This guest column was contributed by Mike Spinelli, a third-year law student at Quinnipiac University School of law, where he is studying music transactions and music licensing. He previously worked at SoundExchange.
In a recent interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook dubbed Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre “creative geniuses.” The justification Cook gave for acquiring Beats for $3 billion was the recognition that “human curation was important in the subscription service – that the sequencing of songs that you listen to affect how you feel.” Given the questionable activity level of Beats users, seen in a leaked royalty statement this past summer, human-curated playlist are not where streaming services are headed.
Today’s music “consumers,” and I use that term loosely, live in the age of individuality. We all expect to hear what we want, exactly when we want to hear it. Do you want to go back to (or start in some cases) listening to cassettes? We all have become accustomed to being able to call up any sort of content on-demand. It’s not surprising that terrestrial radio is running into trouble with today’s listeners. “The savior of radio” Norm Pattiz is even calling for the shift of radio stations to adopt an on-demand format.
A playlist created by a superstar (or anyone for that matter) is not what a listener wants to put on when they log into a streaming service. Yes, Iovine and Dre were onto something when they built a service around feelings. Yes, we enjoy listening to songs that fit our mood. However, take a step back and determine what makes a song “happy”? It’s neat that Beats gives the user the ability to hear songs according to a Mad Libs-type sentence that you fill out. However, this is just a novelty at best.
When listeners log into a streaming service they want to (1) listen to their own favorites, and (2) listen to new music that they will immediately enjoy. The former is a basic concept which yields little innovation. However, it is the latter which Beats and every other service on earth is trying to tackle. In a world of content overload, services need to connect the right song to the right market. Human curation is an arbitrary culmination of songs based on of someone else’s preferences.
Data is the answer. We are dealing with a “me” generation. This is why Pandora is doing so well. This is why Spotify acquired The Echo Nest. The future is in being able to determine what I want to hear without me knowing it yet. A curated playlist may have a few songs I like, but a service built around this concept to enhance music discovery is inefficient. The future is in the data listeners provide, and refining that data to reach the right listener. That is where we’re headed.