All the playlists I’ve published are now on Spotify, Apple, Deezer and YouTube; and sometimes Soundcloud, Tidal and Google Play.
I’ve been making mixtapes since I was old enough to press play and record at the same time. Yesterday I opened my old box of tapes and it was a treat to look through, but it reminded me that I’ve been rather lazy with publishing my playlists. But now that Spotify has launched in South Africa (I personally invited them in 2007), I thought it’s a good idea to share share share!
These days it’s easier than ever to make your own digital mixtape and publish it on social media. Not everyone uses the same streaming services though, which is why I’ve made dedicated pages (in the side column) for my Spotify and Apple Music playlists, as well as one for Other Services.
All the playlists I’ve published are now on Spotify, Apple, Deezer and YouTube; and sometimes Soundcloud, Tidal and Google Play. You can also follow me on Spotify and never miss a new playlist, as this is my preferred Streaming Service. More playlists coming soon!
When I joked (badly) in January that this Chinese year of the Rooster is really just the Year of The Cock, I had no idea. There were so many great songs for the last part of the year, and not even from all the big bands or artists that you’d expect. In-between all the political, economic and climatic mayhem there was some sensible music being made.
Trends for the year include hearing amazing female vocals everywhere I listened and a return to “solos” in pop songs (guitar solos for sure, but other instruments too). Trumpety-trump proved to be a strong influence, adding a whole new chapter to the history protest songs. Everyone from Arcade Fire & Mavis Staples to Billy Bragg took a stab from across the pond, not to mention all the angry music (see Best Of Albums list). On the Side B playlist, the orange man gets a cameo on “House Cat,” and is summarily dismissed by a nonchalant Mark Kozelek (as a cat). But that’s just one of the 2.5 hours of my favourite tracks from July-December 2017. Let’s all hit shuffle and go on holiday.
1. The National – Sleep Well Beast
The National really are at the top of their game, and this album seems so effortless and smooth, I’d like to inhale it. They struggle though, and the intensity with which they wrestle their creative beasts are so pleasing and intoxicating. There’s absolute harmony and discordancy at work here, as well as really intimate lyrics. The record features the band’s first real guitar solos (there are two and they’re glorious).
2. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
The most brilliant record released this year to be met with equal and opposite amounts of scepticism. It’s one of their best to date and is overshadowed by their previous work. I only discovered LCD Soundsystem late anyway, but to me, this record sounds like prime LCD Soundsystem: the same themes but darker and the same sharp wit but with more bite. I don’t know why everyone calls it a comeback album when it’s clear that James Murphy never left the room.
3. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
This record is my go-to album for 2017. It always matches the mood. With lots of happy, sad, rocking and laid back bits of quirky wisdom it makes sense that an honest, down to earth record would be the outcome from these slacker-rock indie darlings.
4. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
This album builds on the high standards set by Lost In A Dream, with the same wash of sound that transports you somewhere else. The mood is higher and the sound bolder, as if to resolve the two records in a celebration of victorious, dirty guitars.
5. Richard Dawson – Peasant
An exciting and strange British freak-folk album from this dude who came out of nowhere. Dawson shows incredible bravery on this medieval Celtic off-key album. It’s dirty with beautiful melodies scattered haphazardly, and the record sticks and stays with you. The weirdest and most groundbreaking album that has chosen me for a while.
6. The Weather Station – The Weather Station
Oh, my kingdom for beautiful Canadian singer-songwriters! This record is classic Folk Gold in the vein of Joni Mitchell, but at the same time is Tamara Lindeman’s confident own voice. With mint production, engaging lyrics and a rolling musical urgency, this is definitely both a vinyl/headphone and crowd-pleaser record.
7. Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent
Finally, a band has risen to take the flame from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Protomartyr are pissed-off and mysterious like a good Goth-inspired Post-Punk band should be. They have great rhythm and pace, with a surprising lulling quality for minor chords and dramatic badassery. Definitely music to watch Trump speeches or have existential crises to.
8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
A very simplified GY!BE record that hits home and feels very true to now. The album fits in well with their body of work, although it’s by no means an extensive movement of beautiful music. Rather it presents a well-organized progression of rage as grandiose tracks bombard your ears for just under an hour. A cathartic listen.
9. Rostam – Half-Light
An eclectic debut from one half of vampire weekend. The album turns pop song structure around while echoing traditional pop melodies. An inspiring sweet, detailed album from Batmanglij that doesn’t really go anywhere, but that’s entirely ok.
10. Bongeziwe Mabandla – Mangaliso
A record that masterfully balances the traditional and new. South African Xhosa music has never sounded this modern or hypnotic, and this album turns sweet world music turned on its head.
That’s it. Special mentions to Bjork, Sza, Josh Ritter and Sylvan Esso. As Vicky would say, “soz lol.”
Adapted from a talk at the #futuretuned Radio Days Africa conference (5-7 July 2017).
The music industry has always been at the forefront of disruption in technology and, in some ways, it seems as if there isn’t a corner of it left untouched.
A year ago at Radio Days Africa, a guy from one of the labels told the audience that they didn’t need radio anymore. He justified this by saying that subscription services are now freely available and that people can listen to what they like, without having to listen to radio’s advertising or DJs. Having spent 10 years at a major label, I know for sure is that it’s the other way around — it’s radio that doesn’t need labels.
Over the last 15 years, music consumption has changed dramatically, and the power dynamic has shifted as a result. The music is better, but it’s less valuable because it’s available everywhere (and, often, for free).
Consumers now have direct access to all the new music they could ever want through subscriptions to Streaming Services. Spotify counts more than 30 million tracks, each available anywhere and at any time.
The real shift, however, is in how consumers are listening to music in this environment. Last year, playlists overtook albums in time spent listening; a number which only continues to grow.
It’s these playlists that will be radio’s competition if Radio doesn’t instead see Streaming Services as an opportunity. Radio needs to strategically use playlists as part of a larger brand positioning and marketing strategy. I could throw around the words ‘listener’, ‘user’, and ‘audience’ fairly liberally and, for me at least, they mean similar things. But most commercial stations are only incentivised to increase their listenership. That needs to change.
In addition to music consumption, music discovery has evolved. Music is no longer spread through silos by record companies pushing their priorities, or by stations having exclusive first plays. Radio is no longer determining which songs make it. Many stations know and have adapted to this, but that’s not enough. The real opportunity lies in the curation and discovery of NEW music — something that is already part of what any station does on a daily basis.
Streaming services are addressing the discovery challenge in their own ways. Spotify acquired The Echo Nest to assist with data-driven music discovery & personalisation. Their Discover Weekly playlist is a personalised playlist aimed squarely at promoting new artists and songs. Apple’s Beats 1, on the other hand, dives straight into radio territory by creating live, on-air-like shows. If you’ve ever listened to Beats 1 you’ll have noticed that it’s engaging, on-demand content which has more in common with traditional radio than podcasting.
But South African music radio? Well, it’s complicated. I believe that to grow you have to break new music. Even if you can’t play it on air.
Before Hlaudi dropped the 90% local content bomb, 5FM’s role as a national youth station was to break new tracks. The impact that this mandate had in differentiating 5FM’s and other SABC station’s respective playlists has been substantial (whether you think it’s good or bad).
What I think is being missed, however, is the opportunity that this created. Without a national station that could play new international music, many labels and radio pluggers looked towards the top regional commercial stations to start adding new tracks and, of course, this simply isn’t their mandate.
Which brings me to an issue I have with mainstream Top 40 in a world of music streaming — that they don’t offer anything different. Imagine, instead, if these stations made Apple Music and Deezer playlists of songs not on their playlists? Streaming Services are another vehicle where stations can have a brand presence, especially one that promotes music discovery. The benefit is being able to curate a much greater variety of music.
Sometimes I think the way radio treats music in a streaming world is irrelevant. In years past the life of a song may have been determined by radio, but these days a song may burn before a station even starts playing it, because it’s been on the Apple Music or iTunes chart for the last 2 months. There’s too much pressure on humans to make the right playlisting calls.
Radio is an incredible format. Apart from the live music scene, it’s the only pervasive real-time music format that is social, embraces the New and invites every listener to be part of a tribe. It’s exactly the thing that Streaming Services don’t have — a personal and passionate relationship.
Streaming Services emphasize the personalized playlists such as Discover Weekly because the data gets as close to an intimate, unique recommendation as possible. Data is their strength and, even though users are shown to switch between playlists a lot, the engagement is high. For labels, growth in this format is incredible, but it requires curation because, with so much to listen to, how do people know what music to listen to?
Cue Curated Playlists. Just like radio plugging, the labels have playlists curation companies that you may have seen. Universal owns Digster, Sony owns Filtr, and Warner owns Topsify. Labels glean insight into streaming track performance, and use those insights to adjust worldwide marketing campaigns. There’s no reason why individual stations or media powerhouses like Kagiso Media or Primedia shouldn’t have their own mood and genre playlists to promote their brands, or research tracks before adding them to the station. Users, listeners or audiences don’t necessarily just want to hear from one label or an artist. They want to hear about everything that there is to offer from someone they trust, and radio listeners trust a station’s music judgment.
Locally, some stations build streaming playlists based on their music strategy or the chart — but if you’re simply publishing the station’s chart, why would someone tune in? Why not test some of the tracks that didn’t make it to the playlist, along with some edgier tracks that may appeal to a smaller niche within your overall market, but not enough to make them suitable for playlisting? The takeaway for radio is that you have to be a little unique on Streaming Services.
At Labs.fm, we’re firm believers that Radio can be better, and already do music recommendation reports as a service, such as which tracks are a good fit for a station to add or which tracks are in danger of burning. But, taken further, we’re able to look at audiences, recommend growing niche tracks, as well as build and manage those playlists. These are the kinds of activities that make sure a music strategy can compete with streaming playlisting, and also serve as extensions of a station’s brand.
It’s interesting to note that while Spotify publicly displays the playlist follower count, Apple music does not. BBC R1, with their over 400 000 followers can’t call those numbers ‘listeners’, but if surveyed, how would a Spotify user interpret the question “Have you listened to BBC Radio 1 over the last 7 days?” Perhaps, then, the greatest threat to radio is the way listeners are counted right now. Because if that Spotify user answers yes, or attended the BBC Big Weekend, I’d call them part of BBC 1’s “AUDIENCE.”
I make the case for Radio playlists because I believe these could not only provide valuable research data for radio but also be another Brand touchpoint. By aggregating many playlists, radio can be made a lot better, and stations can gain wider Audiences. I want radio programmers and compilers to use data and streaming playlists to be adventurous and take more risks. Stations have such a wealth of knowledge and listener trust. If other mediums such as playlists, podcasts and events aren’t prioritised, there’s no incentive for stations to do anything outside of traditional radio, and they’d be missing a massive opportunity.
You can listen to the full, original talk from Radio Days Africa on Iono.
Friends, it’s been a Milestone Year. Middle fingers and lots of changes for the better. A “Big One” (subtext: there’s a post all about it below). Put these songs on repeat, it’s been a hell of a good music year too.
Whew, 2016. This year of musical loss has been a one where complex records have connected most with me. On the theme of death, David Bowie’s Blackstar, Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree were the most prophetic. Sometimes they were a little too sad for me, so I return to them in small doses.
At the top of the year I loved Gallant’s great debut, and the rest of it continued with interesting alternative R&B/Pop releases from Rihanna to Frank Ocean. The production on records from Beyoncé, Radiohead, and Bon Iver fascinated me. It seemed perfect for Radiohead to bring out the sonically mature album that A Moon Shaped Pool is, and I reconnected with my once favourite band again on it. My record of the year is Bon Iver’s 22, A Million with its’ intimate tone and constant unraveling. It has a puzzling sense of timing and I kept returning to it, the one album that always had me putting the volume up, no matter how loud it was (I actually just want to inhale this record).
The genre-bending D.D Dumbo doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before. It’s organic, wise beyond it’s years and Australian. Pop music is again moving towards a more alternative space where it challenges the boundaries of genre… Except for the good Rock, which went back to basics this year with flame-bearers Car Seat Headrest, Lucy Dacus and Margaret Glaspy. I was fortunate to see Lucy Dacus live and her debut No Burden is a calculated statement of captivating stories, live and on the record. Shrug Rock is now definitely a movement and dammit, it sounds great! Car Seat Headrest’s Teens Of Denial is one of the most badass statement-making Rock ‘n Rolling albums of the decade. Angel Olsen made a deft move from a shy singer-songwriter to time-traveling rocker and LVL UP made the most infectiously noisy lo-fi Indie Rock record. Beyonce, the titan of Pop that she is, used all the genres in her album and got away with it because LEMONADE is a masterpiece.
At the most difficult times I returned to simpler, singer-songwriter records. Chris Staples put out the most reassuring lyrical album with gentle storytelling and humour. whilst Pinegrove’s confessional debut Cardinal is a sing-along record that is as relevant playing in the background when entertaining as it is if you’re crying into your whiskey. Don’t judge me.
There are releases that just didn’t make the top spots or that I need more time with: Mitski, Kyle Craft,Michael Kiwanuka, Wilco, A Tribe Called Quest, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Frank Ocean, Big Theif and Solange.
1. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
3. D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
4. Lucy Dacus – No Burden
5. Pinegrove – Cardinal
6. Beyoncé – LEMONADE
7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
8. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
9. Chris Staples – Golden Age
10. LVL UP – Return to Love
I also made two playlists this year of Best Of tracks, or the best of what I’m listening to. You can listen to the first playlist in the previous blog post. The latest playlist is the 2016 Best Songs of the Second Half-Year, which is below. It’s 30 tracks/2 hours of the best songs I’ve found from June/July till now, available on Tidal, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play and Spotify; and as a best effort (not all tracks) on YouTube, Deezer and Soundcloud.
Looking on the bright side of 2017, I’m thinking of how much great new protest music there will be coming out of the States…
This year is halfway done and already it’s been a great one for music. So with that I give you my first half-year list. Let’s see how it goes. NPR’s Robin Hilton has identified the trend of ‘Shrug Rock’ and I hear a lot of it around (it’s great)! There’s so much diversity on on this list though, I’d like to guarantee that you’ll find something you like… but you’ll have to listen for yourself. There is everything from trippy millennial-speak pop anthems (Beck’s “Wow”) to Paul Simon-esque honey warm melodies and African guitar riff appropriation (River Whiles “All Day All Night”) to alternative R&B beat-heavy hooks with falsetto (Gallant “Weight In Gold”) and a beautiful epic post-rock (Explosions In The Sky “Logic Of A Dream”). Also one band sounding a little like Animal Collective, and another R&B star sounding like she was a heavily influenced by the last Tame Impala record… As always, I do sequence the tracks but feel free to hit shuffle if that’s how you roll.
Just a note on availability, it’s a sign of the times that not all tracks are available across all services.
Listen here for YouTube (30/30), Spotify (28/30), Deezer (25/30) and Soundcloud (16/30) playlists: