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe!” to name a few.

But our annual Songs of Summer picks are just one way that we’re helping you score your summertime.

So if we could interrupt your streaming for just a moment, we want to give you a bit more insight into all the ways you can define your summer listening habits. From the skilled team of music editors who help develop Songs of Summer to the ace engineers who are evolving our tools to better fit your listening habits, it’s truly art and science working side by side. 

We’ve tapped Sulinna Ong, Spotify’s Global Head of Editorial, Music; and Ziad Sultan, Spotify’s Vice President of Personalization, to reveal more about the magic behind how the music of summer takes hold.

Sulinna, let’s start with you and our annual Songs of Summer playlist. How does the global editorial team determine which songs are growing in popularity? How does user data help inform the song predictions list? 

Sulinna: Our predictions each year are built by our global music editors spread all over the world, who are constantly monitoring data to use alongside their cultural expertise. During summer it’s particularly interesting to watch the data that shows songs moving through different markets. For instance, afropop and amapiano often have more global reach during the summer months, as well as country exporting outside of the U.S., and dance music, which generally surges globally. We monitor how songs are growing in our playlists, which indicates which songs users are loving the most. Our editors share this information across markets and regularly highlight songs we’re seeing break out of different playlists with each other throughout the season.

Does a Spotify Song of Summer need to be a new release, or could an older song make the cut? How does your team decide which songs qualify? 

Sulinna: While we anticipate that songs released in the last few months will make the majority of our Songs of Summer list, we know that more than ever our listeners love discovering music released at any time. Release date isn’t really a factor here. In 2023, one of the biggest songs of the summer was Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” an album track from 2019’s Lover. Our editorial team predicted the song was going to be a hit long before it became an official single. This year, Chappell Roan’s “HOT TO GO!” is an example of a song that came out last summer but only now is beginning to raise its hand, especially over the past few weeks. Our music editors are constantly monitoring trends and ensuring our curation reflects them.

What kinds of sounds or moods do our editors look for that resonate with listeners this time of year? 

Sulinna: Thinking about where they are listening to music in the summertime helps us identify what makes a good summer song. Typically it’s a song that’s upbeat and makes you feel good—that might sound great with a group of friends, be it around a BBQ, at a pool party, or simply enjoying some time outdoors. Music provides the soundtrack to our lives, so we envision the moments these songs will be played.

Does our Songs of Summer list stay the same all season, or do the songs change in ranking?

Sulinna: The science behind our choices is a blend of cultural expertise and data. When making our selections, we factor in not only how songs are performing on the platform, but also how the culture at large is reacting to them. Are these songs becoming memes or going viral on social platforms? Have their lyrics become a part of generational vernacular? These are the factors we consider throughout the season as these songs continue to reach new audiences. As a result, the list does see ranking changes.

There are big stories about how artists like Benson Boone, Shaboozey, Tyla, and Tems have exploded into superstardom this year. How does Spotify help emerging or breakout artists?

Sulinna: We’re always committed to supporting emerging artists, whether it’s through programs like RADAR and Fresh Finds or our weekly playlist updates. Our playlist ecosystem thrives on discovery, and it’s our job as curators to introduce listeners to artists and songs within the environments of our specific playlists. Each of these artists have been supported on Spotify for years. Often breakout artists appear to happen overnight, but our curation history proves that generally there are years of support and discovery that lead to the superstar moment.

Ziad: Recommendations are powered by data. When many users have added a given song to their playlists and listened to it, personalization algorithms can use that data to find patterns and recommend those songs to new users. But new releases, by definition, don’t have very much playlisting or listening data yet! That’s called a “cold start” challenge and we are constantly working on improving our ability to recommend new music so that we can match artists and listeners as soon as possible.

That’s when we need to look at more factors, like signs of popularity. If we see something that’s rising on the charts, that’s a very useful signal to our recommendation algorithms to take into account. Given their cultural expertise, predictions from Sulinna’s team on songs they think our users may enjoy are another factor.

We’re constantly testing various approaches and they don’t always go perfectly, but we’re getting better and better at delivering fans their next new favorite artist. I like to think of it as a fun and important challenge that will help listeners find their song of the summer.

As summer approaches, how does your team get together to kick off the season officially on Spotify?

Sulinna: Summer on Spotify is always a massive moment as listeners across the Northern Hemisphere look for the perfect songs to soundtrack the season. We see listeners naturally gravitate towards our summer playlists earlier each year, so the editorial team works to make sure these playlists are filled with the best music to match the mood and cultural moments happening that year. The U.K.’s huge throwback list Summer Bangers, Germany’s Sommergefühle, and global lists such as Summer Hits and Summer House 2024 are some highlights. 

Ziad, as Sulinna noted, so many of us spend summertime with family and friends. How can Spotify serve up music that is inspired by your friends’ music tastes?

Ziad: At Spotify, we know that music and audio help people connect with their friends and family. For this reason, we offer several social features—collaborating to create playlists, listening together in real time with our Jam social listening experience, understanding your shared music taste with Blend playlists, and our suite of sharing features—to help our listeners better connect with their friends and family.

How does Spotify choose what summer song to play next once the track or album you’ve chosen ends?

Ziad: To determine what to play you next, our systems have to look at what you were playing first. For example, what we play after a Heavy Metal song is very different from what we recommend after an Ethiopian Jazz song. From there, we look to play something we think you’ll like, but it has to be the right balance—it shouldn’t always be very close to what you were just listening to otherwise it will get monotonous, but it shouldn’t be too far off either otherwise you will have an incoherent session. The last piece is that it should adapt to the individual user. If you and your best friend were both listening to the same artist, autoplay may give you both a different recommended song to listen to next based on your individual taste profiles.

Stay tuned to @Spotify and @SpotifyNews for more summer music fun. And if you’re searching for a more personalized summer soundtrack featuring the hits you love, hit play on our Summer Hits 2024 playlist.