For me, the music itself is only half of the fun. How we consume and, especially, discover the music we end up loving is a fascinating process to me on every level. In the past, I’ve toyed with This Is My Jam, the musical social network which gave this series of blogs their name, read a variety of blogs and magazines, documented every song I listened to, stolen from friends…So far in 2013, three new methods have presented themselves to me. Shall we take a look? SPOTIFY TEAM PLAYLIST An idea nicked off’f Kieron Gillen (aren’t they all?): select a few of your most musically-minded friends, set up an open playlist, and watch the tunes roll in. It’s so easy it almost feels like cheating. I’ve been fascinated by Spotify pretty much since the moment I discovered it, but this team playlist has fiercely reignited my love for it, so much so that I finally took the plunge and went Premium, instantly revolutionising my music-listening habits. Offline playlists now dominate the paltry 8GB of space on my iPod (and on my phone, and on my laptop), and that’s led to me playing with a few other methods of music discovery which… well, we’ll come to those. The playlist is here if you want to listen/collaborate. If nothing else, it’s a great set of songs, thanks to everyone who’s taken part (and thanks, to everyone who’s taken part). Just don’t blame me if clicking that link ends up costing you £10 a month. Song highlight: SONGDROP At any given moment, my web browser of choice (Chrome, if you’re curious) .will have about 50 tabs open. Half of those will be songs I’ve found, mostly through blogs or friends’ recommendations, and have listened to once or twice. They haven’t taken over my brain yet, but I’m not ready to let them slip away into the ether of the net. If they’re not on Spotify yet, I have no way of storing them. Can you see where I’m going with this? SongDrop is simply a piece of technology I can’t believe didn’t exist before. It adds a button to Chrome, which when pressed detects any music on the current webpage, and allows you to drop it into a single centralised playlist. It’s a tool I’ve barely scratched the surface of yet, but like the best ideas, it solves a problem I barely I knew I had. You can access my drops so far here. Song highlight: THE MINCER Two tracks enter, only one leaves. This is an idea I stole, just for the sake of variety, off’f Tom Ewing. The Mincer is a way of gamifying music playlists, by pitting songs against one another. You take 64 tracks, put them in a playlist, randomise it, and then as you listen (no skipping allowed), mentally pair the songs up. Pick which of the two you’d rather hear again, and delete the other one. Rinse and repeat until the playlist is finished, then top it up again. (You can find my exact step-by-step method at the bottom of this post.) It’s a great way to encourage listening to all those songs on your hard drive, or in your Spotify playlists, that haven’t received the attention they deserve. It puts a neat framework around the whole thing, which helps to make listening to music less passive, and really forces you to concentrate on what you’re listening to. I’ve been thinking that the issue with the mechanics of The Mincer’s ‘game’ is that it has slightly too many tracks, which you don’t get intimate enough with to make choosing between two tracks (on the second go-round particularly) as hard a decisions as I’d like. I’ve been thinking of running it tournament-style, until only one song remains. But it’s only reading the rules again now that I realise I’ve actually been doing it wrong. You’re meant to run through the playlist until only 32 of the 64 remain, then shuffle and start again until you have 16 before topping up. Seeing this now, I can see how it provides a neat middle-ground between the method I’ve been using, and a full-bore tournament. Expect to hear about these variations on the formula next time on Those Were My Jams. But for the next month or two… that’s all, folks. Song highlight: My Mincer Method1. On Spotify, create a feeder playlist with all the songs you want to mince. (ideally you want this playlist as large and varied and possible) and an empty Mincer playlist.2. Select all the tracks, copy, then paste them into this randomiser tool. Press random (a couple of times, if you enjoy the ritual of this), then copy and paste back them over the original tracks.3. Take the top 64 tracks, cut and paste them into the Mincer playlist.4. Repeat step 2 for this smaller playlist.5. Play the tracks (with shuffle turned off).6. After each pair of tracks, decide which you’d rather hear again, and delete the other.7. Repeat until the end of the playlist (you can do this in bursts, as long as they are even-numbered bursts), leaving the ‘winning’ 32 tracks.(Here’s where I’ve been going wrong. Remaining steps courtesy of Ewing’s original post:8. Randomise again.9. Play (no skipping allowed).10. Go through the shortened playlist until you have 16 tracks.11. Add another 48 tracks to the playlist.12. Repeat.)
The party’s finally over, then. Anyone firing up Spotify today will have been directed to an ‘important announcement’ about the future of Spotify. They try to put the usual positive spin on it, mentioning how great it is that we’ve all embraced Spotify as tool for listening to and discovery of music, how it’s helping fight piracy, etc, etc. “…So it’s vital that we continue offering an on-demand free service to you and millions more like you, but to make that possible we have to put some limits in place going forward.” Long PR story short: as of the first of May, Spotify Free will be limited to 10 hours per month, individual tracks limited to five free listens. Which Spotify try to say won’t matter, because their research shows people use Spotify to discover new music. Which is all well and good, and justifies the ‘5 free listens’ model. And 10 hours, they point out, is 20 albums anyway! …Per month. Because who listens to more than 20 albums/200 songs in a month, eh? Anyone who followed last week’s Music Diary can see that I rely almost entirely on Spotify for my music listening. Since its features exploded this time last year, it is the only piece of music software I ever use. The announcement refers to users “giving up on piracy”, and it being “exactly what we hoped would happen”. Full disclosure time: Spotify genuinely is what killed a lifetime habit of heavy music piracy for me. I haven’t illegally downloaded anything for well over a year, and my hard-drive is free of ill-gotten MP3s. I know, I know, I’m a saint. But save your rosaries: with this change, for me, piracy has become a lot more attractive as an option. …I’m being idealistic again. I know that. Whenever I interviewed bands and threw a Spotify question in, they seemed sceptical. We’re not seeing any money from it, was the consensus. No-one really seemed to understand Spotify’s business model. And so the party had to end. But that never seems to make the hangover any easier, does it?
So it was the last issue of Redbrick I can ever legally contribute to. And they had a redesign and it was largely beautiful and I had a whole page to myself. And, lo!, the page was made of two things 1.An interview with Gareth of Los Campesinos!. I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, now. I bring you this on the weekend I finally got Xiu Xiu, having admitted to Gareth I didn’t get Xiu Xiu. Meeting the lead singer of one of your favourite bands is one of those life experiences that you can only build up too much and as such can only be disappointing. He was, after all, only human. That is the theme of my write-up. 2.A re-do of my old Spotify 2.0 article, rewritten to be accessible to the proles. As such, it’s probably a better piece, as I can only indulge myself 70% of the way. It’s still got the violent imagery, though, you’ll be pleased to know. You sick, sick puppies.
That innocuous gray-and-green friend you’ve had for a year now? It’s hungry. Spotify v2.0 is here*, and it wants to make the rest of your computer obsolete. So I thought I’d examine it. I broke it in with Wuthering Heights, as seemed only proper, and asked ‘what exactly are these new features?’ And nuSpotify, it turns out, is a bit of a power-grab. It’s spelt out right there, in the new menus. ‘Import iTunes/Windows Media Player Library’. So you do, and all your real, legal-or-otherwise, mp3s join the vast Spotify library, integrated seamlessly. If not for old-fashioned technical allegiance, there’s really no reason to use your old media player ever again. Spotify’s always succeeded on being a tightly-designed piece of software that can quickly navigate the limitless music held within. It efficiently kneecaps the old boys, and leaves them bleeding into the snow… Before, I had one big problem with Spotify: it was too easy to lose track of what you’d been listening to and what you liked. As I downsize my music collection to one manageable, entirely-legal chunk, I had Media Player as the home of stuff I’d want to listen to repeatedly, and Spotify for exploration. Then they added the Star system. It’s like the starring system that most media players have, rate a track out of one. Except, it’s better in a single, obvious way. One star: give, or don’t give. That is all. Click a simple (star-shaped, strangely enough) icon and it’ll mark any song or album to be returned to any time, throwing all your starred items into a manageable playlist. Pictured: An Artist’s Illustration of The Spotify Business Plan, Circa 2010 Combined with the flipside of this – the ‘Buy’ button that sits next to each track – Spotify has begun to offer a real alternative in adding to your library. I haven’t done it yet, but you can imagine the smoothness: you buy an album, go to the ‘Local Files’ tab to find it sitting next to its already-purchased brothers. And so the young my.flow is taken outside and a bullet put promptly to its brainpan. Blam.Having had its arm round Last.fm’s shoulder and smiling in a buddy-buddy way for a while now – yes, of course we’ll let people Scrobble – Spotify’s lips finally part, to reveal razor-sharp teeth. Adding a optional ‘People’ sidebar, you can see what your friends are listening to, what playlists they’ve cobbled together, and what they’ve starred (see how everything ties together?) You can peek at your own top-listened (here I am, by the way). It’s not complete, yet: limited to the Top 5 artists and songs, and not much more in the way of statistics, and is a bit twisted by, I think, having only just started counting. But, Last.fm: that friendly hand round your shoulder? It’s holding a knife. This is all swiftly handed through Facebook integration. Every day a new familar face pops up on the right-hand side of my screen, picture and profile already in place. It’s incredibly smooth. Spotify’s intentions to the titan of social-internet are unclear as yet, but they’re sure to be dark. Currently, it’s inside Facebook and scouting the territory, like one of those parasitic fish that can swim up your urethra… It’s not perfect, yet. The importing of music files doesn’t seem to auto-update as you gain new music, but you can sense the potential that lies beneath. Take note, useless-Facebook-upgrades. This is a complete retooling that makes Spotify more useful and accessible, not less. Take note, elderly software. Your days are numbered. Spotify is coming for you. And it is fully armed. *After a idiosyncratically counter-intuitive process: you have to install an undifferentiated Spotify on top of what you already have, and it can take a few goes to actually stick. It’s oddly rusty, given nuSpotify’s ambition elsewhere.****…Or not, apparently. It’s upgrading people. It just might take a while to get round to everyone.
I committed to this yesterday, and if you have a blog, I implore you to join in. If not, I implore you to read. Keep up with me, and see if I can keep up with the list. day 30 – your favorite song at this time last year Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights I wish I could pinpoint exactly when I first got Spotify. I was in love with this song and, not owning any of Kate Bush’s stuff, it became my Bush-listening device. And ridiculous as it is to suggest that a song two decades old that I’d heard hundreds of times before changed my outlook… it did. Yeah, I lost my poptimism virginity to Kate Bush. What of it? This is particularly apt because it’s been almost exactly a year since I turned this into an active blog and eventually bought alex-spencer.co.uk. The turning point, in my mind, will always be the Britney post. It was here, with Kate Bush holding my hand, that I was led into the defend-Pop-to-the-death mindset that is now, I think, my final mode. It was around the same time that I discovered Freakytrigger (the Wuthering Heights entry of Popular being the first thing I read) and started reading Paul Morley’s Words & Music, an very serious ode to silly pop. It was here that I realised I love pop, as long as it’s by a woman… Ridiculous, operatic melodrama about a 19th Century novel I’ve never read. An instantly-recognisable, Gothic ghost-story in song. #1. Top Of The Pops. Emily Brontë! Top of the Pops! How could I not fall in love?
My use of magical music infinito-software Spotify has started to change (evolve? devolve? I’m unsure) recently. I remember my confusion, upon initially downloading Spotify, at the sheer wall of music that lay before me, bigger and growing faster than it would ever be possible to listen to. A joyful confusion, to be sure, but nihilistic in its revelation of my ultimate insignifance. So I used it as a Kate Bush listening-machine. After a while, I discovered playlists. I could allow other people to whittle down this impossible amount of music. With this confidence, I discovered Spotify as a request-granting immediate-gratification social DJing tool.ut, finally, its true purpose has been revealed: Spotify is the replacement for the role the NME; MTV2; MySpace and various blogs have served throughout my life. The discovery feed. Without much commitment, I can hear pretty much anything- all I need to know is the name. (Which remains, of course, the big difficulty in discovering music.) There’s a much longer post in me on the nature of discovering music, and the drive behind that so, with no further ado, I recommend the accompanying playlist to Pitchfork’s Top 500 songs of the 21st Century list. And three songs, two that I’ve listened to on repeat and one that inspired me enough to write this post. El-P – Stepfather FactoryI am constantly torn by my love of hip-hop. It’s very limited, to certain acts and specific song and then, I know it all feeds one emotion- this male, chest-beating aggression thing. I know it can be a pretty harmful genre, socially. It’s irresponsible.Then I hear this and it’s genuinely terrifying in the way some of OK Computer was when I first heard it. The nearest comparison I can draw, soundwise, is I Can Ride A Bike With No Handlebars, if you remember that. The ultimate disenfranchised attack on American values, corporations, the family unit… It’d be mockably, teenage-ly, broad if not for its genius idea- the titular Stepfather Factory. And then it bends some of the sounds just right and it’s threatening and depressing and a call to arms.The Honeydrips – (Lack of) Love Will Tear Us ApartI haven’t actually listened to this much yet, but I can spot an obsession when it’s coming. Distant, airy female vocals, clever-clever title, and a beat that sounds like a stretched-out combination of ’90s dance and Christmas jingles. It’s a bit of a pity there has to be a male (pseudo-rapping) voice on the track at all, but it only lasts about 10 seconds.Antony & The Johnsons – Hope There’s SomeoneThis is the big one, the most obsessed I’ve been with a song in months, possibly longer. When he won the Mercury prize from pretty much nowhere in 2005? and got hit by the NME hype-train, I made the mistake of scoffing. I was young and didn’t know better. A musing on loneliness? Sexuality? Death? All of the above? It really doesn’t matter- the strange wavering voice is genuinely touching and actually oddly catchy… I’m trying hard not to fall into my normal journalistic mode of description here. Suffice to say, if you like any kind of emotion in your music, you owe it to yourself to listen to this song. Three listens should give it the time to embed itself in your soul. Sometimes, it’s enough to just be the guy that tells people about nice songs.