The idea first came to Lane Jordan when he heard an odd little fact: Around 20 percent of tracks on Spotify—some four million songs—had been played exactly zero times.
Four million songs! That got Jordan thinking. What were those songs? And don't they, too, deserve a little listening?
Jordan brought the idea to his friend, J Hausmann, and together, along with the help of a third friend (Nate Gagnon), they built Forgotify, a discovery engine for Spotify's unplayed tracks.
Forgotify is built upon a database that the trio created to crawl Spotify's API for pieces with a play count of zero. Once a song has been played, it disappears from the site, rendering it oddly reminiscent of an old, archival audio cassette which, once played, may never play again. Playing it destroys it. (Except, of course, in the case of Forgotify, the songs still live on in Spotify proper.)
The catalog of zero-play songs is, unsurprisingly—definitionally, perhaps—obscure. I've been listening to it for the past few hours, and its finds have been ... eclectic, with a few hits mixed in with lots of misses. There's been operatic French modernist music, instrumental church hymns, one bit of Tchaikovsky (something of a reprieve), a country ballad sung by a New Zealander during a brief Nashville sojourn, Greek rebetiko, and a Norwegian religious folk melody played on a recorder (the clear winner, in my book).
According to Jordan, a lot of Spotify's undiscovered tracks are older: Newer music tends to get at least a few plays as it posts, but the backlog from decades past just sits on Spotify's digital shelves, accumulating dust. Forgotify, however, is built to mix it up. "We’ve tried to randomize the plays as much as possible so that each sequential track is from a different era and genre," Jordan told me.
While the randomness certainly kept things interesting, I can't say that Forgotify was among the more enjoyable listening experiences I've had. And that's perhaps to be expected: "Some have said that there's a reason those tracks have not been played, and I tend to agree," Jordan says.
But at the same time, there was a sort of thrill in knowing that I was listening to something very new—not new in terms of being recent, but in terms of being unknown. (Of course, people may be listening to that Greek rebetiko tune at home on their LPs, for all I know, or even on another service like Rdio—but, still, pretty unknown.) And, as Jordan says, "if you stumble upon just one gem, I think it's worth it."