Streaming Anxiety: There Should be a Better Way to Listen to New Music

Keith Jopling describes the problem aptly in his article “Listening Anxiety: Is There Just Too Much Music to Choose From?”:

Music cataloguing blog Discogs has published that new music releases would reach 200,000 this year. But dwarfing that, in April 2019, Spotify founder Daniel Ek told investors that close to 40,000 tracks are uploaded to the Spotify platform daily. In album equivalents (admittedly less relevant to streaming, but clearly still the artists’ primary unit of supply), that’s roughly 23,000 albums per week. This is adding to the 50-plus million songs already to choose from on Spotify. Of course, in the on-demand era, our choice isn’t just what’s new, or what we own, or even what’s presented to us in personalized menus, but “all the music that ever existed” (give or take). It’s little wonder I often get the feeling that what I’m listening to might not be what I could be listening to.

Besides the problem of having too much music to choose from (and dealing with all the recommendations we get from twitter, blogs, newsletters and friends), it is worth noting that current streaming music services make it really hard to keep track of stuff and are a significant factor contributing to this constant anxiety affecting so many users.

We can use Jopling’s very article as a demonstrative example of the anxiety loop working its way thru the transmission of new music recommendations…

Besides a mention of Golfdfrapp’s 2013 ‘Tales of Us’, which I had not listened previously and now can confirm is indeed wonderful (thanks!), the articles mentions 19 artists that released music in 2020 and seem worth checking out:

  1. My Morning Jacket
  2. The Pretenders
  3. Jarvis Cocker
  4. Jessie Ware
  5. Rufus Wainwright
  6. Dream Wife
  7. HAIM
  8. Lianna La Havas
  9. Margo Price 
  10. Suzanne Vallie
  11. The Blinders
  12. Protomartyr
  13. Nadine Shah 
  14. Pearl Jam
  15. Paul Weller
  16. Ron Sexsmith
  17. Rumer
  18. SAULT
  19. Tim Burgess

How to check out all this new music? (Let’s concentrate our listening activity on Spotify for simplicity’s sake, but most of the following observations should be valid for other services.)

Is there a place in Spotify where we can check all recently released albums? Filter them by genre, popularity? Not really. There is “Browse” – “New releases”) which lists exactly one hundred “new albums and singles” (no date information) and has no customisation options. (Anedoctally, none of the 19 artists was mentioned there).

What to do with the found albums? Add to library? Add to a playlist? Both are not ideal actions. I do no want to add to the library music I have not even heard. A playlist with 19 albums will be quite long, for starters. There is also the problem that several of these albums have been previously recommended by other sources. Imagine having 10 playlists with “music recs 2020” and half of them have the same HAIM or Jessie Ware album (I loved the Jessie Ware album).

The task of having to observe which recommendations are “accretive” adds to the anxiety.

Maybe there could be a “checklist” feature where you can keep adding intriguing new music, and then you know you need to add stuff only “once” to it without the worry of doubling things up (or even worse, missing it because you are erroneously assuming it was already added in another playlist).

Additionally, it would be useful (and very soothing) if once you listen a song or album from the checklist it marked as “listened” so you can focus only on the unlisted stuff.

Another idea: to make the music in the checklist some kind of long-term, non exclusive and centrally synchronised playing queue that you can engage and disengage at will. Something purposely separate from current queue options. I think this is self explanatory, but let’s describe it: the checklist of unlisted songs can be used as a queue of songs that you can tap into whenever you want, from any device. Whenever you want to listen a playlist, podcast or any other stuff, this checklist queue goes back to the “archive” and returns only whenever you want. This also could be very useful to help people manage the anxiety of alternating between new music and old favourites, active and passive listening, etc.

All the “ideas” I wrote down here seem the most obvious things in the world: make it easy to find and group things you want to check out. Make it easy to distinguish things you have and have not checked out. Make it easy to start – pause – resume all this checking out.

There will always be the natural anxiety of having to choose between the “buzz of the new” and the “favorites that come with a guarantee to lift the mood”. But our software tools should help alleviate the problem, not compound it.

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