“Ordered lists of songs are as old as radio itself.”
July 16, 2015 11:58 AM   Subscribe

At Pitchfork, Marc Hogan has put together a long read on “how playlists are curating the future of music.”. He speaks to various folks in positions of power at the different services, including former Pitchfork editor-in-chief Scott Plagenhoef (now running music programming and editorial across Apple Music) and former Pitchfork associate editor Jessica Suarez (now lead streaming editor at Google).
posted by Going To Maine (24 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I will freely note that part of the reason I've posted this is because I remain fascinated by how PItchfork has grown from indie website to dictator of pop defaults at major music services.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:00 PM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh! And I should have mentioned Hogan's older, related article: How Much Is Music Really Worth?
posted by Going To Maine at 12:02 PM on July 16, 2015


I listen to a lot of playlists (mostly on Songza) these days; I used to be obsessive about creating lists in iTunes, and still do put some together there (or on Spotify) now and again, but my free time is not as plentiful as it used to be, and while I still listen to a ton of music I just don't have the time or patience to spend on creating The Perfect Playlist.

The other factor is that at 41 I'm less concerned than I used to be with burnishing my music nerd credentials or trying to impress girls with my musical knowledge, so I'm happy to lean on someone else's expertise.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:16 PM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


What stuns me is how good algorithmic playlists have gotten. Pandora was always mediocre for me - it ended up with the same songs on every station.

But Google Play Music usually creates great stations by just selecting a single song. IT's amazing.

Now, it's not "Girl, Hold My Earings" kind of playlists but it's still really good for a machine.
posted by GuyZero at 12:18 PM on July 16, 2015


The recent RS interview with Reznor was interesting, and along the same lines.

RS. How important is the idea of curation in the service?

TR. When you hear the word "curation," which is being thrown about by pretty much everyone, there is a difference between saying, "Here's a ton of playlists that we've done," and a sense of quality that comes from, say, Amoeba [Records] where I walk in there and look at the staff recommendations. [With Amoeba] I can tell that somebody – a collection of people whose lives revolve around music – spent a lot of time curating that list. And when I walk into the reggae section, which I don't know that much about but I'm interested in the dub section, I can see that people have curated and presented that stuff in ways that make it a more exciting starting point for me to get into and it weeds out stuff that's more difficult.


The attempt to change the perception of radio (or streaming radio) to one of tastemaking or curation is not necessarily a new push. Behind the scenes, radio stations have always served as promotional engines for record companies, but they also knew early on to put DJs as human beings in front of the mic, people whose musical tastes are apparently shared with the listeners. It gives a kind of illusion that the DJs and their listeners are participating in something communal, whilst serving the necessary commercial goals.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:20 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I will freely note that part of the reason I've posted this is because I remain fascinated by how PItchfork has grown from indie website to dictator of pop defaults at major music services.

They've basically been the equivalent of Rolling Stone but for their audience/generation for quite a while now. It was fascinating to watch happen, but I'm not at all surprised at their current power/reach.
posted by sparkletone at 12:24 PM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do wish Apple Music let you search through others' playlists. And I listen a ton to KCRW (proud member!) and get some of my music from it.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:34 PM on July 16, 2015


GuyZero: do you have to pay to use the Google Play radio feature? If so, how much?
posted by persona au gratin at 12:39 PM on July 16, 2015


With a Google Play Music subscription, you can listen to an unlimited number of songs and discover new music you love with custom radio stations.

(Note: Some radio features aren't available in all countries.)

Subscriptions all look to be priced about the same - $9.99 per month (USD).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:02 PM on July 16, 2015


Awesome, thanks. Pandora gets a lot of use, but tends to repeat songs more than I'd like.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:03 PM on July 16, 2015


Apple Music's curated playlists are really very good. I've been a bit surprised these past weeks as I've dug into them. There's even a weekly Experimental playlist that isn't afraid to go into the obscure, unfriendly stuff. I hadn't any clue about the Pitchfork / Plagenhoef connection, had just assumed it was a bunch of anonymous interns or something. But that entirely makes sense.

Apple's emphasis on curation scares me, though, because I've had enough inside exposure to the company to be aware that they're always thinking about this stuff in terms of monetization and ad schemes. The new Beats 1 radio, the emphasis on hand-picked playlists - I fear that this is all hiding the real motive, which is that both labels and Apple are interested in a return to payola of sorts, and a major amplification of the concept - as the distributor and experience, Apple wants to sell sponsored placement and exposure of artists in a variety of contexts. I think they expect this to fairly lucrative. The common saying around here is "If you're not paying for it, you're the product being sold." Well, in the case of Apple Music, you are paying for it, and you're still the product being sold. As good as the programming is, I can't help but feel like I'm caught up in some behind-the-scenes deals, with different parties waging a war for my ears, when all I want to do is have an enjoyable experience with a service I'm paying for.

That's what the new world of curated music promises - it's not about discovery or the end user, it's a new battleground of exposure.
posted by naju at 1:03 PM on July 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


a lungful of dragon: The attempt to change the perception of radio (or streaming radio) to one of tastemaking or curation is not necessarily a new push. Behind the scenes, radio stations have always served as promotional engines for record companies, but they also knew early on to put DJs as human beings in front of the mic, people whose musical tastes are apparently shared with the listeners. It gives a kind of illusion that the DJs and their listeners are participating in something communal, whilst serving the necessary commercial goals.

There are a range of radio station types, with varying degrees of DJ autonomy and association with commercial goals. You have the DJ-free stations that have what could be automated "random shuffle" playlists with commercial breaks and no personality beyond the music collection, to stations and shows where hosts bring in their own music, including mix shows where artists play unreleased tracks, sometimes things that will never be commercially available. The local and public stations might even operate solely thanks to listener support, or even the support of the DJs themselves, free from commercial obligations or associations. And of course, shows of all stripes include call-in requests, where listeners can directly shape the sound of the show.

In other words, the connection isn't always an illusion, or commercial.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:09 PM on July 16, 2015


Personal playlists are my favorite thing. But I rarely see a playlist - even my own - and want to play it straight through. I really have no interest in exploring the Reznor/Plagenhoef style artisan, hand-crafted playlist approach to this. The value of public playlists is that you can take songs from them and put them on your own playlists or directly in the queue.

Everybody has different tastes, so people are not going to "sense the quality," they are going to sense that the third song isn't what they want and skip it, ruining the exquisite flow.
posted by mountmccabe at 1:15 PM on July 16, 2015


GuyZero: do you have to pay to use the Google Play radio feature? If so, how much?

So just like a couple weeks ago they launched a free tier for Google Play Music - it's pre-set playlists mostly I think. I don't think you can do custom channels but I honestly don't know since I subscribe. But you can definitely check it out for free from android, ios or the web to some extent.

I only pay $8 a month because I signed up about 5 minutes after it came out and they had a promotional price. But it's $10 a month. My wife liked it so much she subscribes too and now I can only complain about a lack of family bundling features since it's otherwise pretty awesome.
posted by GuyZero at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2015


Apple's emphasis on curation scares me, though, because I've had enough inside exposure to the company to be aware that they're always thinking about this stuff in terms of monetization and ad schemes.

Hah, the Apple Music people mentioned in this article came from Beats Music. Back then, we were praised for our human curation element. Now that we've come to Apple, that same humanity is seen almost as dastardly plot to make lots of money.

I'm not commenting either way on the validity of your option , I just find it interesting how the same exact things are perceived differently today than they were a year ago just because the company changed.
posted by sideshow at 2:13 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have no use for a payed streaming music service…KFJC streams for free.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 3:06 PM on July 16, 2015


I'm not commenting either way on the validity of your option , I just find it interesting how the same exact things are perceived differently today than they were a year ago just because the company changed.

I want to be wrong! I'm certainly skeptical about the new state of music distribution and how everything is supposed to work out. That Apple is involved does make a difference on more than just a cosmetic level, surely, but if you're telling me there's nothing to be afraid of, I'm glad to hear it.
posted by naju at 3:27 PM on July 16, 2015


I think the focus on curated playlists is great (though man we should come up with a better term than "curated playlists" because that feels like just about the most corporate term ever for "I made you a mixtape" ever conceived). We've dealt with the issue of the people making the playlists being bought by record labels and other interests—hello payola scandal—and honestly, it's no more difficult to shove music onto people via algorithmic playlists than curated ones.

My problem with the playlists is that we've shoved the problem of discovering new music up a level. Now, instead of wondering, "what new artist/song/album do I want to listen to today," you get to wonder "what new playlist should I try out today?" Apple Music in particular has been brutal at playlist discovery, as this Business Insider piece illustrates. I don't have the iOS app, but iTunes is incredibly stingy with the playlists in both the "For You" section (only three at a time, come back in a few hours for three more!) and the "New" section (pick a mood! here are maybe four or five playlists! if your window's too small you don't even get to see half of them!). Plus the curated playlists may as well be algorithmic, from what I've seen so far—there's barely any imagination, all "Inspired by [big artist]" or "Deep Cuts: [cult favourite artist]" or "Indie Hits: [year]."

Spotify and Google Play are marginally better in this respect, thanks to their more robust browsing interface that filters based on activity or mood. But even those services don't have a ton of playlists, though they tend to be better or at least more varied and eclectic than Apple Music. 8tracks and the recently-seen-on-the-blue Soundsgood have the best shot at giving me playlists I actually like, just because there's tons of user-submitted content. Anyone who falls outside the top 40 spectrum is likely to be better served at those places than anything on the major streaming services.
posted by chrominance at 3:34 PM on July 16, 2015


I dunno. Google Play Music has Chiptune 101 radio and Jazz: The Hip-Hop Generation and Essential West African Sounds... I'm pretty sure you don't have to be a paid subscriber but you probably need to log in with a gmail account to play those.

I'm pretty sure that the professional programmers at all these services step outside the top 40 all the time.
posted by GuyZero at 4:01 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


chrominance: though man we should come up with a better term than "curated playlists" because that feels like just about the most corporate term ever for "I made you a mixtape" ever conceived

I dunno. That sounds appropriate to me.
posted by mountmccabe at 5:26 PM on July 16, 2015


Muxtape?
posted by Going To Maine at 5:34 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm leery of playlists. Auto generated or hand curated. I much prefer the Discover section of Spotify "Oh hey, I see you've listened to Moon Duo, you may be interested in these bands that have a similar sound, like The Holy Drug Couple. No pressure, listen if you want." Normally I'd be leery of this too, but often it's bands I already listen to with a smattering of ones I've yet to hear.
posted by evilDoug at 9:32 PM on July 16, 2015


As a former Spotify subscriber and Pandora user I must encourage giving Songza a shot because it's the most human of playlists I've used from streaming services. The options and selections are great and I've really diversified my knowledge of and appreciation of different genres. I hope the google purchase doesn't ruin that.
posted by ArgyleMarionette at 5:11 AM on July 17, 2015


Well, my only point of reference is that whenever there's a new service with a 'radio' feature, I try my band's music as a seed.

I haven't tried the new itunes one yet, but so far Spotify is the only one that doesn't end up with something horrible like Godsmack in two hops.

So, yeah.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:54 PM on July 17, 2015


« Older Filmless Animation   |   Crank That Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments