How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Playlist

When Music 2.0 first arrived on the scene, it treated users like data entry clerks. Sure, every­one dressed it up as “user-generated con­tent,” but it all hinged on some moti­vated indi­vid­ual updat­ing a data­base for a ser­vice that wasn’t pay­ing them. Those ser­vices mostly died out, either because peo­ple lost inter­est or some­thing newer and shinier replaced them. In any case, they asked way too much of users.

The music ser­vices that sur­vived from that era under­stood fun­da­men­tally that their users chose their ser­vice because they wanted to lis­ten to music. Beats Music takes that a step fur­ther; rather than focus doggedly on “dis­cov­ery,” Beats recon­tex­tu­al­izes the music you love. For me, that means Beats rec­om­mends artists whose albums lan­guished for too long at the bot­tom of a box in a closet. Now I can fall in love with them all over again.

But that on it’s own isn’t enough to dis­tin­guish a music ser­vice from the rest of the pack. Curated playlists and push noti­fi­ca­tions do. Plenty of ser­vices offer the same library, give or take, but none were espe­cially good at antic­i­pat­ing what I wanted to hear. You could go search­ing for things, but that’s over­whelm­ing. Beats Music makes it sim­ple and offers sug­ges­tions. Instead of search­ing end­lessly for a par­tic­u­lar album, I just dive into an intro­duc­tory playlist of an artist I’ve overlooked.

Best of all? They hired really out­stand­ing crit­ics to pull together fan­tas­tic playlists. Beats didn’t just hire them to cre­ate playlists willy nilly; there’s real strat­egy at work. Try as I might to lis­ten to every­thing, I still sought crit­i­cal short­cuts or a point of entry into an artist’s body of work. If you’re a recov­er­ing com­pletist, you can famil­iar­ize your­self with Luke Vib­ert one moment and Way­lon Jen­nings the next. It doesn’t hurt that most playlists were curated by the same crit­ics I came up with in the Aughties.

Mostly, I’m just jeal­ous of kids who get to expe­ri­ence music like this. For more, here’s Eric Harvey’s essay on the devel­op­ment of stream­ing music over at Pitchfork.

Life And How to Live It

“Life. It’s lit­er­ally all we have. But is it any good?”

Andy Daly’s For­est Mac­Neil takes Rick Steves’ sen­si­bil­i­ties and applies them to all man­ner of absur­di­ties. Review is great, but I guess this means we won’t get a Don de Mello sitcom…for the daddies.

Read more at A.V. Club.

The Art of January Releases

Malkmus and Jicks

It’s March and SXSW is wrap­ping up in Austin, which is the kick­off to the spring push in the music indus­try. What am I still pay­ing atten­tion, too? The lat­est Jicks record, Wig Out at Jag­bags. What else? The Against Me! album, Trans­gen­der Dys­pho­ria Blues.

Why? The answer is sim­ple. Both are Jan­u­ary releases. Jan­u­ary is a great month for media Mon­ey­ball. The owned the media cycle for a quiet month and noth­ing really rose to dethrone them in Feb­ru­ary, at least from a cov­er­age per­spec­tive in the social streams I fol­low. Will these albums be over­looked or given short shrift come year end? Sure, but who cares? How much are year end lists worth in 2014 any­how? (Could be a lot; tell me if I’m wrong.)

Jan­u­ary is the per­fect month to release an album. Ever since LCD Soundsys­tem released their debut in Jan­u­ary 2005, I’ve asked why more bands don’t do this. Break away from the March and Octo­ber cycle, make as much noise as pos­si­ble and then tour if you can. This is espe­cially genius with a “legacy” artist like Malk­mus, who has a pretty well-defined fan base. Maybe this bought him some addi­tional expo­sure. Jan­u­ary offers more “run­way” for an artist than the com­mer­cial claus­tro­pho­bia of March.

But why is it so smart to push an album before March rolls around?

A few reasons:

  • Crit­ics are just like us! They make res­o­lu­tions! Things like “I will lis­ten to more music this year.” Put out an album in Jan­u­ary and you’re the sole beneficiary.
  • There is no other news. I must’ve read 4 or more fan­tas­tic, gen­er­ous inter­views with Malk­mus and prob­a­bly twice as many with Against Me!‘s Laura Jane Grace.
  • Release an album in Jan­u­ary and you get expan­sive “nar­ra­tive space.” Malkmus’s story is nowhere near as grip­ping as Laura Jane Grace’s, yet the nar­ra­tive that he’s been with the Jicks longer than Pave­ment shone through and the cov­er­age human­ized him unlike ever before. The inter­play with his kids’ lis­ten­ing habits was fan­tas­tic and the image of him singing to Avicii in a mini­van amazed me.

If you still think release dates are mean­ing­ful inas­much as it allows you to pre­pare for a news cycle, break free of the old meth­ods. To apply some busi­ness speak from Havard Busi­ness Review, adopt a blue ocean strat­egy and get your client out there in the open. To bring it back to Billy Beane, find the mar­ket inef­fi­ciency and take advantage.

How to Use Twitter Like a Human Being

I love Twit­ter. It’s my favorite social net­work. I started using it in 2008 when I went to SXSW Music. I imme­di­ately saw its value for cov­er­ing live events. That fall, I used it exten­sively dur­ing the Phillies’ post­sea­son cam­paign. Twit­ter is a great plat­form for your pas­sions. Except when it isn’t.

Some­where along the way, Twit­ter changed. My friend Mark cap­tured one key dif­fer­ence in his tweet below.

For all the talk about being authen­tic and engag­ing on social, you’ll often find that the most fol­lowed accounts are noth­ing more than linkbots with a human face. It’s a head-scratcher. At a time when peo­ple com­plain of infor­ma­tion over­load, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple will fol­low accounts that recy­cle memes and other online flotsam.

If that doesn’t depress you, A Tale of Two Twit­ter Per­sonas will. MG Siegler writes:

For me, given my back­ground and line of work, that’s obvi­ously tech­nol­ogy. But I too have other inter­ests — shock­ing, I know. Film is def­i­nitely one. Beer is def­i­nitely another. And sports is way up there. Yes, some peo­ple in the tech indus­try are as obsessed with sports as any­one else in the world. Blasphemy!

What does per­sonal brand­ing mean when the most pop­u­lar social media accounts lack personality?