By Matt Birchler
Topic: music
Posts: 31
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I'm Trying Spotify Again and It's Not Going Well

I'm Trying Spotify Again and It's Not Going Well

Every once in a while I'll hear someone say how much they love Spotify and that Apple Music is trash in comparison. As an Apple Music subscriber myself, this sometimes makes me wonder what I'm missing out on, so I paid for one month of Spotify and am again trying it out. This isn't a full review, just a couple things that have stood out to me.

Now Playing Screens

I'm not a huge fan of Spotify's full-screen album art view, and I'm actually relatively offended by their "dynamic" view for select albums. Instead of seeing the album artwork, I get what is effectively a full screen GIF that loops over and over and over… The one for CHVRCHES' Good Girls answers the question "what would it look like if my music app tried to give me a seizure?"

Apple Music does have a similar "moving artwork" feature for some albums as well, but those are always more subtle and only show when browsing, which I think is a better way to do it.

Multi-Disc Records are a Mess on Spotify

Radiohead's re-release of Kid A just came out last week and it's a multi-disc set. Apple Music clearly indicates track numbers so I can see where the album ends and the additional content (multiple bonus discs in this case) begins.

With Spotify, I just kinda have to know that Untitled is the last track on the record.

This one may not be for everyone, but I like that Apple Music puts stars next to tracks in albums that get more listens than others. Again, maybe not for everyone, but I enjoy this when finding something new and I want to see what songs are standing out to people.

Bonus Complaints

Why does the album art get cut off by the notch? That screenshot above is not a quirk of my mock ups, it's actually what happens on screen 🤦‍♂️

Also, why does Spotify take over the system audio whenever you open it? Want to listen to a podcast while you're browsing the new releases? Easy enough on Apple Music, impossible in Spotify.

Anyway, I'm sure there there will be things I enjoy about Spotify as well, but first impressions are really making me appreciate the little things I think Apple Music does right and Spotify does confusingly wrong.

I Turned Off Spatial Audio (but it’s okay if you love it)

After a bit over a month with Spatial Audio in Apple Music, I turned it off on my iPhone and I’m happier for it. Some songs sounded pretty good, while others sounded terrible, but something I noticed whenever doing side-by-side comparisons was that I never, and I mean never, liked the spatial version of a song more than the stereo version.

In fact, a few times I thought I was finally hearing a really great Spatial Audio version of a song, only to look at my phone and see that it was just a really good stereo mix.

I really think Spatial Audio (aka Apple’s branding for Dolby Atmos) is very much like the 3D movies fad we had a few years ago.

  1. At a very core level it’s taking something we know and love in “2D” and converting it to 3D.
  2. There appears to be a bunch of producers converting previous art into this new format, artist’s intention be damned.
  3. As such, there are quite a few “oof, why did you do that to a classic?” questions I ask myself as I see what’s been converted.
  4. There are some good examples of the technology, but they tend to be songs originally mixed for surround sound.
  5. Much like 3D movies, Spatial Audio aims to get you to buy new hardware to experience it to its fullest (AirPods to get head tracking).

I don’t have the numbers to know if my feelings are common or not, but much like 3D movies are a fad that comes around every 20 years or so, only to fade away due to poor consumer interest and middling results, I also think this is happening with Dolby Atmos/Spatial Audio. It’s the industry scraping for something innovative and thinking, “it’s in threeeeeeee deeeeeeee” is going to get consumers all excited.

Much like how 3D movies fizzled out and then we got display tech that we actually liked and we all enjoyed much more (4K, HDR, etc.), I hope that this 3D music fad makes way for cool new audio technologies that are more objective wins.

I’ll wrap up by saying that Spatial Audio as a technology is great! I use it for watching some TV shows and movies on my iPad, and it’s pretty spectacular in that context. I’m not opposed to 3D audio in general, I just don’t dig it in my music.

Apple Music Wrapped?

Apple Music Wrapped?

I got an email from Spotify this weekend asking me to resubscribe for a significant discount. This comes just days after the company rolled out their “2020 wrapped” report to millions of users. Users who, I must add, were more than happy to share these updates to social media.

And you can see why, this is fascinating data displayed masterfully! With the addition of podcasts, this data is even more interesting than before.

Apple Music Replay also happened, but the reaction was much more muted. Not only is this completely non-discoverable & lives on the web not the Apple Music app, but it's data is woefully lacking. It's presented basically as a few “most plays” lists with a playlist you can add to your library at the end.

But not only that, the data appears to be woefully incomplete. From what I can tell, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that “plays” mean songs that you made it all the way to the end of the song. Listen to 90% of a song and skip ahead instead of listening to a few seconds of basically silence? Not a play. If this is true, and I think it is, then that's like 2002-era iTunes metrics which I disliked at the time and still don't find sufficient.

But even if the numbers are 100% accurate and count how I personally wish they would, the Replay feature just doesn't hold a candle to Spotify’s Wrapped. I don't plan on jumping ship for this feature, but it sure makes me wish I was using Spotify for a few weeks every year, and that's the crack in the armor that could break into a deeper cut someday.

If I was Apple, I would invest in Replay ‘21 pretty seriously for next year.

8 Hours of Animal Cross New Horizons for Your Daily Grind

8 Hours of Animal Cross New Horizons for Your Daily Grind

Ok, so let’s all agree not to make this post reach too far and wide and let the powers that be know about it, but if you ever wanted your work day to feel more like Animal Crossing and less like…well, normal work, this is just the ticket for you.

Animal Crossing New Horizons has 24 tracks of music that play throughout the day, one song per hour. My compilation plays all 24 tracks for 20-ish minutes each, clocking in at almost exactly 8 hours. Start this when you log on for the day and hopefully you’ll be wrapping up work as soon as it finishes.

The best flow seemed to be to start at the 6AM track, which feels very warm and welcoming, and concludes all the way around at 5AM with some very chill night time music to wrap up the day.

Download the 8 hour MP3 here (462 MB) and put it on in the background while you work. Just make sure to turn it off before jumping on a conference call.

And if you would prefer them as individual tracks in the music player of your choice, there is also a 24 track version you can download here (80 MB).

Iovine on the Music Business Going Into 2020

Jimmy Iovine Knows Music and Tech. Here’s Why He’s Worried. - The New York Times

And the streaming music services are utilities — they’re all the same. Look at what’s working in video. Disney has nothing but original stuff. Netflix has tons of original stuff. But the music streaming services are all the same, and that’s a problem.
What happens when something is commoditized is that it becomes a war of price. If you can get the exact same thing next door cheaper, somebody is going to enter this game and just lower the price. Spotify’s trying with podcasts. Who knows? Maybe that will work.

The fact that exclusives have not taken off with music streaming services is great for consumers, but it does make we wonder how long this can last. The cost of music is basically free, with many (especially younger) people getting it from YouTube, and things like Apple Music or Spotify are just more convenient ways to listen.

A Random Alt/Indie Playlist

This isn’t a music blog by any means, but this tweet got me thinking about my favorite indie and alternative music recently and this playlist is the result. I hope you like it!

My 10 Favorite Albums of the Decade

It’s the end of the decade and I love lists, so today I’m starting a series of lists about my favorite things. Today we’re looking at my favorite albums of the past 10 years. What I learned more than anything with making this list is that 2010 and 2011 were more amazing than I gave them credit for at the time. 7 of the 10 albums below came out in those two years!

Alway, I hope you like the list and check out one or two of these that you haven’t listened to yet.

1: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West (2010)

Audacious, bold, confident, vulnerable…there are a million ways to describe this record, but to me it’s an artist at his peak in terms of talent and fame getting so many things to fall into place perfectly.

It’s been almost 10 years since I first heard this album and it just has countless moments that still haunt me. Nicki Minaj’s opening poem on Dark Fantasy, the horns at the start of All of the Lights, the energy behind Power, Nicki Minaj again with an absolutely killer verse on Monster, the quiet piano and drop on Runaway, Bon Iver’s crooning on Lost in the World, and more.

For all the hate Kanye gets for being an egomaniac (and he is one) he’s also an amazing collaborator who gets the most out of his partners. It wasn’t just this record, it’s basically all of them, but this one stands out to me as a simply untouchable record on every front.

Even the lead up to this album was perfect! Kanye had a thing called “G.O.O.D. Fridays” where he dropped a couple songs each Friday for months leading up to the album. Some of those songs were b-sides, others were straight from the album, and others were alternate takes on album tracks. It was a great build up to the full album which exceeded my already lofty expectations.

This isn’t just my favorite record of the decade, it’s my favorite record of all time.

#2: The Suburbs - Arcade Fire (2010)

The Suburbs won album of the year at the 2011 Grammys and it was a bit of a shock to a lot of people, but the award was well-deserved as the band put out an epic and beautiful record that was so good that it refused to be ignored.

2003’s Funeral might be the best album of the 2000s and The Suburbs was a remarkable way to kick off this new decade. I wouldn’t count these guys from putting out another classic in the next decade either.

#3: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming - M83 (2011)

This album would almost make the list for the first 30 seconds of Midnight City alone. But M83 delivers over the 22 tracks here with an experience like none other. It’s a perfect double album that ebbs and flows perfectly through its 73 minute run time. If you’re taking a long drive at night, put this on and listen from start to finish.

#4: Bon Iver - Bon Iver (2011)

Justin Vernon has evolved throughout his career and his 2 albums after this took a different tone, but his self titled sophomore album holds a very special place in my heart. As opposed to the three relatively epic albums above, the 39 minutes on this 10 track record are decidedly intimate.

#5: Departing - The Rural Alberta Advantage (2011)

Speaking of smaller, more intimate records, the 33 minute Departing by The Rural Albert Advantage is hit after hit after hit. This is a perfect winter record about small town life.

#6: Trouble Will Find Me - The National (2013)

This album wasn’t necessarily one I knew would be on this list when I started making it, but the more I listen back to this record the more I adore it. I can’t quite explain it, but the instrumentation, writing, and vocal delivery, all come together in a perfect album.

#7: E•MO•TION - Carly Rae Jepsen (2015)

So I was a little late to the Jepsen train. Despite coming out in 2015, I never really listened to this until 2018 and holy shit this is amazing! The singles are some of the best pop songs of the decade and even the deeper cuts like Boy Problems and Warm Blood hold up as pop masterpieces on their own. You can’t really count it, but the 8 tracks on E•MO•TION Side B released one year later just adds to an artist who was just on fire. 2019’s Dedicated is pretty great too…

#8: The Winter of Mixed Drinks - Frightened Rabbit (2010)

Frightened Rabbit songs have always had dour lyrics surrounded by celebratory music, and 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks leans into this perfectly. Sadly, the sadness and desparation expressed in this music was not just an act, as frontman Scott Hutchison committed suicide in May 2018 which makes you look at their entirely discography in a new light. It’s hard to listen to this music today, but it’s impossible to forget.

#9: Celebration Rock - Japandrois (2012)

When your album is 8 songs, each one needs to hit and Japandroids have nothing but hits on this record. In fact, I’d say the last 3 songs (Younger Us, The House That Heaven Built, and Continuous Thunder) are the best 3 three song stretch on any record of the decade. This album is pure joy for all 35 minutes of its short runtime.

#10: This is Happening - LCD Soundsystem (2010)

The drop on Dance Yrself Clean, the wailing guitar riff on All I Want, the desperation in I Can Change, the meta brilliance of You Wanted a Hit, and the “AhhhhAaaaaaaaaa” on Home, there are tons of moments I can’t forget from LCD Soundsystem’s first “last” album.

Honorable Mentions

Cutting down a decade of music into 10 albums is incredibly hard and it necessitates omitting some of your favorites, so here are some of the other albums that just missed the list but I also think you should check out:

  • Here and Nowhere Else - Cloud Nothings (2014)
  • Care - How To Dress Well (2016)
  • To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar (2015)
  • Belong - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (2011)
  • Random Access Memories - Daft Punk (2013)
  • AM - Arctic Monkeys (2013)
  • Sound Kapital - Handsome Furs (2011)
  • In Our Heads - Hot Chip (2012)
  • Evil Friends - Portugal. The Man (2013)
  • They Want My Soul - Spoon (2014)
  • Heard it in a Past Life - Maggie Rogers (2019)
  • Assume Form - James Blake (2019)

Target and Best Buy are Shifting Away from CDs

Best Buy to Pull CDs, Target Threatens to Pay Labels for CDs Only When Customers Buy Them | Billboard

[S]ources say that Target has demanded to music suppliers that it wants to be sold on what amounts to a consignment basis. Currently, Target takes the inventory risk by agreeing to pay for any goods it is shipped within 60 days, and must pay to ship back unsold CDs for credit. With consignment, the inventory risk shifts back to the labels.

I left Target in 2015 and at that point we were already making moves to trim down our selection of CDs. We went from 5 aisles in my store to 2 when I left. This is the right thing for them to do, and considering the profit margins are razor thin on music, there is very little reason for Target (or any retailer) to keep physical music in their inventory much longer.

Anecdotally, I had visits from our district manager every few weeks and we would talk about departments in terms of sales numbers. Sales in music were dropping every year and I was asked many, many times what I was doing to drive sales improvements in CD sales. It was one of the stupidest asks I consistently got, and considering the entire company was dropping even faster than my store in revenue in this space, it drove me crazy to have this as an “ask” every visit. “How about we jump in a time machine and go back to 1999?” was my suggestion to my store manager after the head honchos left.

My HomePod Testing Playlist

I’m getting a HomePod in just over a week and I thought I’d share the playlist I’ll be using to test it. These are all songs I love and songs that I think have really good production values that will make the HomePod prove its prowess.

Feel free to recommend your own picks as well and I’ll add them to the playlist!

My Favorite Albums of 2017

I’m not a music expert, but I do pride myself in having relatively good taste in music. As I get further and further away from my college years, I find it harder and harder to keep branching out to new and exciting music, but I’m doing my best to stay young at heart when it comes to my music taste.

With that in mind, here are my top 10 albums of the year (in no particular order):

The Wild - The Rural Alberta Advantage

There’s just something about this band that clicks with me. This is their 4th full length album, and 2 of their first 3 albums were my favorite of their respective years. I’m not officially ranking my top 10 in 2017, but if I had to there is a good chance this would be the third time they took my top spot. I love the emotion dripping from each song. This is simultaneously the album I bet most people haven’t heard of as well as the album I wish the most people would check out.

Standout tracks: Alright, Toughen Up, Bad Luck Again

American Dream - LCD Soundsystem

How do you come back from a highly publicized hiatus? By releasing an intense, passionate, unpredictable, towering achievement of a record, of course! LCD Soundsystem had 3 incredible albums under their belt and huge expectations around this comeback album, and they absolutely killed it. From the opening track on, LCD Soundsystem delivered an album that is both distinctly them, and unlike the 3 records that they released before. Tracks 5-7 are the best 22 minutes of any album all year. My god!

Standout tracks: how do you sleep?, call the police, oh baby, tonite

DAMN. - Kendrick Lamar

I struggle to effectively vocalize my thoughts on hip-hop, but Kendrick Lamar is an artist who just clicks with me. His last 2 records were stellar, and Damn continues the streak from the most exciting rapper out there today. Lamar addresses more than a few current issues throughout, all with clever wordplay and no shortage of fire when the need arises.

Oh, and the last minute of DNA. absolutely floored me. It was the only time this year a song made me stop in my tracks and literally say “oh my god!” out loud.

Standout tracks: LOVE., DNA., HUMBLE., ELEMENT.

Zombies on Broadway - Andrew McMahon In the Wildreness

Andrew McMahon is doing plenty well for himself, but there’s a good chance you have not hear of him either. He also made what I think is the best mainstream pop album of the year. Zombies on Broadway is a non-stop string of catchy, beautiful songs that will get stuck in your head in no time, and take forever to get out

Standout tracks: Shot out of a Cannon, So Close, Walking In My Sleep

I See You - The xx

I’ve liked The xx since their debut, but I never really thought they put together a great full album. In early 2017 they finally did that, and I See You has been on repeat for me all year long. This is a quiet album, but it sticks with you.

Standout tracks: I Dare You, Replica, A Violent Noise

A Deeper Understanding - The War on Drugs

Just like The xx, this was another band that I’ve had my eyes on, but who has never made a complete album I could get behind. This one from The War on Drugs floored me with some of the best songs I heard all year. If The xx is a little too quiet for you, try these guys out.

Standout tracks: Nothing to Find, Pain, Holding On

Reputation - Taylor Swift

Yes, Taylor Swift. People seemed mixed on this record when it came out in November, and I personally was not a huge fan of the lead single, Look What You Made Me Do, but the rest of this record is catchy as hell. Swift doesn’t have anything particularly profound to say here, but that’s okay, it’s a fun pop record.

Standout tracks: ...Ready for It?, Don’t Blame Me, Call It What You Want

Hot Thoughts - Spoon

I love Spoon, and this is one of their better ones. I just love the lead singer’s voice, so basically anything he does has me on board, but this album surprised me more than a few times, and the standout tracks just begged me to crank up the stereo.

Standout tracks: WhisperI’lllistentohearit, Can I Sit Next to You, Shotgun

Life Will See You Now - Jens Lekman

This is by far the most fun album on my list. Leckman has a penchant for humor and he’s in fine form here. Take the song Evening Prayer (the song I’ve had stuck in my head more than anything else this year) which is about someone who laments the struggle of being someone who is trying to figure out how much they can show they care about someone with a tumor:

It’s been a long hard year For a friend who’s not sure if he’s close enough To be allowed to care Or just be there To include you in his evening prayers

It’s not a comedy album by any means, but it’s fun throughout.

Standout tracks: Evening Prayer, How We Met The Long Version, Postcard #17

Everything Now - Arcade Fire

Here’s another divisive album from the year, but I also really liked the latest from Arcade Fire. This is clearly the worst album from them (my opinion, of course), but it’s still better than what most other bands ever achieve. This is a sort of concept album focused around consumerism. This is a grand, delicious album and I love it.

Standout tracks: Electric Blue, Everything Now, Creature Comfort, We Don’t Deserve Love

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