I've made compilation tapes and mix CDs for most of my life. I stopped around five years ago for various reasons. I think there was something beautiful and moving about making someone a compilation cassette and about receiving one (hey, I wrote a fucking play about it). I think it's very powerful because of three things:
- It's a small piece of personal labour. The finger poised over the pause button, winding the tape with a pencil, cutting and sticking the artful bricolage of the cassette insert, writing out the track names.
- It means you've thought about yourself: the music you like, the sounds that move you, the words that touch you, the juxtapositions that feel right to you, the way you want to reveal yourself.
- It means you've thought about them: the music they might like, the sounds you hope will move them, the words that may touch them, the flow of the whole that will give them pleasure, surprise them, the things they might think about you.
Making an iTunes mix CD reduces some of the personal labour. You can shuffle the music very easily until your ready to hit Burn CD. You can print the CD insert. Even then, there's a small labour of cutting it out, folding it, inserting it, posting it (if that's what you do), writing on the CD. But still 2 & 3 are fully in action. Making a CD mix is in principle no different in the way they involve reflection on yourself and another and on the link you are trying to make between you.
Making an Apple Music playlist is different again. The physical labour has almost entirely disappeared; making it available (assembling, posting, etc.) is now a matter of a hitting 'Share Playlist'. It also slightly changes no. 3. I can still make a playlist and send it privately to one person. But in principle (I think) that playlist is available to anyone who gets the URL. I don't know even if a playlist created by a user might be available in searches at some point. What that means is that you can't really know who you're making the playlist for. It's more like writing a play than a love letter.
I'm in the Apple Music three-month trial and so far have mixed but mainly positive feelings. The downsides: it's very unAppley, in that it's not at all intuitive: it took a while for me to figure out how you listened to stuff offline, what the relationship was between my own library and the Apple Music cloud library, how to assemble on-the-fly playlists; a few songs in the cloud are mislabelled; sometimes, for no reason I can fathom, it takes ages to decide to play a song that I think is actually resident on my phone; it still sometimes just stops playing in the middle of a song;and its algorithms for what I might like are very far from infallible, if the 'Intro to Kiss' playlist they offered me is anything to go by.
However, where it really works is the emphasis on curation and recommendation. Having access to millions and millions of songs is kind of daunting, so what is very smart is the 'For You' tab which regularly offers me music that I genuinely want to listen to and when I do, I like (Kiss aside).
What it makes me think is that we are seeing a very significant shift in music. We've already seen the record companies take a huge hit from illegal downloading, which was, unfortunately, mostly the product of their own greed and hopeless determination to protect the old model. We've also seen the big companies hit by the growth of very low-cost high-quality home recording, which renders, for most people, studios and engineers dispensable. Now we may see the record companies attacked for a third time because if all the music is simultaneously accessible to your phone and almost anyone can make their music part of that array, then the companies don't even act as a gateway; a multi-million-dollar publicity budget might be less effective than an algorithmically distributed playlist compiled by a music lover working for Apple. Or not even working for Apple.
So I thought I'd have a go.
If you're on Apple Music, you can access my playlist here:
You can add it to 'My Music' and even 'Make it Available Offline' from your phone if you want to enjoy at your leisure.
Here's what's on it:
- The Last Internationale Life, Liberty, And the Pursuit of Indian Blood
- Eagles of Death Metal Miss Alissa
- The Broken Family Band Ship Full of Drugs
- Lloyd Cole Women's Studies
- The Breeders German Studies
- Arctic Monkeys Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair
- Foxygen No Destruction
- Graham Nash Military Madness
- The Submarines You, Me and the Bourgeoisie
- Wolf Gang The King and All of His Men
- Giant Drag Kevin is Gay
- Superchunk My Gap Feels Weird
- Wiley Wot Do U Call It?
- Teddybears STHLM Cobrastyle
- Sonny J I'm So Heavy
- The Shins September
- Temples Keep in the Dark (Live)
- Royal Blood Come on Over
- Richard Thompson Dad's Gonna Kill Me
- Iron & Wine & Ben Bridwell No Way Out of Here
- Tame Impala I Don't Really Mind
And in the very unlikely chance that you THIRST for my comments and thoughts on all of these songs, here are some tasting notes: