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.

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