Published on bearblog

Drinking From the (Musical) Firehose on YouTube

Nowadays YouTube is a great place to listen to music, because everything is there. There’s such a wide selection of to listen to - seriously - the permissive ask-for-forgiveness1 bazaar means that if you search for it, it’ll be there. Make your own playlist, and when it’s time to add something new to you, it’ll be there. Alternatively, just be guided by the flow and don’t worry about where it’s all coming from.

And to that point, discovery is where YouTube really excels - The Algorithm knows what genres you like, and what you’ve listened to before, and there’ll always be an old favourite ready to listen again or something new, but familiar, to experience for the first time. Training time is minimal, because The Algorithm is a simple beast really (do you really think AlphaGooYou is going to waste resources on a complex model).

That said, sometimes you just want a change, and it’s hard to switch off completely. If you log out and clear your cookies, you’ll get music, sure; but it’ll be the worst dregs of contemporary nongenre, optimised for the dying radio sector. Not worth it! What you need is a quick way to jump out of your filter bubble: a random mode, a shuffle play, to say. And floating there in the aether, an odd edge case at the margins of the beast, it actually exists:

Here it is, the snappily named: “Uploads from Various Artists - Topic” Playlist. 20000 entries, all songs just recently uploaded to YouTube in the past week or so. Go ahead: break into a brand new song with 0 lifetime views!, Enjoy a random cyrillic-lettered song you can’t understand!, Use it as an infinite radio - whole new songs being added faster than you can listen to them!

Although I don’t completely understand why this exists, it seems to be a quirk in the YouTube partner music upload programme: music rightsholders (or those who purport to be) can upload music to YouTube2 in bulk and these are arranged into “Topic Channels” for each artist. These “Channels” inhabit the half-space between a real channel and a playlist - you can subscribe but there’s no real person on the other side of the curtain; certainly there’s no community there. And it seems, on one end or the other, that in the absence of any better information everything just gets unceremoniously dumped into the “Uploads from Various Artists - Topic” topic channel playlist.

Either way, it may be quirk, and an odd one at that; but it’s fun and it should be saved. Please don’t take it away, oh wondrous BigTech…


  1. For all the perils of YouTube’s arbitrary Copyright system, the variety of music it allows is certainly a benefit. When videos are allowed by default, and the normal punishment after detection of your copyright infringement is a few cents from ads going to the labels, you get channels like ultradiskopanorama uploading rare classics that were never going to go on a service like Spotify. 

  2. These videos always have “Auto-generated by YouTube” in the description, and all have their comments turned off (sadly a recent change). 


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