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Reviving the art of the mix [and new music for your day]
Spotify and Pandora algos can't compete with human curation for discovery, creativity or wonder: a soul is required to change a life through musical storytelling
The old world of serendipitous discovery
Many of you are too young to remember, but during the peak of vinyl/rave culture from the late 90s through 2010 or so (before software started to take over live sets) one special artifact from that time period was the CD mix set (not mix tape, set, there’s a difference: the first was something made for a friend or lover, the 2nd is an art form).
CDs or jump drives with sets were handed out by up-and-coming artists/DJs at events, house parties, festivals and even just to people sitting next to them on an airplane or coffee shop. It was how many now big name artists got their start. It was a time everyone part of the culture was open to new artists, styles and ideas - there was not any sort of monocultures or “megastar” DJs like Tiesto yet.
The idea generally was to fit an 80 minute or less (classically all vinyl) set on a single disc that was a memorable progression, meant to be listened to in full from start to finish that told a story, went through different moods, styles and sounds and in essence was the audio equivalent of the hero’s journey. This wasn’t limited to electronic music of course: jazz, hip hop, jam bands etc all had a similar culture of sharing mixes as one long progression of many works in this style and format.
New world of soulless algorithms programming your brain
Fast forward to today’s world: where many only experience discovery at the hands of soulless algorithms/auto-suggestions of (relatively closed & indie-hostile) music walled gardens like Spotify. Listening to music on Spotify to me is similar to using Facebook as a social network (vs say, Twitter or Reddit, which are both more analogous to SoundCloud, my preferred streaming product). My friend Alex even thinks Pandora is better than Spotify. Regardless, if you’re letting Spotify choose which sounds (and the sequence of them) you allow to permeate your brain, you’re in effect being programmed by machines.
Those sites might be fine for casual listening, but what about serious listening and discovery with intent? Of course, there are curators on those sites of playlists, but a playlist is not a mix. Mixes are special. Mixes are different. They are creations at the hands of human done with intent, and in creative ways unique to their life experiences. AI simply cannot (and may never be able to). Mix artists take many disparate sounds and styles and bring them together in an eclectic way that on paper seems crazy, but listening is magical and seamless.
There’s not all bad news on the technology front. Software like Ableton has enabled artists to create entirely new kinds of mixes. Vinyl is fun, but with Ableton artists have full control over ever second of the work, sounds, effects in a way that is exponentially more powerful than a vinyl set with two turntables (still will hold a place in everyone’s hearts for nostalgic value, if you know you know, I want to stress they’re just different).
Anyhow, on to the point of today’s post - I hear things like this Tweet all the time from friends:
There is constantly new and amazing music being made, but the most creative stuff is always surfaced by humans, never algorithms, who optimize for averages and don’t take risks. If you feel similar to Monish and are reading this, I might be able to help, at least a little. In free time over the last 20 years it’s been part of my life’s work to share great new art, at least as best I am able with the styles am into (electronica, indie, jazz, mid-tempo, melodica, shoegaze and eclectic stuff in between I can’t easily put a label on). I’ve made vinyl sets since 2000, but since 2009 I’ve taken the time to create a different kind of digitally-produced set using modern software tools. All of this is to try and introduce people to new artists that also inspire me: my attempt to give back to the music community and also help friends discover genres and styles to explore deeper (I also of course support these artists by purchasing their vinyl albums, songs via Beatport etc).
Sharing my first music project of 2022 [free to stream/dl]
Everyone has been stuck indoors for long periods of time these past 2 years, and while that net has been a difficult experience for all, there is some good to come out of it: lots of amazing new art was quietly created with the free time given to musicians. So enough intro: today I’m sharing the first project of 2022, and thought it would be fun to link to readers here (after that unnecessarily long backstory, I just am passionate about the art form of mixes and wanted to share at least a bit of how we got here).
First project of the year: “All Is Dust”
Tracklist follows, listen or download this mix on SoundCloud here.
Bonus: ~24 hours of human-mixed art to make your day better
If you enjoyed this one, a handy playlist of all my past mixes can be found here and might make your day better (screengrab below of playlist, and SoundCloud will work on desktop or mobile). Since 2009, I’ve now put together ~24 hours of unique music and will take the Pepsi challenge against any AI or streaming algo on set progression and exposure to new artists. Frankly, if AI can do better there’s no need for me or anyone to put in the time and effort to manually curate music (or any other art). But from both working in the software industry and making music for 2 decades, I just don’t see it happening.
Each set here in addition to the new one today is ~80 minutes (some a bit over some under) for no reason than that is the timeframe I’ve been conditioned to think with audio storytelling. All these can also be downloaded free as .wav files if you have a high end home audio system and want to experience the full fidelity of works (never stream from the internet on great speakers or headphones, play files locally - and now with multi-TB hard drives being readily available it is easy and cheap to maintain a collection of high quality files from your fav artists). Just click ‘more’ and choose ‘download file.’ The audiophiles reading already know to do this, but if we can persuade even one more person to care about sound quality it’s worth reiterating.
One final reason I create mixes is to share other artist's tunes that inspire me in writing my own original albums (totally separate craft from making sets). Hope I might expose you to some new artists today that improve your life and mind as much as they do for me.