Broadcasting, Broadcaster, Programming

What Does 'Random' Song Shuffling Mean?

When you "shuffle" songs to create a random order, sometimes as a listener it can appear that the order isn't random at all. However, with a little understanding of Gambler’s fallacy and our shuffling algorithm, we can clear up any misunderstanding related to what "random" really means when shuffling songs.

Gambler's Fallacy

Gambler's fallacy is the mistaken belief that if something happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future (or vice versa). This occurs in situations where the outcome being observed is truly random and consists of independent trials of a random process. Gambler's fallacy applies to situations: flipping a coin, scratching a lottery ticket, rolling dice, and even shuffling music.

Let's use some unrelated examples to explore the concept of Gambler's fallacy further:

When you flip a coin, no matter how many times you've flipped it, you have the same chance of flipping heads as you do tails. However, as humans, we tend to think that if we flip heads 5 times in a row, it is more likely that we will flip tails the next time since we flip heads so many times in a row. That is not the case, though. We always have a 50/50 chance.

The same concept goes into the game of Monopoly when it is your turn to roll the dice. If you roll any doubles, you get to roll again after completing your turn. If you roll doubles three times in a row, you go to jail and immediately end your turn. If you are in jail, rolling any set of doubles gets you out of jail, and then you end your turn after completing the action from where you landed. If we roll one set of doubles, our brain is wired to lessen the probability of that happening again. Then it happens for a second and third time, and you think, "Are these dice loaded?" The answer is almost always no, it's truly random, and by chance, you struck three doubles. Now the actual probability of rolling doubles is ⅙. The possibility of rolling doubles three times in a row is 1/216 or 0.46%! That's a tiny percentage, but if you look at how long a Monopoly game goes, the chances of at least one person getting three doubles in a row are probable. The same goes for shuffling music!

As a listener, you may have noticed that the same artist has played 2-3 times within a short time. In perfectly random order, it is neither more nor less likely that you will hear a different artist after hearing a song from a particular artist. This means you can hear the same artist a few times within a short time, and your songs are still in random order. Every song has an equal chance of being played, regardless of the artist, so if you have several songs per artist, there's no guarantee that you won't hear the same artist within a short time. This is where Gambler's fallacy comes into play. Although we often believe that it should be less likely to hear the same artist within an hour, for example, in perfectly random order, the likelihood of hearing the same artist is the same as hearing a different artist.

Our Algorithm

The Live365 algorithm has the same random chance as flipping a coin; however, it cannot be as random as rolling doubles three times in a row, and this is because of the DMCA restrictions. These restrictions apply to our Playlists and AutoDJ features and have a built-in checker to make sure that in a three hours time frame:

  1. No more than three different songs from the same album play, with no more than two such songs transmitted consecutively.
  2. No more than four different songs by the same artist or compilation play, with no more than three such songs transmitted consecutively.

In a truly random shuffle, you could hear the same artist or album in a short time or consecutively at random; however, the chance of hearing three songs by the same artist or album in three hours is lower than that of rolling doubles three times in a row, at 0.42%. It's safe to say that the already small chance of that happening is taken out. Nonetheless, it is still considered random.

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Article Image: Three gold dice, the shuffle sign, and an illustrated hand flipping a coin on a teal background. (Tanggamus1001, tvectoricons, abscent via DepositPhotos.)