At South by Southwest (SXSW) 2018, Mood’s own Danny Turner (Global SVP of Creative Programming) made the case for the continued relevance of curated music in an age of music-on-demand provided by streaming services.
Presenting to a full house at the Austin Convention Center on Thursday, March 15th, he addressed the current popularity of playlisting enabled by: 1) the quantity of music placed at our fingertips; 2) its easy portability; 3) the vast potential audience allowed by the interwebs. Turner acknowledged the potential of this trend to undercut paid music curation, a crucial component of the customer experience that Mood provides its clients. However, he countered with the important observation that, while technological developments have made personalized music experiences easier than ever for the individual to attain, the desire to tailor experiences to personal desires is nothing new and has always contained the social component of asserting personal taste within earshot of others; for instance, listeners have long tried to influence what DJs play on the radio by calling the station to make requests.
Music aside, brands have had to reckon with the virtual turn in personalized experiences and the convenience with which they can be achieved today. Turner characterized the challenge to brick-and-mortar stores posed by armchair, online consumerism thusly: “You used to have to go to stores. Now you have to want to.” One way that brands have responded to this challenge is to create in-store experiences that emphasize customization. For example, a beauty product brand for whom I curate music began redesigning its locations in January 2017 to create an array of new options for guest browsing: this included the introduction of consultation nooks, workshop/demonstration tables, product testing stations, and a beauty lounge and spa. Brand offerings are also expanding in this age of corporate monopolies (for instance, 14 car companies control 54 brands), so using the lens of personalization to emphasize a wide breadth of in-house options for customers makes for a savvy marketing strategy.
Turner argued that the combination of technological innovation and the drive to personalize does not dilute the efficacy of what Music Designers do. For instance, he noted that listeners are still willing to pay for premium content, despite the proliferation of free content, and referenced the fact that vinyl revenue supersedes that of streaming services. His main point was that, ultimately, the best experiences are created with both a “tech” and human touch, a process he calls “collaborative filtration.” Collaborative filtration combines the convenience in music research that metadata provides with the human perception of context: the popular 2013 song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams can be generally labelled as “upbeat” or “R&B-influenced pop,” but these labels only have meaning relative to other song releases within its scalable historical moment. More importantly for brand curation, “Happy” would sound perfectly at home in a children’s store while completely out of place in, say, a tattoo parlor. Left to just metadata-driven algorithms, playlists become, in Turner’s words, “static, homogenized experiences that can’t handle left turns.” Just as a live DJ has to respond to the energy of the crowd to be successful, music curation that delivers a powerful in-store experience expertly mediates the ever-changing dance between the values of a brand and its value to consumers.
– Submitted by Amy Frishkey, Music Design