For a joint team between Warner Music Ireland and Droga5, music struck a chord as an answer for children with SSDs. The solution was inspired by a team member at Droga5, who shared that their sister, an educator in Ireland, had noticed her student’s frustration with the learning materials available for SSDs. The kids found the material babyish and dull. The genius idea: Create a playlist so fine-tuned that children could overcome problem speech patterns by singing along to the songs they love.
Several Droga5 staffers who had personally overcome SSDs were instrumental in developing the model further, sharing necessary context and first-person perspective. The team ended up pitching the idea to Warner Music, one of the "big three" recording companies. As part of Warner Music Group’s corporate social responsibility, the company supports initiatives in music with positive social impact. Internal research revealed that musicians (including WMG’s Ed Sheeran) have long used their art to help with speech sound disorders, so this area was a perfect fit—and had the potential to be a smash hit.
The next step was securing distribution, and as big a lyric database as possible. When Apple Music signed on, bringing a music library of more than 70 million songs as well as lyrics for tracks on its streaming service, a powerhouse partnership was born.
To assemble the perfect playlists, the team used an original Droga5 algorithm developed to analyze song lyrics for phonemes occurring with a certain frequency, as well as other conditions such as proximity to similar sounds and placement within a sentence. Simply, the algorithm crawled through Apple Music’s catalog to pull out the best songs that fit the “rules” for addressing SSDs, keying in on repetition of certain syllables and sounds—'CH', 'D', 'F', 'G', 'K', 'L', 'R', 'S', 'Z' and 'T'.
Along the way, the team consulted with a variety of voices from across the speech and language industry, including 14-year NHS speech and language therapist Anna Biavati-Smith, to sense-check the concept, build additional rules into the algorithm and ensure its value to potential patients. Ultimately, this work became the "single largest data analysis of song lyrics ever," and more than 170 songs were selected for their therapeutic benefits.
The project at launch was cleverly dubbed "Saylists," and boasted 10 curated playlists, each with 10 to 20 songs. Featured artists include Daft Punk, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna, Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay, Justin Bieber and Adele. More specifically: Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” is part of the "D" playlist; Lizzo’s "Good as Hell" and Ed Sheeran’s "Galway Girl" star in the "G" playlist; David Bowie’s "Changes" represents for "CH"; Fatboy Slim’s "Right Here, Right Now" features in "R."
The playlists are exclusive to Apple Music and available to the service's nearly 80 million subscribers.