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Museum of Music, Seattle

If music curation isn’t the answer, what’s the question?

The RAIN newsletter has an interesting opinion post up by Mike Spinelli, formerly at SoundExchange, now in law school studying music licensing. Spinelli’s post is titled “The ‘me’ generation: why music curation isn’t the answer.” We are all individualists now, Spinelli says. Looking at various aspects of Beats Music, he contends that “human-curated playlist are not where streaming services are headed.”

In conclusion:

“The future is in being able to determine what I want to hear without me knowing it yet. A curated playlist may have a few songs I like, but a service built around this concept to enhance music discovery is inefficient. The future is in the data listeners provide, and refining that data to reach the right listener. That is where we’re headed.”

To get specific, our aspiring royalties lawyer is scoffing at Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comment (as Apple prepared to buy Beats Music) that “human curation was important in the [Beats] subscription service – that the sequencing of songs that you listen to affect how you feel.” Indeed, Beats takes playlist power very seriously, making it easy for subscribers to create them on the service’s web or mobile interfaces. But, the author asks us: do we really want to go back to cassettes? “A playlist created by a superstar (or anyone for that matter) is not what a listener wants to put on when they log into a streaming service,” he claims.

As evidence of this Spinelli submits a leaked Beats royalty statement posted by The Trichordist. Not surprisingly, the Trichordist makes quite a meal of what it regards as inadequate songwriter compensation (RAIN has posted a more dispassionate analysis of the figures).

It’s always interesting to me when people talk about “the answer” and “the future.” I immediately ask myself the same question: ‘the answer to and the future of what?’ In Spinellis’ case I feel pretty confident that he is talking about the future of money. But there are other futures to discuss as well. These include the future of friendship, of sharing, and of communities. And for those futures, music curation in the form of playlists looms large.

If nobody wants curation when they log into a streaming service, how do we explain the popularity of The playlist app is now so huge its recently installed forums pages overflow with discussions and comments, and it is fresh with new funding from Venture Equity. If nobody wants curation, why are there gazillions of exportable Spotify playlists up on web and blog sites (here is one of ours)? Ditto for SoundCloud.

Ok; to be fair, maybe these sort of application features don’t generate as much income as put-us-in-the-driver’s-seat music streaming channels. But I do very much hope that the constantly evolving world of Internet radio isn’t pressured by the labels and their advocates to put all their features into one future, to the exclusion of all others. That kind of future would an awfully lonely and boring one, at least for me.

We cover social music sharing communities every Monday in our Internet DJ feature (except when we cover them on other days).


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