In the wake of artificial intelligence developments like ChatGPT, Spotify announced it would join the artificial intelligence family with its AI DJ, a beta feature only available for Spotify Premium users in the U.S. and Canada. 

When a listener clicks on the DJ for the first time, they are greeted by a male voice named X, who introduces the first set of five songs, which are based on what songs the listener has on repeat. After five songs, X returns and introduces a new set of songs based on a different mood or genre. Sometimes, X even references what the listener just heard or will give a short biography on an artist.

Elon University music production and recording arts professor Todd Coleman doesn’t think Spotify’s new feature even qualifies as AI. 

“AI, to me — what makes it different from regular algorithms — is learning,” Coleman said. “They can learn by themselves, they can teach themselves things that are useful. And it doesn't sound like this is that at all.”

Coleman has a background in the intersection between technology and the arts, and he said the Spotify AI DJ seems to use the same computer algorithm usually used to create its “Daily Mix” and “Discover Weekly” playlists. The only difference is that the voice is AI-generated, modeled after Spotify’s Head of Cultural Partnerships Xavier “X” Jernigan.

Spotify itself even compares the AI DJ with their already-existing personalization algorithm, describing the DJ on their website as “a personalized AI guide that knows you and your music taste so well that it can choose what to play for you.”

In addition, Spotify’s in-house editors provide the OpenAI technology for DJ X with facts about music, artists and genres that the DJ can pull from. Though most of the time, the DJ focuses on telling the listener which artist or genre is coming up next in the queue.

Elon sophomore Tabby Spell is a musician who frequently uploads her music to Spotify, among other platforms. She described the DJ as “weird” and thinks it will further the trend of radio dying out, due to the DJ’s realistic voice.

“AI can't replace the joy of a real DJ on the air that you can interact with and whatnot,” Spell said. “But knowing how isolated we all seem to be and how comfortable we are with that, at this point, it could definitely take over.”

Coleman also spotlighted another side to the radio DJ versus AI DJ argument — the fear some have that AI will replace human beings in jobs like deejaying. With enough development and careful setting of limitations, the AI DJ could operate more efficiently than a radio DJ — and serve as entertainment.

“A robot can hold pieces of metal and weld them together and insert rivets and screw things on much faster than humans, so AI is the information side of that same puzzle,” Coleman said.

When humans are hired to research information, they read articles, take notes and make connections. AI basically does the same thing, Coleman said, just without the use of a brain. A radio DJ’s job is to deliver information to a general audience about the music curated, which is what Spotify’s AI DJ is trying to do..

But it’s not quite there.

Coleman pulled out his phone and asked ChatGPT what it thought of the Spotify AI DJ. This was the response:

“Opinions on Spotify’s new AI DJ are mixed. Some people think it's a great way to enhance the music, listening experience and help curate music based on individual tastes. Others criticize the AI DJ for lacking soul and interrupting the flow of music with robotic announcements,” ChatGPT wrote. “Ultimately, whether or not someone likes the AI DJ will depend on their personal preferences and how they feel about technology's role in music correct curation.” 

Coleman labeled this response “horoscope-y” or vague — a reflection of the early days of AI. AI hasn’t had adequate time to learn at a deeper level, and this observation carries over to entertainment AI like the DJ. Coleman said there needs to be questions asked about limitations and how the AI feature can be best used in anticipation for AI’s growing intelligence.

As an Apple Music subscriber, Coleman said he wouldn’t run to Spotify based on this new AI feature, but he would feel more inclined to use it if he could ask the DJ specific questions about the music so the DJ can learn more about his personal preferences over time.

“Let's say it's the latest Taylor Swift song or something, and I'm like, ‘Those were cool lyrics, do you know any poetry that's in a similar style?’ Coleman said. “Now you're getting into things that interest me.”

Spell agrees, adding that she hopes the DJ will explain why it recommends them a certain song, so listeners can know what they’re getting into. Spell also acknowledges that AI developments in music don’t just affect streaming platforms.

“It's just one step further in this overarching trend of AI taking over artistic spaces, however, I did hear this insight the other day that some people see it as a good thing where it will challenge artists to be more innovative with their creations,” Spell said. “So, AI can generate pop music now. Hopefully, because of that, real human artists will push themselves further.”

Despite hopes for improvements in Spotify’s AI DJ, Coleman also thinks the feature could just be a gimmick by Spotify in order to make themselves known in the ever-growing world of AI. Instead of focusing on that, he said they should focus on paying artists more, which could indirectly, over time, improve future AI efforts by Spotify.

“I wish they put in place a more ethical business model and then maybe artists would buy into that more and contribute things to the platform – photos, interviews, deeper information about their songwriting process on each song. And an AI could tap into that,” Coleman said. “Whether it's a real DJ or an AI DJ or whatever, that makes for a much richer meaningful music experience.”