A few days ago, ANBAD pondered on the use of online music discovery services.
The crux of that issue is, of course, the same issue that is being endlessly discussed by everyone involved in the music industry: where will everyone migrate to satisfy their music needs now that CDs are defunct?
I recently spoke to someone from Nordic Music Export (a government/industry outreach initiative) and it was clear that in their part of the world they have moved on: the emphasis is already firmly on streaming music.
Persuading people to pay for music once more is an achievement in itself, but by finding a way, the Nordic success story that is Spotify now find themselves as the flagbearer of online streaming.
But, as astutely pointed out by Song, By Toad‘s Matthew Young, finding stuff you like isn’t even half the problem – it’s the whole fucking* issue when presented with Spotify’s bottomless pit of music.
I, like many people, want both the endless choice of Spotify, but also a guiding hand on the tiller.
Another Scandinavian company are trying a different path to solve that problem: endless music in the form of curated music mixes, for free, on your phone.
Nokia lent me a distractingly shiny Lumia 800 to try out Nokia Mix Radio, which supplies limitless music to the reassuringly dense handset via wifi or, if you sleep on a bed of £20 notes, your mobile network.
It’s a simple idea: an ever-updated bunch of virtual mixtapes, compiled to themes or genres, or by celebrities.
So an “Adam Yauch Tribute Mix” throws up a selection of music from both the Beastie Boys‘ peers (The Roots, Public Enemy) and collaborators (Lee Perry), and the “Carly Rae Jepson Recommends” mix is devastatingly awful (Barbra Steisland!) to the same magnitude that the “Orbital Recommends” mix is brilliant, bright and heavy (Booka Shade, Nathan Fake, et al).
The specialist mixes are very well curated and relevant: I cast aside my cynicism over a mix labelled “Fresh Electronic Music” when it immediately threw up Nicolas Jaar, Martyn and Sleep Party People.
This is very firmly a radio service, though – you can only skip a maximum of six songs an hour due to radio licensing issues, and those used to the pick-and-choose nature of the internet may initially baulk at this.
But they’d be missing the point: here are a deliberately curated series of mixes aiming to surprise and challenge.
Everything is all very well thought out, by people who clearly know what music listeners want: fancy a mix of songs by Lower Dens and their peers? Search for “Lower Dens” and press play. Hankering for ownership of the song you’re hearing? Tap a button and buy it. Like the mix itself? Download it, gratis, and listen later. Wondering if there are any gigs nearby? The app will tell you, and let you buy tickets.
Nokia Mix Radio is not perfect – it doesn’t scrobble your playlists to Last.fm, for instance – but then which service is?
It is, however, sleek, simple, smart, mobile, well-compiled and – amazingly – free, which enough to convince me that this is the next phone I want in my pocket.
And that, naturally, is why Nokia is ploughing so much time and money into its music service. This kind of careful integration, and this loose but smart shepherding through the music stream white-noise, is a welcome attempt at solving the (very real) billion-dollar problem.
My Nokia Mix Radio Mixtape:
Oracle – Jana Hunter
Iceni Strings – Nathan Fake
Russian Dolls – Nicolas Jaar
Earth’s Rightful Ruler – Augustus Pablo
Just Rhymin’ With Biz – Biz Markie
You Think You’re A Man – The Vaselines
UNER – Cocoua
Kőlner Brett – To Rococo Rot
I Chase The Devil – Max Romeo
PS – for those interested: the phone itself. I hate tech reviews: they’re almost always 1,500 words too long, and are aimed at people who think a slightly shinier screen is the newest pinnacle of human achievement.
Thus, here’s the only tech review I’ll ever do: the Nokia Lumia 800 is solid enough to knock nails into oak, the subtly curved screen is proof that aesthetes do exist in the phone manufacturing industry, and the Windows Phone OS is a genuine pleasure to use – simple, smart, ultra-clean. My clunky Android phone is an incoherent mess in comparison. The Monster in-ear headphones were excellent, bassy and overwhelmingly azure.
*obligatory nod to Matthew’s endearingly fruity linguistics