Tag Archives: playlists

App Review: Beats Music

Beats Music

Beats Music focuses squarely on playlists, employing a sharp user interface and restricted color scheme that allows a vast amount of content to shine through.

Both brand and interface rely heavily on iOS7 aesthetic  – flat design, subtle navigation cues and circular icon sets, disregarding the skeuomorphic approach we’ve come to know and understand through erstwhile brushed chrome and faux veneers à la Apple’s Newsstand.

Both the web and mobile experiences are vibrant, mostly due to the sheer amount of content the product has to offer. A grid-based layout contains large type in very small amounts, making it easy to scroll through an abundance of featured or suggested content. And there’s lots.

There are suggested playlists based around genre and/or decade (“Indie Music from 1993”.) There are novelty playlists based around band or topic (“Songs about Sex by Pulp”, “Cool Jazz for Studying”.) There are so-called rarities added in for good measure (“Radiohead B-sides”.)  And then, there are tappable full-length albums interspersed throughout.

Impressively, the app’s feature set doesn’t rely on an activity feed or filter set. There’s so much curated content custom-tailored to the user’s preferences that the social aspect, or even a searchable one, is rendered moot.

Curiously, the commodification of actual full-length records is almost cleverly masked within the music sequencing landscape. Songs are presented within a diversified yet continuous audio experience ripe with discovery and reconnoitre.

That’s not to say that the idea of an album is lost altogether. Browsing Beats Music is not unlike exploring a record store, vibrant and full of data points. There are sections organized by genre, varying formats with subsequent cover sizes (vinyl, CD, cassette, box), staff picks to read, end caps for checking out new releases, and featured albums.

If browsing playlists isn’t your thing, you can cut to the chase by filling out a mad-libs type sentence that generates a playlist based on how you feel at that particular moment.

In the same spirit, the last screen delivers playlists exactly two taps away from getting what you want, without even being sure what it is you want in the first place. The user can choose from a list of activities – “sleep,” “wake up,” “ work out,”  “study” – with a second tap that takes you to a list of playlists for selecting the mood that suits you best.

Content wise, the playlists themselves are good. They contain predictable picks and fun surprises, throwbacks and other well curated material, encouraging the user to trust the DJ and literally forgive any passable songs along the way. These are playlists for people who know what they want…but not really.

Unlike Spotify, Rdio, and its competitors, Beats Music does away with recommending albums or providing “charts” upon launch of the application. As well, it performs well without everyone in your circle shouting at you with their suggestions or listening history from the sidelines.

The major differences in Beats compared to a Spotify or Rdio is plentiful. First, Beats is less of a straight-up jukebox. A user can create playlists but they’re hidden in the background. The emphasis lies less in crafting playlists and more on hearing what you’re in the mood to listen to – without having to do any of the work involved.

The player itself is also subtle, sitting on the bottom of the screen. There is no big play button or call to action.  It’s 2013 and apps have been around for 7 years now – we know what to do.

As your average skeptic in both the music and technology mindset, I do have a few concerns.

The first is that the library itself doesn’t dig deep enough. The inclusion of new bands may be due partly to pending licensing deals, if any, that are too fresh to go through the programming process.

What about exclusives, covers, remixes, and other goodies typically buried somewhere in a dark corner of the internet?

Conversely, it is a safe presumption to make that Beats will eventually feature advance record releases – historically, a natural way for driving users to online streaming music service providers.

Lastly, how often will content be refreshed? Will I need to scrap my preferences and start over to get more?

Only time will tell as this sharp, resonant product continues to evolve.

Playlist Manifesting: What Makes a Great Mixtape?

Every single one of us can be a DJ . We each have the ability to be an influencer, a critic – a purveyor of fresh musical content for the masses.

From an accessibility standpoint, It’s becoming easier to queue up songs and create deep playlists based on the music we love. Between music blogs and social sites, we can preview tracks from established and brand-new artists. We can easily create playlists on the fly, spreading them far and wide to share our respective tastes and express our mood to the world.

Thanks to music blogs, we have the ability to hear upcoming singles at the same time (or even before) traditional musical tastemakers do. And we’re not restricted by FCC rules or political embargos.

The great news is that online music services are consistently getting better and the catalogues are becoming deeper.  We can share tracks, solicit feedback, re-share what our friends have liked and even collaborate with them.

We are eager to share and eager to please.

With all of this newfound access, content will still prevail. There’s still an art to crafting the perfect mixtape – a perfect rhythm and balance that tells a story and will make your friends hunt you down for more.

For what it’s worth (and so I’ll stop babbling to strangers about this at parties), I’ve sketched out a few thoughts on what I think creates great playlist. As a DJ and musical programmer with several years of community + college radio experience,  I feel that I may be able to speak semi-intelligently on the issue (ha).  And if I really have no clue what I’m talking about, please feel free to call me out in any way you see fit (a playlist battle, perhaps? double ha).

Without any further ramblings, here within please find 7 general tips for giving your best set ever.

#1 Grab ‘em from the get go.

Traditionally, a DJ mix starts slowly then builds to peak at about 3/4’ths of the way through. While this may work on a dancefloor, a digital mixtape has different needs. You’ll want to grab the ear of the listener right away. This is ‘specially important in an online world where users don’t stick around for long.

With that said, this doesn’t mean you should put all of your bangers up front. It’s not a tempo thing. Instead, think about starting with something that’s simply really, really good. A banger can be the equivalent of shouting “WAKE UPPP!!” Not many people like that.

You can open your mix in a very subtle way (for example, a classical piece or a clever acoustic cover). Whatever you think is comfortable yet arresting.

The goal here is two-fold. #1 get their attention, and #2 set the mood.

Whichever way you choose to go, the opening track should set the tone for the rest of the mix.

#2 Pick a variety of songs – but stay consistent to your theme.

I have a friend who works in music supervision. He loves trendy indie bands on the folksy, whimsical tip.  And while his mixtape selections are amazing – I always learn something new – in the end it sounds like one long record by the same band. Ultimately, unless he’s hitting fans within his niche directly he’s gonna lose people. The mix is too steady and listeners will easily get bored and go away.

Choose a variety of songs from different decades and genres. This opens up your work to a larger audience with a wider variety of taste.  Mixing it up also keeps listeners on their toes. It keeps it interesting.

The way to tie it all together is through your theme – whether it’s by mood, subject, or purpose.

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I want to Spotify

800px-Spotifyscreenshot

Spotify, a music service currently only available outside of the US, is a social streaming site that allows instant listening to specific tracks or albums.

Users can easily share their library with friends and collaborate on playlists.

Although ownership of music is important to users in general a more pressing issue is accessibility. Sites like Hype Machine and Imeem allow us to share songs with friends, but we can only share the content that those sites have available to us.

By employing the peer-to-peer model like Spotify does, I can upload those special gems and curated playlists I spend weeks agonizing over. My friends can then stream the music and click-through to purchase for legitimate ownership of the song.

Spotify takes advantage of the “cloud“- data living over the internet as opposed to locally on your computer. We can peruse music quickly this way without downloading it first. Then, if a user wants ownership of the song, it can be purchased – supporting the artist rather than jacking it from a blog.

Makes sense to me.

What is Spotify?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotify

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