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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts from the Music Category

Apple Music arrived last night, and with it Beats 1 – a new, global music channel. And I’m not just quite hopeful that it’ll be god; I’ve been actively listening to it and enjoying it.

Like many people in their early 40s, I’ve begun to drift away from music. I still listen to it – all the time, in fact – but my range of music is barely expanding. The few albums I’ve bought over the last few years have either been classics I didn’t already own, or new albums from old, familiar voices. My music development has stalled.

It’s easy to see why – I’m time-poor, and the form of my life doesn’t tend to put me in situations where I’m encountering or discussing new music. And so, I stick with what I know.

This is rather painfully pointed up by the “For You” section of new version of iTunes, which takes my often eclectic taste and makes it depressingly familiar:

Apple music -  For You

The journey to discovery

This is one reason I’ve never signed up for Spotify long-term. I have all the music I like already, and can stream it to my devices. My listening’s sorted – and I’ve never found a good way of using Spotify to discover new music. It’s great at facilitating access to the things I know I want, but hopeless at allowing me to discover the unexpected.

And that’s the problem Apple claims to be solving.

David Hepworth, writing in The Guardian, makes the argument that there isn’t a problem which Beats 1 actively solves, largely based on Apple executive quotes that suggest they’re trying to address fragmentation.

This fragmentation is only a problem for the music business. Music fans don’t have any problem that they need Apple to solve. The music industry on the other hand needs a mass audience to hype.

That’s very much a view from within music, though. There are plenty of us – people who enjoy music, but whose life has drifted away from active discovery of new music – that probably don’t count as “music fans” in his use of that term. That doesn’t put us in the same category as the people he disparages as “like John and Kayleigh from Peter Kay’s Car Share” – people happy to just sing along to golden oldies – though. We are happy to encounter the unfamiliar; we just have fewer opportunities to do so.

The fragmentation of music – the ever-deepening niches that you might find hard to dig your way into – has made music discovery much less simple for the time poor. And that describes most of us in the early stages of middle age.

I’ve found some approaches that work for me – buying SoundSupply drops, or judicious use of Shazam while out and about – but they’re not enough to truly broaden my range of experiences with music.

Apple Music: curation from two angles

Apple Music offers us two approaches to resolving that. Beats 1 is a surprisingly eclectic listen. In one half hour stretch I heard tracks from the last few weeks, the last few months, from the early 2000s and the 1960s. The DJs I’ve heard so far are skilled at putting new music in the context of old music – and that’s great for those of us who cherish our inner “28-year-old, madly over-compensating in the shadow of approaching middle age”, in Hepworth’s words (again). I have no intention of going gracefully into that middle-aged musical night – and I feel no shame in that, either.

What I’m enjoying more – possibly because it opens me to new music without being quite so full-on – are the heavily curated channels you can pull up. In particular, the activity-based lists have been a great way to find music to, say, write to, while throwing some unexpected musical choices my way.

Music for activities

I really like the fact that there are human beings – expert human beings – underlying this work. Algorithms are fantastic things, and are great for all sorts of situations. I actually appreciate the fact that Facebook tends to make good choices about what to show me, for example. But they are pretty terrible at both contextualising – giving me the story and connections between apparently unrelated tracks – and throwing up the unexpected. The nature of algorithms (at least the ones we have now) is to show us more of what we want – and that tends to narrow our sphere of encounters, not broaden it. That’s most worrying when it comes to political issues, as Eli Pariser explores in his fascinating book The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You, but it can lead to a shallowing of cultural experience, too.

In many ways, it would be hypocritical of me not to appreciate human curation of music. I’ve always tried to expose my readers to new and unexpected ideas through this blog – just not the mainstream of thought in whatever area I’m currently most interested. It’s a skill I understand, work to improve – and respect in others. There are algorithmic systems that attempt to do some of that lifting – Fraggl, which my friend Neil Perkin is involved with – is one example of that. But this isn’t an either/or situation. Humans complementing algorithms, algorithms complementing humans gives us a richer experience.

The test will be in three month’s time, when the free period expires. Will I be finding enough value in this to carry on paying? That will depend on how much I feel my musical circle expanding again.

If you watch a number of GoPro-type extreme sports videos, you’re probably deeply familiar with this track:

This tune is indelibly marked in my head as the “Le Web tune”, because as I sit in the main stage area, finishing liveblog posts, high-energy GoPro videos are often playing with that track in the background.

For me, Crystallize by Lindsey Stirling, from her self-titled album, will always be of Paris (although, ironically, I met Lindsey in London.

But, for most people, it’s the GoPro music, and James Trew has gone to great lengths to understand why it’s so used in those videos:

Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya lectures on the neuroscience of music and emotion at Goldsmith’s University, London. Unsurprisingly, he says it’s complicated. “When a musical piece is chosen to go along with a visual scene, what’s needed is the congruency of meaning across both dimensions — musical and visual,” he says. “The answer lies, in my view, not just in the music, but the various ways that meanings emerge out of the video.” The trouble being, that meaning is a deeply subjective thing.

It’s a fascinating look at how something so subjective can lead to remarkably uniform results.

I’m busy watching a rather good programme about the Pet Shop Boys on Channel 4.

The pair always remind me of the 80s and early 90s for a number of reasons. For one, I remember have a really storming argument with my first serious girlfriend about the respective merits of the U2 and Pet Shop Boys versions of Where the Streets Have No Name. I, of course, was on the side of the latter.

The main reason, though, was the absolutely delicious rumour that went around school that they called themselves The Pet Shop Boys due to something unspeakably disgusting and sexual and perverse involving hamsters and bodily orifices. (It’s amazing how much in the 80s involved small mammals in inappropriate places. Remember Freddie Starr?)

Of course, when I grew up a little, I really started enjoying their music, but those playground concepts linger�

The sad thing is that, should such a rumour be circulated about a current celebrity, I’m sure no-one would blink an eyelid. Boy bands? They perform worse acts before breakfast. Or, indeed, during breakfast. Or even with their breakfast. That’s the problem with a celebrity- and hedonism-obsessed media. It takes all the sheer dirtiness out of rumours. How dull is that?

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The Observer | UK News | It’s cool, it’s hip … it’s, er, folk:

Britain’s ancient musical heritage has traditionally been a source of considerable embarrassment to the young and hip. Spain has bright red dresses and flamenco; Brazil has samba and thongs; we have, er, morris dancing and Arran sweaters. Folk music is simply not cool – but that could be changing.

I find this idea inexplicably pleasing. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve interacted with the folk music of Argentina and Scotland, through tango and Scottish country dancing, but never really heard much else. I might even head along to the Barbican for this.

I was in a distinctly odd, tired mood tonight, so I ended up just fiddling around in iTunes, listening to some old tracks.

With the new version of the software, Apple has introduced a MiniStore, a small window at the bottom of your music library, that shows you related tracks. This has been less than warmly received in some quarters, because it involves your computer sending information about your listening habits to Apple.

I’m finding it strangely fascinating, though, as it provides plenty of glimpses into the musical careers of some of your favourite artists of yesteryear. We’re remarkably fickle with our listening habits, sometimes, following an artist for an album or two, and then forgetting about them. Tonight felt like a chance to reconnect with old friends. And I enjoyed that.

Alex Parks: Looking for WaterAbout two years ago, the BBC was running its own version of Pop Idol called Fame Academy. The last series produced the only reality TV talent show winner that I’ve had any interest in whatsoever: Alex Parks. There was something about this feisty Cornish lesbian that you just couldn’t help but like. Indeed, my entire family were rather taken with her.

And then?

And then, things went a little pear-shaped. The record company rushed out an ill-advised album of covers and then Alex disappeared from sight.

Now, she’s back, with a new single of original material. And it’s rather good. The first track is an OK pop-ish number, but it’s the second track, Near Death Experience, that really brings home the bacon. It’s a great rock number that’s well worth the pennies to download it.

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