April 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Drowned In Sound’s Sean Adams on Hype, ‘Best of’ Lists, and Why He’s Not Making a Spotify App

drowned in sound best of 2011 spotify list sean adams interview

Drowned In Sound features a 50-song "best of 2011" playlist, demanded by readers, which distills a year of musical criticism down to a single click.

This is the second part of an interview with the legendary Sean Adams, founder of the Drowned In Sound music reviews site. “I spend about 60 hours a week ploughing through music, to try to prevent those who don’t have as much time from wasting it listening it to things which aren’t as good as the hype suggests,” he says.

We spoke about the changing nature of writing about and recommending music in 2012.

Read  part one: Legendary Music Blogger Sean Adams on ‘Slow Death of MP3 Blogging.’ This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Update: In fairness, I should mention that I didn’t make it clear to Adams that I might post our interview as an interview instead of pulling quotes for a story. Read about that and more in his response to this interview.

Sean Adams, founder, Drowned In Sound: [cont.] …This constant desire to upgrade, regardless of quality or the depth of relationship you have, seems everso fickle for both bloggers and music fans.

Eliot Van Buskirk, editor, Evolver.fm: What you’re saying is definitely true. There’s an insatiable need to tickle the cortex with novelty, rather than letting things sink in.

Adams: I’m far more interested in acts who’ve become virtuosos and gotten great, rather than just about managed to capture the current zeitgeist — yet are terrible live and still play “buzz gigs,” which nine times out of ten are a let down, hurting the festival business and live industry in general. (Related blog I read the other day.)

Evolver.fmDaniel Ek from Spotify told me something that’s making me see it slightly differently: that the economics of music have changed, so that only the artists whose music gets played over and over for years will get paid [well] in something like Spotify. One-hit wonders that make a splash then disappear don’t have as much to gain when musicians get paid per play instead of each time they convince someone to buy a disc.

Adams: I can see the logic of that. But I worry we’re not encouraging people to discover those kinds of acts when the new is constantly slung out as being incredibly exciting. I do worry that music has suffered because what is pushed to the fore is rarely the finest thing, just the newest.

Evolver.fm:  It’s like everything is the NME now. “Menswear Will Change The World Forever” or something.

Adams: It’s like we’ve forgotten the 99 other cries of wolf. Which is why I think context of opinion is important. Not that it’s something I think DiSparticularly solves, but we’ve got no money, which also dovetails into my slight jealousy of The New, because just like major labels snapping up buzz bands, there are squillions of dollars of VC money going into business plans, which seem to solve no obvious problem and would once have just been a nice feature within another service.

Evolver.fm: Can you weaponize that opinion so that it still hits targets, even when everyone has become a sort of MP3 blogger? Is there a way that long-form, context-based, knowledgeable reviews can fit within the new system? Can DiS be a Spotify app or something? I thought devices might help save music journalism.

AdamsI asked Spotify to pay for our app development. It was gonna cost us at least £1,000 to make an app but we couldn’t see any benefit apart from kudos. In fact, I feared that by summing up our recommendations in a handy app within Spotify, we remove the need for anyone to come through and read the reviews or visit our site.

Evolver.fm: Maybe your longer-form stories could show up automatically when people are listening to the music they discuss, although that would  defeat the purpose of using them to discover music. I don’t know where that leaves us.

Adams: It leaves convenience to the fore. Time is our greatest commodity, so why read a review when you can just check the score and press play? There’s a reason our year-end lists are so much more popular than anything else we do all year: Most people just want everything we know reduced down into one handy list.

Evolver.fm: Perhaps it’s their loss, because they might have connected with something on a deeper level if they’d had time to read the reviews. So maybe the moral of the story is “Real Music Fans Read.”

Adams: Maybe. I’m not sure if reading is as important as exploring, taking chances, and putting ‘quality’ to the fore.

Evolver.fm: Maybe the answer is a curated playlist with no skip button and the writing underneath. You could charge $5 per month for the ability to skip.

Adams: Speaking of those sort of playlists: DiS’ 50-Song Guide to 2012 on Spotify, based on my picks and then 30 tracks recommended by our community. (Threads like this do great on our site.)

Evolver.fm: The thing is, I need that list. It’s pretty amazing, all that knowledge distilled into a playlist.

Adams: Yep. Distillation is the new curation.

Evolver.fm: You heard it here first, folks. Now Spotify just needs a “learn about this” link next to each of those songs.

Adams:  Or a “pay the DJ” donate button. I know at one point I had 4 of the top 10 most played playlists on the service. I think I still might be the most popular user on Songkick too, which was quite funny.

Evolver.fm: I hate to say it, but you could probably do pretty well with a Sprite logo on those or something like that.

Adams: Yeah. I asked [Spotify] whether having an app sponsored would be okay but they weren’t sure.

Evolver.fm: See? I think it means something that a prominent MP3 blogger is also prominent on these services. The Knowledge.

Adams: Yeah. I wonder if any of these services would do well without trusted people exploring them and sharing them if they like the service. It’s like we’re the Pied Piper marching the slaves onto the boat to be ribbon-wrapped for VCs.

Evolver.fm: Yes, people do a lot of the advocating. Nothing wrong with a little word of mouth. I’ve been embedding Spotify playlists in publications for years, and before that, I did it with imeem.

Adams: We did a big competition and a series of Mixcloud playlists. It’s so much better than the cease-and-desists we used to get for sharing MP3s or when our podcast took off… we [would have been] billed about £15,000 per show, for 23 shows. We made zero pence from the podcast.  Not that I’m motivated by money, I’ve always just wanted to turn people on to some music they might not know or worse, have written off.

Evolver.fm: That’s ridiculous. I guess that’s the advantage of doing a Spotify playlist instead.

Adams: I am far more optimistic about things than this all seems. None of this is particularly bad for music fans. I just worry it might be bad for music in the long term.

Evolver.fm: Thanks.

Adams: No probs. I feel like I’ve exorcised something in the depths of my skull. Interviews are just like therapy sessions, right?

Evolver.fm: Yes. I did a half hour with Terry Gross on Fresh Air and felt great for like a year.

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