ALL H(AI)NDS ON STREAMING DECK
The AI robo-pup has its paws on the Pioneer from the cafe next door to the hairdresser’s across the road, delivering endless streaming of personalized musical drool. Where once The Box or Kiss FM dictated the theme tune to our daily lives, ‘smart playlists’ from streaming services now reign. They aim to entertain the individual, without excessive effort on his/her part, utilizing intuitive algorithms. The longer they can rent your ears, the better the deal for them, but how is the deal for artists and listeners? It is common knowledge that most artists aren’t floating on an inflatable dollar bill in the streaming sea lions’ pool unless they nab a spot on the coveted big playlists, concocted by who knows. AI-powered playlists do save listeners search time, but unlike other methods of locating new music, don’t offer a high degree of conviviality.
Record Store Day, promotes the coming together of ‘the people who make up the world of the record store’ to celebrate the culture of the record store. On this day, artists meet and greet/perform, tips are exchanged, barbecues are lit and a huge number of vinyl are sold. In fact, record sales in the UK were up 16% on RSD 2018, compared to the previous year. While the giants of streaming bank on entertaining you with little to no effort required on your part, music lovers, that old-fashioned lot, are still scavenging for those big, black disks, harbouring that elusive lossless audio – dropping the needle on your latest vinyl purchase, of course, also promotes active listening, rather than the passive kind that all-you-can-eat streaming is often associated with.
STREAMING CURATION STATIONS
Online radio station NTS engages active listeners with its artist-fronted programming, bringing them into your den, presenting music commentary and curation, as well as a spot of banter. Mostly absent from streaming platforms is the musician’s speaking voice, besides the odd ‘track-by-track’, offered as a side dish to the main meal. This is likely an area that streaming platforms will invest in, as e-radio stations like NTS and Beats 1 gain momentum. Many music curators are also still doing things the more old-fashioned way, sending out email newsletters: the May installment of technologist, speaker, musician & DJ Oisin Lunny’s monthly mix-tape reads, ‘Every month I ask the same question: do you like good music? Of course, quality is in the ear of the beholder, but I hope this month’s mixtape has enough variety to entertain and intrigue, and maybe even inspire you to check out something new.’
COMFORT ZONE OUT
Listing off our preferences in various domains is commonplace for us, from Facebook to Tinder, both of which connect to streaming services, but like on dating apps, are we too fussy musically? Perhaps the bots’ influence is dissuading us from stepping outside our comfort zones. The millions of tracks at our disposal, at any given time, do need to be ordered in some kind of manner though, if anyone is to find them – Pandora, for example, has been tagging for years, but the availability of even more song data, through new music file formats will mean that this categorisation can be even more detailed. Dot Blockchain is an example of a company developing a new media format and supporting technology architecture, benefitting musicians, composers and others.
THE BOTS AND US
The bots are here to stay. They extend a helping, metal hand, for the short attention span of many an audience member, meaning less time searching and more time listening. Despite human curation still holding an important place in the music landscape, the chances on machine-learning applications being able to accurately predict your future favs, based on prior habits, are likely higher than those of a radio host catering to thousands. In other domains, like film, services such as Mubi and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s upcoming byNWR offer up fewer but more carefully selected options than unlimited streaming services. Perhaps the mere existence of these and platforms like them is a sign that the big boys are right to pay more and more attention to an individual’s preferences, but music ‘experts’ will most likely continue to have an easy time finding employment.
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