Tag Archives: Drake

Will Apple’s Anti-Algorithm Save Music?

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A look into the magic of the first global college radio station

Beats 1 Radio is the most contrarian bet in the music world right now. And that’s exactly why it’s exciting.

The progress in the music + tech space in recent years (if you can call it progress) has been dominated by an obsession with algorithms. The promise has been that algorithms, if properly developed and fed with data, would be able to offer infinite personalization that would make bigger music fans of us all.

But it hasn’t really worked out that way. Despite the best efforts of the bots, having an infinite supply of music at our fingertips has made our music listening more provincial… not less. Our biological hard wiring to favor the familiar leaves us with little immediate affection for anonymous recommendations, and the vast majority of music listeners have little appetite to put in the effort associated with finding new music. To this challenge, most technologists reply by saying that the algorithms just need more: more data inputs, more technological honing, more time.

Apple seems to believe that we’ve been approaching this thing wrong all along. And so, with Beats 1, the biggest technology company on the planet has introduced the ultimate anti-algorithm. And I think this radically contrarian bet is one of the biggest reasons to be excited about music’s future.

I find Beats 1 so exciting for three reasons.

It’s College Radio Manned by Megawatt Celebrities

One of the most surprising aspects of Beats 1 is how incredibly and endearingly unpolished it is. The unscripted spontaneity of nearly every show gives the station the handcrafted vibe of a late night on college radio. There are genuine jokes and honest technical mistakes, songs stopped mid-stream and interviews where truly nobody knows what’s going to be said next.

But here’s the rub: the DJs on this ramshackle college radio broadcast are a collection of the biggest stars in the music world. Beats 1 features everyone from Eminem to Elton John to Dr. Dre and Drake… and that’s just in the first week. But when these superstars leave their PR people behind and open up through music, the result is the most honest into these individuals that I’ve ever heard. It’s addictive, irresistibly shareable stuff, and has led some to look at Beats 1 as the future of Twitter.

It’s Simultaneously Global and Local

Much has been made of the fact that Beats 1 broadcasts live to 100 countries simultaneously (well, at least when it’s not on replay). But, while conceptually interesting, the fact that Beats 1 is broadcasting to 99 other countries doesn’t in and of itself have much value to your average listener.

But what makes the global nature of Beats 1 interesting is the degree to which the DJs are repping their cities: Ebro does a show that is of NYC, not just from it. And when Julie Adenuga says “this is London,” she actually delivers on it. While this local aspect is just a glimmer right now, it holds promise for a truly exciting vision of what it could mean to be a global radio station. Benedict Evans has said that Apple Music reminds him of Google Maps as it provides “manual curation at scale.” With Beats 1, we can take the analogy of Google Maps one step further, as it holds the promise of allowing anyone, anywhere to peek into another part of the globe and appreciate it in a new way. Powerful stuff.

It’s Actively Passive

The fatal flaw made by so many in the music streaming space is that they massively over-estimate the amount of effort your average listener is interested in expending.   They create services for their 25 year-old music nerd selves, and lose track of the fact that the continued dominance of FM radio and the enormously broad appeal of Pandora is rooted in the incomparable ease of these two services (oh, and they’re free).

Beats 1 not only eliminates complication, it prevents it. The only things you can do with it are turn it on and turn it off. But the hyperactive curation built into the broadcasts makes Beats 1 feel like a very active experience though it requires absolutely nothing from the user. It’s as effortless as FM radio, yet often as exciting as a mixtape discovery.

These three reasons makes Beats 1 an incredibly massive experiment in what radio and digital music can be.  About a year and half ago, I wrote that “Radio has to radically re-think what it needs to be.”  At that time, it was more of a lament than an actual statement of hope.  But now, with Beats 1, Apple has given us reason to think that good old fashioned radio might help pave the way into the future of music.

Is the Future of Music Good Enough?

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In a world where technology makes music more convenient, will we end up remembering much of what we heard?

After a handful of days of tinkering, I’ve found iRadio nothing if not easy.  Pandora-esque in its passivity, the only thing you need to do is press play and walk away.  And, perhaps because of the data it has silently scraped from my iTunes, there are even fewer fast-forward moments than I’ve found in Pandora.

Last night, I listened to iRadio for the bulk of two hours and didn’t have to expend any effort whatsoever.  I also don’t remember one song that was played.

In 2009, there was an article in Wired entitled “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple is Just Fine.”  Looking over innovation after innovation in technology (flip cameras, Skype, even Predator drones), the article concluded that good enough was taking over aspect after aspect of our lives.

“We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as ‘high-quality’.”

Music was a featured example of the good enough economy.  The advent of the mp3, and all of the ease that the file format entails, have all but eviscerated the sonic fidelity of the music we own– even for audiophiles such as myself.  Even though I own a fancy stereo system, for years now 90% of the music I play through said system is made up of mp3s.  It’s like serving up a frozen dinner on fine china, but I do so because it’s so easy… and it’s good enough.

Now, as streaming services are sending mp3s the way of CDs, music is being transformed by another “good enough” revolution.  The core promise of the Pandoras and Spotifys and iRadios of the world is that your listening experience will be just fine.  You’ll get a steady diet of music that is pretty much like the music you already like, and the entire experience will be entirely automated.  You’ll seldom be surprised because, well, that’s the entire point. Continue reading

Don’t Bonk: A Playlist

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On the brink of a birthday, I’ve resolved to run more. Not more frequently, but longer. Since my daughter was born, I’ve become all too accustomed to runs more apt to be measured in blocks than miles. 15 months in, it’s time to shelve the excuses and stretch it out in search of endorphins.

If recent past is any prologue, I’m going to need some help.

Unceremoniously entitled “Don’t Bonk,” this playlist is meant to get me going. Its running time clocks in at an optimistic hour and a half, and it spans a wide range of genres in search of an extra gear.

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1. Avicii, “Wake Me Up”– Fair warning: this mix isn’t above the somewhat cheesy use of situation-specific lyrics. But if you’ve just hauled yourself out of bed early, you’re not above someone encouraging you to wake up.

2. Kanye West, “Power” (Swizz Beatz remix)– You’re now awake enough to be registering the inevitable inconvenience of the first mile. A little swagger will help.

3. Lil’ Wayne, “6 Foot 7 Foot”– Let’s double up on that dose of swagger.

4. Diplo & GTA, “Boy Oh Boy”– Putting some topspin on a beat from Missy and Tim, we’re looking to find a bit of a groove here.

5. TVOTR, “Will Do” (XXXChange Dancehall Mix)– If I’m going to see the second half of this playlist, I’m going to have to settle the pace a bit.

Continue reading

Canada & Canada

 

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5AM in Toronto, Drake

 

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Well before Drake and the Frank Oceans of the world made it common practice, J. Cole upturned the music industry marketing machine.  His mixtapes made him famous before he was promoted; his commercial appeal ascendant before you could even purchase … Continue reading

The Best and Brightest of 2011: Day Seven

Many of today’s top rappers face a peculiar and quite recent dilemma.  When you rocket to fame by way of free mixtapes, how do you top yourself once you start actually trying to charge people for your music?

As the word cloud of this site will attest, there have been few artists of late that I have followed as closely as I have J. Cole.  With his mixtape The Warm Up, Cole gave me hope that perhaps writing had finally returned to rap.  And I was far from alone.  One the merits of one song alone, he was signed to Jay-Z’s label and superstardom seemed not only certain but imminent.

And then, we waited.  And waited some more.  18 months of eternity after his breakthrough mixtape, J. Cole finally released his first commercial album and the resulting product was… well, commercial.  All of the studio support and star cameos were mustered to chase the obvious archetypes of “successful” songs, and my favorite few songs were those carried over directly from the mixtape.  And the new song that I thought held the greatest promise wasn’t even included– but I have it here to share with you in an unfinished form: promise of what can be from this artist.

Cheer Up, J. Cole

With his first official album already behind him, the expectations for Drake’s second were Throne-like.  And, for different reasons, I was equally disappointed by his album as well.  However, this track with Rihanna stands out not only as the best on the album but as one of the best of any album of this past year.

Take Care (feat. Rihanna), Drake

As he presumably prepares for his first commercial album, Frank Ocean will face the same test.  With the full support of the music industry machine, will he be able to better the album that he released in defiance of this same industry?  I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but in the interim here is yet another captivating new track from him to start off the new year.

Tears, Frank Ocean

Drake and Doubt

These two songs are bound to make a lot of my readers very happy, as they will be a half step ahead on hearing what will dominate speakers of all sorts for weeks to come.

Drake, Rihanna, Rozay.  Production by Jamie xx and Just Blaze.

Take Care (feat. Rihanna), Drake

Lord Knows (feat. Rick Ross), Drake

Me?  Well, I’m a little self-conscious about my indifference.  When you’re bored by an album that’s revered by both critics and crowds, it’s hard not to doubt yourself.  Maybe I never got over all his hype.  Maybe I’m not over this stomach bug.

So, more out of responsibility than enthusiasm, I’m set to give it a few more listens.  In the meantime, let me know what you think.