by: David Jennings

Last November Patrick Dax of ORF, Austria's public service broadcaster, interviewed me in Vienna about Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll. It was the best set of interview questions I've ever had (taking nothing away from Patrick here, but I have to admit it's not like I've done hundreds of interviews) and a great discussion on a miserably rainy day — if you read German, here's the interview.

Yesterday Patrick sent me a handful of questions about online playlist service in general and muxtape in particular. Here's the article he's written (in German). And here, for non German readers, are my full responses to his questions:

How do you like muxtape?

I think muxtape did for playlist sharing what the original Google did for search: it seems to strip away all the complexity and just focus on doing the core things really well. In the case of playlists that means letting people easily hear full-track versions of all the songs on the list.

Muxtape doesn't have social networking features or anything else built in (apart from being able to 'scrobble' to — it relies on the users to supply their own social context, just by passing around muxtape URLs in emails and twitterfeeds etc.

Some people might wish it were possible to embed their muxtapes in their MySpace profile/blog/etc.

Playlisting is considered a powerful way for discovering new music, why?

One element is that playlists provide a simple 'interface' to vast volumes of music. Paul Morley expressed this well when he wrote (in his book, Words and Music) "The list is what brings a world of chaos into some kind of pattern… Everyone loves a list for making sense of the awesome nature of all the stuff that surrounds us."

But probably the more important element is the social dimension. People create playlists for a bunch of reasons: they feel compelled to share the stuff that they love; or sometimes, more calculatingly, they feel they can make themselves look more interesting. To talk in stereotypes, boys make playlists to show girls how sophisticated and sensitive they are; boys make playlists to show off to other boys how obscure and detailed their knowledge of music is. (Of course, girls make playlists too, but their motives are more complex.)

People like to listen to playlists because it enables them not only to discover new music, but to find out more about their friends (or co-workers) as well. People like to 'read' other people's personalities. The dating site A Sound Match is an example of this (I blogged about this). But it's not just about dating: playlists make music part of the process of bonding with friends.

How can labels and musicians make use of playlisting or encourage the use of their songs in user generated playlists?

At one level they can license their music to make it easier for people to included it in their playlists without fear of legal reprisals.

But can they make people want to include a particular track or artist in their playlists? I'm not sure they can. This would be like saying "one or two tracks in this list are sponsored by X and are not as much my personal, free choices as the others". I don't think users want to make, or listen to, playlists like that. All the social exchanges I referred to above depend on the list being an individual's authentic expression and belief, not clouded by any 'external' considerations.

The best thing that labels and musicians can do is make music that so interesting and enjoyable that fans really want to share it just to let other people know how great it is (and how great they are for hearing it first).

How important are samples or the possibility to listen to the tracks?

Very important. If you removed the possibility to listen to tracks from muxtape, It would be dead by the end of the week. As I said above, the real advantage of services like muxtape is providing, very easily, the means for people actually to hear the full playlist.

Thirty second samples are better than nothing, but they are not half as good as full tracks.

Of course there are other ways to make it possible to listen to full tracks. One is to link with a subscription service like Napster, Rhapsody or This is what FIQL does. Another might be to link to existing online versions of tracks through sites like SeeqPod or SkreemR.

Which are your favourite playlisting-services?

Three years ago I did some extensive reviewing of playlisting services. You can see the results — and of course several of the service listed there no longer exist, while others like muxtape have emerged. The factors that I considered were:

  • audio — availability of full tracks
  • community — ease of sharing and commenting
  • usability — ease of adding tracks, re-ordering etc
  • portability — being able to move lists to/from iTunes/other media players or blogs, social networks

At the end of the day, though, the technology is not the overwhelming factor. If people want to hang out with their friends and swap lists, they go where their friends are, not where the best service is.

My peak activity for playlisting was 20 years ago, when we still used cassettes. Nowadays I show off my music collection, and also expose myself to ridicule, by using a blog to 'playlist' every CD and record I own.

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