Audio’s “Theater of the Mind”: A chat with Slacker’s head of content Jack Isquith

jack isquith 02 b&wAfter our review of Slacker’s inventive new app, which represents a meaningful re-launch of the brand and its content focus, we wanted to dig deeper. Jack Isquith, SVP of Strategic Development and Content Programming, joined us on the phone for a chat about his priorities and the thinking behind Slacker’s reinvention.

“What would radio look like if it was invented after the Internet?” That was the core question Isquith’s team started with. The thought experiment derived from a key observation made by Slacker’s developers: “Nothing we’re doing looks like a Facebook feed, or Twitter, or like any of these platforms that feel alive.”

Accordingly, the new Slacker experience does take a leap forward in freshenss, funneling users to long-scroll screens of new content rather than the more static choices available in the old app. “We were focused on recognizing the audience’s expectations around entertainment,” Isquith said.

Jack Isquith referred to “Theater of the Mind,” and cited the advantages of Internet radio over the traditional content values of terrestrial radio. “There’s a lot of compelling audio that doesn’t live in terrestrial. YouTube, Vine, podcasts, all sorts of creative ways of doing what radio has always been great at — creating ‘theater of the mind’ in audio.”

The more theatrical approach is mostly reflected in crafted playlists hosted by personalities with followings on other platforms, particularly YouTube. “Human curation” is a meme in music services, as an opposing force to music intelligence algorithms, so Slacker’s thinking in this regards isn’t wholly original. But featuring hosts like Tyler Oakley and comicbookgirl19 is an original path to playlist curation, more in-the-trenches of millennialist culture than the music industry curators in Beats Music.

Is slacker thinking more deeply about the music-service experience than its competitors? Jack Isquith demurred from agreeing with that. “I don’t want to give us credit for thinking deeper. We’ll take credit for thinking different. We have data indicating it can work, and we hope it does work. We’re thinking about curation, context, and the understanding that our audience is interested in many things. So, just providing a slightly different music presentation wasn’t going to make a big difference to the audience, or to Slacker.”

Brad Hill