man sitting on bench reading newspaper
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

…oftentimes you can see change on the horizon, assuming you’re looking for it, and there comes a day when the landscape flips. But the old entities attached to the old ways refuse to adjust, they believe in holding back the future, staying rooted in the past, to their detriment, because the public is not controlled by them. 

Bob Lefsetz

This simple insight is Silicon Valley (a proverbial proxy for post-industrial technology). Why it exists, why it eats itself, and why it finds the future. A more business version of this insight is Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. 

Top Read:

The Junkification of Amazon: Amazon might be the biggest store on the web, but it is also the shittiest place to shop on the web, says John Herrman. I couldn’t agree more — my overall experience with Amazon has deprecated, and I am always worried about what crap I will get in the box. I have shifted about a third of my dollars to Walmart — Amex underwrites the Walmart equivalent of Prime — and another third to Target or independent stores. Shopify has made it easier to shop with independents. Amazon’s great advantage is “returns.” You will see Amazon as just another web place when someone cracks that. (Ironically, New York magazine has no problem linking to Amazon for affiliate revenues.)

Notable 

So Many Podcasts, So Little Money: Spotify has thus far failed its big bet on podcasts. It has become the biggest podcast platform and has $200 million in podcasting-related ad revenues, but is that enough? Spotify and its CEO made the classic mistake all leaders make: they brought in big-ticket experts who know how to spend big bucks to attract talent. In reality, Spotify forgot it has the audience and the platform to turn anyone into a star. 

It could be verse: Mark Zuckerberg isn’t giving up on his Metaverse ambitions. Sure, they lost money in 2022 and will lose more in 2023. The real question is, will they ever make it work, or will Apple come and steal their thunder? For now, Zuck is all in on the hot new thing of today: Generative AI.

Is this the end of writing? 

What is the Internet? 

Why you should not buy iOT devices from Anker

Ephemera 

Now, this is a clever photography game!

Feb 4, 2023. San Francisco.

Spotify is changing electronic music and dance music in particular. Spotify doesn’t just eliminate the DJ as the conduit between artist and audience. Streaming music has cultivated a new breed of creators who seem to be totally in the dark about what a DJ does in the first place. As a result we have what’s almost a new format of music that broadly fits into the parameters of club music, but will almost certainly never be played in a club — or by any DJ at all.

I am not surprised that Spotify or TikTok are changing how music is made, why it is made, and how it is consumed. Streaming has shaped how we experience music, and as a result, it has lost some of that loving feeling. Medium is the message!

Good Read: How Spotify turned dance music into dance Muzak.

 

How did it get so late so soon? 
It’s night before it’s afternoon. 
December is here before it’s June. 
My goodness how the time has flown. 
How did it get so late so soon?
Dr. Seuss

It has been a few weeks since I sent one of these updates. I thought I would write one last month. Like all writers, I, too, have developed a penchant for procrastination. It is a deadly affliction, especially if your think in words and write to bring order to your inner self. So this morning, when a 4.0 Earthquake woke me up, I knew I couldn’t go back to sleep, and I took it as a cue to sit down and write this quick note. 

Over the past few weeks, I have been busy playing with new technologies and jotting down ideas for future (longer) pieces. It is a much better use of time and a good distraction from the shit show around us. Twitter, in particular, is a dumpster fire. And while I am not on Mastodon (yet,), I might set up a personal instance and tinker with it over the holidays.

Mastodon, in itself, isn’t novel, as it mimics Twitter. The idea of Fediverse and, by extension, ActivityPub, are interesting because they hark back to an early vision of the web, one that wasn’t dominated by the “centralized attention” economy. I feel there is a big opportunity for WordPress (my blog publishing system) to give a push to Fediverse and ActivityPub. More on that in a future communique.

In case you missed some of the recent writing, here are a few links.

December is almost half done, though I am just getting started. Winter months are my favorite time of the year — when I take my camera and head out wherever there is snow. 

And now for some recommendations: 

  • If you are looking for a nice, calm (cozy) crime series to view this holiday season, I highly recommend Three Pines, which is based on a novel by Louise Penny and stars Alfred Molina. Molina is just such a great pick for the role of Chief Inspector Armand Ganache. It is spectacular viewing and free to watch for Amazon Prime members.
  • If you are in London and are looking for a modernist twist on Indian cuisine, I highly recommend Bibi. Great ambiance, a fresh take on food and flavors I am familiar with, without pandering or diluting the originals. 
  • Closer to home in San Francisco, check out El Rey Taquiza Artesanal, which has a fresh (and I mean really fresh) take on Mexican food. I have been there a dozen times already and have never been disappointed. 
  • If you are on Mac, you should check out Arc, a new, simpler, modern take on the Chrome browser. It is kinder to your computers than the junk Google puts on the market. There is a waiting list.
  • I got rid of Google search and replaced it with Neeva. It is a new search engine built by Google Search team members. For me, it has been worth switching. 

PS: Please visit the website more often and catch up on my short posts, recommendations, and photos. You can leave comments and start a conversation now that we are avoiding Twitter. 

December 17, 2022

Way back In 1935, genius musician Duke Ellington in an effort to placate two ladies, placed each of them on two sides of his piano, he composed and played a song — In a Sentimental Mood. Such is the magic of the song that nine decades later I can’t stop listening to it — in fact, it was the second most listened to song on my list of the 2,492 songs I listened to on Spotify in 2022, according to their annual musical data story — Wrapped 2022.

There are quite a few nuggets from the story — that are kind cool and amazing to be made aware of — for instance, the artist I listened to the most in 2022 is Eric Hilton, the one half of Thievery Corporation, which has been my most listened to bands for a few years. I guess, I know what I like. In 2022, I tuned more to jazz classics, ambient electronica and ambient classical music for nearly 30,000 minutes. In comparison, in 2019, I listened to 17,126 minutes of music on Spotify. I guess the pandemic and isolation made streaming music a bigger part of my life.

Spotify Wrapped 2022

Spotify’s Wrapped is a data story done right. It is one of the reasons why every year it arrives with much fanfare. Though, in 2022 it seems that its arrival has been superseded by the actions of a growing army of tech’s bad boys. Lars Mensel, a Berlin-based designer, writer and photographer, when writing about the Wrapped notes:

The unveiling is a rare moment of synchronicity: On some arbitrary day towards the end of the year, millions of people are shown their listening behavior at the same time. The experience is communal—and the reaction predictably the same: There’s some knee-jerk sharing, some eye-rolling about the obscure micro-genres, and some complaining about Spotify being the behemoth that it is. It’s kept me from changing to a different service, and though I’m not proud to admit it, I dread “distorting the statistics” by listening to music elsewhere.

Lars Mensel

Well, I hadn’t thought of data as a lock in, but I have to admit that is the only thing I will miss about Spotify. Wrapped is the only vaguely personal feature about Spotify, apart from ability to follow artists, or create playlists. Spotify, in fact, has come to symbolize the new “app reality” – the consumer has a perception of control, but almost everything is controlled by the app-masters and faceless algorithms.

After being a Spotify member from its very genesis, I have quit using the service. I got tired of the dealing with an app (and a platform) that shoved podcasts and audio books in my face, despite having no interest in them. Spotify to me was about music, and ability to interact with music and artists, and then personalize that experience. I loved their recommendation engine, but that is not enough for me to put up with a decidedly dowdy app that exists not to delight its customers but instead meet the growth objectives of its stock market masters.

Spotify isn’t alone — a growing number of services are deprecating user experience in favor of their urgent financial growth needs. Uber and Door Dash, are good examples of companies cramming nonsense down our screens. And let’s not forget Apple and its App Store: putting ads in there is ruining what was essentially a wonderful editorial space and a directory that enhanced the experience of owning an iPhone.

Spotify, often likes to complain about Apple and its App Store Tax — but I wonder if they will ever allow Audible to sell books on their platform? Or an independent podcasting platform to use the Spotify platform? Just as Facebook won’t let others access Oculus marketplace for free. Deep down all these companies want to do one thing above all — maximize their revenues, though they like to use the argument: we are doing it for the consumers.

But back to Wrapped 2022. I am a little sad that it will be my last.

I have switched to Qobuz. It is a French streaming and downloading service — and for $10 a month, I get to stream music in pristine FLAC quality into my BluSound Node, which is plugged into my Hegel amplifier, that power my speakers. Node is an additional step — since Spotify is directly integrated into the amp, and I have to use the “BluSound” app to manage the listening experience. It isn’t that amazing, but it is a minor issue than having to deal with “podcasts” and “books” being shoved into your face every time you opened the Spotify app.

I was able to transfer all my playlists from Spotify to Qobuz using Soundiiz. There are a few songs that are missing in the playlists, but not enough to be a cause of concern. I can stream music, I can download and save tunes for offline listening. The music sounds exceptional on my custom in-ear headphones, as I found out on my flight to London.

What about the recommendation engine? Qobuz isn’t good, no two ways about it. However, what it lacks in algorithmic recommendations, it makes up in great editorial content. It is like reading liner notes and a magazine mash-up. And I have a little hack for recommendations: I pay for YouTube premium (to avoid ads) and it comes with YouTube music for free. I have transferred my Spotify playlists to YouTube Music as well — and I can tell you, YouTube recommendation algorithm is way superior.

Given, the most of my music discovery is analog — through friends, magazines and music blogs, I don’t rely on recommendation engines as much. Both my favorite song of the year and fifth most listened to artist, Hania Rani, came to me from a pianist friend in Iceland.

I guess, that’s a wrap.

Random Spotify Fact of The Day

Just 21.6% of artists on Spotify today – around 1.7 million of them – have a monthly audience on the platform greater than 50 people. Or, yup, to put it another way: Nearly 80% (78.4%) of artists on Spotify today – around 6.3 million of them – have a monthly audience on the platform smaller than 50 people. Music Business Worldwide

black smartphone showing time at 12 00

Even though we like to blame the shortening length of music tracks on TikTok, the fact is that songs have been getting shorter ever since we started to live on the Internet. Just as written content went from being longer to more ephemeral tweets, the same has happened with music, and TikTok has made things worse — much like how Twitter impacted the written word. 

“Just as more blog posts or tweets get more traffic and attention, shorter songs get more attention on streaming services. Did you know the average “top 100 pop song has shed 40 seconds, dropping from 4:10 in 2000 to around 3:30 in 2018?”

“The portion of sub-three-minute top 10 hits ballooned from just 4% in 2016 to 38% so far in 2022,” reports Billboard. In the sixties, you had sub-two minutes songs that hit the top 40. TikTok, like Twitter, has made things even shorter. An 83-second song just made it to the Too 100! 

“Streaming has, of course, changed our relationship with music,” writes Hanna Kalhert, a media analyst, “turning what was once a thoughtful, attention-intensive activity to a primarily ambient background media format.”

Streaming and how it pays out is partly to blame. If a song plays for 30 seconds on Spotify, it means a royalty payout. Shorter songs equal more streams, which in turn means more royalty. Of course, there are shorter attention spans — a song is good for only 15 seconds on TikTok! 

I don’t have an opinion, but it is clear that, like bloggers before, artists are (and will be) chasing virality to boost their chances on TikTok and, thus, on Spotify and other streaming platforms.

I can’t reconcile how big investors buy catalogs of older artists, and their music keeps generating money on streaming platforms. Seriously — it seems like there are two internets: one for those with Z&M postcodes and the rest of us! 

November 28, 2022. San Francisco