Spotify’s layoffs put an end to a musical encyclopedia, and fans are pissed

On a brutal December day, 17% of Spotify employees found out they had been laid off in the company’s third round of job cuts last year. Not long after, music fans around the world realized that the cult-favorite website Every Noise at Once (EveryNoise), an encyclopedic goldmine for music discovery, had stopped working.

These two events were not disconnected. Spotify data alchemist Glenn McDonald, who created EveryNoise, was one of the 1,500 employees who was let go that day, but his layoff had wider-reaching implications; now that McDonald doesn’t have access to internal Spotify data, he can no longer maintain EveryNoise, which became a pivotal resource for the most obsessive music fans to track new releases and learn more about the sounds they love.

“The project is to understand the communities of listening that exist in the world, figure out what they’re called, what artists are in them and what their audiences are,” McDonald told ProWellTech. “The goal is to use math where you can to find real things that exist in listening patterns. So I think about it as trying to help global music self-organize.”

If you work at a big tech company and get laid off, you probably won’t expect the company’s customers to write nine pages of complaints on a community forum, telling your former employer how badly they messed up by laying you off. Nor would you expect an outpouring of Reddit threads and tweets questioning how you could possibly get the axe. But that’s how fans reacted when they heard McDonald’s fate.

“I know that without Glenn, we’ve suffered an enormous permanent loss, but if Spotify doesn’t do something to salvage what it can, I will gladly drop it like a pile of hot garbage,” one fan wrote on the Spotify community forum. “I’ll be keeping an eye on Glenn and where he ends up; likely, it’ll be a service that actually cares about music and its superusers (and its employees!).”

Another fan added, “Spotify does not have the Netflix problem of dwindling content. Spotify is sitting on an unfathomably large catalog of music and better metadata about that music than any organization on Earth has ever been able to amass, and Everynoise was an honest, and highly successful, attempt to make that music self-discoverable to those willing to put in the effort.”

And, to quote a more concise complaint: “Everynoise was my Library of Alexandria, and you’re burning it down from the inside. Cut it out.”

McDonald created EveryNoise while working at The Echo Nest, a music intelligence firm, which Spotify acquired in 2013. The site hosts a map of over 6,000 music genres, which you can click on to hear samples of music in any genre from pagan black metal to Australian rockabilly. According to data from Similarweb, EveryNoise averaged about 633,227 monthly web visits in 2023.

When he came across a genre that didn’t have a name, he usually tried to name it the most straightforward thing possible — something like Bulgarian trap or Italian post-punk.

“I always thought that was part of what is interesting to talk about with music in general — the shared vocabulary we use to talk about music,” McDonald said.

But occasionally, he took some creative liberty. One of his favorite genre names is “escape room,” which fueled some memes when it appeared on a bunch of users’ Spotify Wrapped after he added it in 2020.

“It was added in the process of trying to understand how people’s listening is organized, and I could see this cluster of artists that was Lizzo, and everything around Lizzo in all directions. I totally failed to think of any descriptive name for it, but it was kind of escaping from the origins of trap music, and it was about the time when escape rooms were starting to get big, so I was like, let’s call it ‘escape room,’” he said. “It was great to see people complaining, like, ‘What the hell is escape room?’, and then finding ‘The Sound of Escape Room’ on Spotify and being like, ‘Oh, that’s all the artists I like.’”

When Spotify bought The Echo Nest, the data McDonald collected and hosted on EveryNoise became the basis of Spotify’s genre system. McDonald’s database powers the “Fans also like” feature, which appears on every artist page; plus, Spotify’s personalized “Daily Mix” feature came out of a project McDonald made at The Echo Nest.

“The genre project went on to become Spotify’s genre system,” McDonald explained. “It’s my visualization of a dataset that was originally the Echo Nest’s, that is now Spotify’s, and that I worked on and was the main curator of, and wrote all the algorithms and tools for. I wasn’t the only person working on adding genres to it. A lot of people have contributed over the years to building that data structure that powers some things at Spotify.”

Even if a feature is not directly tied to EveryNoise, the project’s painstaking categorization of every single genre means that McDonald’s fingerprints are on dozens of Spotify features, even those he didn’t actually work on. The meticulous and ever-expanding music genre map provides the data that informs products like the viral Daylist, or many of the statistics on Spotify Wrapped that fans share like wildfire.

McDonald contributed to a number of Spotify Wrapped features over the years, like Soundtowns, top genres, listening personalities and a Tarot-like feature. Soundtowns, which shows users what geographic location most closely shares their music taste, was one of the most viral stories on Wrapped this year.

“Soundtowns was specifically an idea that I had internally, and people picked it up and said we want to do it, and I helped the guys that were doing that particular story to make sure it was successful,” McDonald told ProWellTech. “These are things that we do because we like music, and we want people to have these experiences.”

But it was just days after Wrapped came out that Spotify made such staggering layoffs.

“The people like me who worked on Wrapped and then got laid off had like, half a week to bask in the work — we made the thing that is the most viral thing again on the internet,” McDonald said. “The timing with the layoffs and Wrapped was just sad. I got my swag from having contributed to Wrapped after I was laid off.”

EveryNoise was perhaps most popular for its New Releases feature, which allowed fans to easily browse new music filtered by genre — that might seem like something Spotify would have, but it doesn’t.

“I used Everynoise constantly, not only to discover new genres but find new releases in genres I had already cared about,” a fan wrote on the same community forum. “Spotify severely lacks features which support natural and user-guided discovery and I used this site to help bridge Spotify’s failure.”

Spotify has an API for developers, but it’s not as comprehensive as the internal data McDonald used as a Spotify employee. So while developers can pull individual releases through the API, there’s no way to create a complete list of popular new releases, or new releases by genre.

“The new releases thing… It could be revived if Spotify could do a little thing that would make it possible,” McDonald said. “I still feel like it’s sort of silly that I don’t get to work there anymore. I still care about the problem. And if I could help fix it on my own with these public tools, I would do that.”

If you navigate to EveryNoise now, it may look like the site is active. You can scroll around and click on any of the 6,000 genres, which play a clip of a sample song via Spotify. And you can search your favorite band, see what genres they are linked to, and use those connections to explore undiscovered bands you may never have encountered. But, this isn’t the constantly updating EveryNoise fans grew to love, with “New Music Fridays” and seamless links to Spotify. For now, the site just surfaces a static snapshot of its final state before McDonald’s layoff, with many of its best features no longer operable.

“All of the stuff I worked on was still running — or, I left it automated and running when I was laid off — but I have no idea what will happen though, so I assume some of it will get shut down,” McDonald said. “If we’re lucky, it’ll get voluntarily and intentionally shut down. If we’re unlucky, it’ll break, and I’m not there to fix it.”