my music of 2020

Last year was a strange year for music in my life. January and February passed much as they had for years before, with most of my music listening being done in service of my show on WRIR. I had decided in late January that I wanted to step back from doing a weekly show, but it took another month for the program director to find hosts to replace me. As it happened, I stopped doing my show just one week before the realities of COVID hit and Virginia went into a state of emergency.

I began working from home, and found that the quiet, intermittently interrupted by noises from my neighbors on either side of my townhouse, was not easy to stay focused in. I needed something to listen to. But what?

For a while, I would tune into WRIR and have the news and public affairs programming that ran from 8am to 3pm most weekdays fill that space, but some of it was annoying to me, and I’d shut that off. I tried listening to some albums on Spotify, or playing some Spotify playlists, but after a while, that got annoying, too.

When it became clear that this wasn’t going to be a short-term arrangement, I reworked my home office to accommodate my work equipment (laptop, keyboard, mouse, and dual monitors). To do this, I turned my chest of drawers into a stand-up desk for my home computer, and moved my work setup from the dining table up to my desk, which is also in my bedroom. Aside from wanting a more functional workspace, this gave me back my table and put me within range of my 87GB digital music library, with nearly 13,000 songs.

For most of the 2000s and the early part of the 2010s, I spent a lot of time and money collecting CDs of anything I thought I might enjoy. More than I made time to listen to. But now I could work and listen to as much of it as I wanted, and so I did.

Back in 2010, when Lifehacker was actually useful, I read an article about how to make a few smart playlists that would ultimately create a playlist that would shuffle through your entire music collection, hitting up favorites more frequently, and ensuring that at some point, you’d hear every track. I had made such a playlist then, throwing a random 6 hours of it onto my iPod to take with me to work. But, it was kind of a hassle, and after a few years I stopped doing it at all. TBH, I’m not sure where I put my iPod after I finally bought an iPhone.

Months have passed since I moved up to my bedroom, and during that time, I listened to a lot of music from my personal digital library (and some still from Spotify, as well as a few favorite WRIR shows). I also paid for a Last.fm account, because I wanted the report function. And now that the year is over, I’m eager to reflect up on the data.


One thing that stands out is that Enya was the top artist, her album Watermark was the top album, and the top track was the song “Watermark”. I do love me some Enya, but those stats mainly came from a period of time prior to the move closer to my music library, and early in the pandemic when I was reaching for anything to calm and comfort me. Watermark is still a fantastic album, and I do not begrudge it the top spot.

The other thing that stands out is how much listening to only my small collection of Christmas albums in December really skewed the album chart. Half of the top 20 albums for the year were Christmas albums.

You can definitely see the change in my music listening habits prior to the pandemic (Jan-Feb), the early months of the pandemic (Mar-Apr), and when I moved to my current home office space in May.


I mostly listen during the work day, with some evening jamming.


Because I wasn’t listening to as much fresh-off-the-presses music as I had done in previous years, I dropped a few spots on the discovery leaderboard. On the flip side, my personal collection is apparently less mainstream than the music I was listening to in 2019 that had been sent to a non-commercial community radio station. Go figure.

I checked my iTunes library, and I still have another thousand or so songs to listen to for the first time (in iTunes – many I had heard elsewhere which prompted the acquisition of my own copy). I am hoping that by this time next year, that number will be much smaller.

Finally, I will leave you with what I consider to be the song of 2020. At least for anyone who listens to Reply All.

Pandora Town Hall (Richmond, VA)

Open question/answer forum with Tim Westergren, the founder of the Music Genome Project and Pandora Internet Radio.

June 29, 2009
approx 100 attending
free t-shirts! free burritos from Chipotle!

Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora

His original plan was to get in a car & drive across country to find local music to add to Pandora, but it wasn’t quite as romantic as he thought it would be. On the way home, he planned a meetup on the fly using the Pandora blog, and since then, whenever he visits a new city, he organizes get together like this one.

Tim is a Stanford graduate and a musician, although he didn’t study it specifically. He spent most of his 20s playing in bands, touring around the country, but not necessarily as a huge commercial success. It’s hard to get on the radio, and radio is the key to professional longevity. Eventually, he shifted to film score composition, which required him to analyze music and break it down into components that represent what is happening on the screen. This generated the idea of a musical genome.

The Music Genome Project was launched in 2000 with some seed money that lasted about a year. Eventually, they ran out of money and couldn’t pay their 45 employees. They tried several different ways to raise money, but nothing worked until some venture investors put money into it in 2004. At that point, they took the genome and repurposed it into a radio (Pandora) in 2005.

They have never advertised — it has all been word of mouth. They now add about 65,000 new listeners per day! They can see profitability on the horizon. Pandora is mainly advertising supported. The Amazon commissions provide a little income, but not as much as you might think they would.

There are about 75,000 artists on the site, and about 70% are not on a major label. The song selection is not based on popularity, like most radio, but rather on the elements of the songs and how they relate to what the user has selected.

Playlists are initially created by the song or artists musical proximity to begin with, and then is refined as the user thumbs up or down songs. Your thumbs up and down effect only the station you are listening to, and it effects whatever the rest of the playlist was going to be. They use the over-all audience feedback to adjust across the site, but it’s not as immediate or personalized.

They have had some trouble with royalties. They pay both publishing and performer royalties per song. They operate under the DMCA, including the royalty structure. Every five years, a committee determines what the rate will be for the next year. In July 2007, the committee decided to triple the ratings and made it retroactive. It essentially bankrupted the company.

Pandora called upon the listeners to help them by contacting their congressional representative to voice opposition to the decision. Congress received 400,000 faxes in three days, breaking the structure on the Hill for a week! Their phones were ringing all day long! Eventually, they contacted Pandora to make it stop. They are now finishing up what needs to be done to bring the royalty back to something more reasonable. (Virtually all the staffers on Capitol Hill are Pandora users — made it easy to get appointments with congress members.)

Music comes to Pandora from a variety of sources. They get a pile of physical and virtual submissions from artists. They also pay attention to searches that don’t result in anything in their catalog, as well as explicit suggestions from listeners.

They have a plan to offer musicians incentives to participate. For example, if someone thumbs up something, there would be a pop-up that suggest checking out a similar (or the same) band that is playing locally. Most of the room would opt into emails that let them know when bands they like are coming to town. Musicians could see what songs are being thumbed up or down and where the listeners are located.

Listener suggestion: on the similar artists pages, provide more immediate sampling of recommendations.

What is the cataloging backlog? It takes about 8-10 weeks, and only about 30% of what is submitted makes it in. They select based on quality: for what a song is trying to do, does it do it well? They know when they’ve made a wrong decision if they don’t include something and a bunch of people search for it.

Pandora is not legal outside of the US, but many international users fake US zip codes. However, in order to avoid lawsuits, they started blocking by IP. As soon as they implemented IP blocking, they received a flood of messages, including one from a town that would have “Pandora night” at a local club. (The Department of Defense called up and asked them to block military IP ranges because Pandora was hogging the bandwidth!)

Why are some songs quieter than others? Tell them. They should be correcting for that.

The music genome is used by a lot of scorers and concert promoters to find artists and songs that are similar to the ones they want.

Could the users be allowed more granular ratings rather than thumbing up or down whole songs? About a third of the room would be interested in that.

Mobile device users are seeing fewer advertisements, and one listener is concerned that this will impact revenue. Between the iPhone, the Blackberry, and the Palm Pre, they have about 45,000 listeners on mobile devices. This is important to them, because these devices will be how Pandora will get into listener’s cars. And, in actuality, mobile listeners interact with advertisements four times as much as web listeners.

Tim thinks that eventually Pandora will host local radio. I’m not so sure how that would work.

Subscription Pandora is 192kbps, which sounds pretty good (and it comes with a desktop application). It’s not likely to get to audiophile level until the pipes are big enough to handle the bandwidth.

Variety and repetition is their biggest areas where they get feedback from listeners. The best way to get variety is to add different artists. If you thumb down an artist three times, they should be removed from the station.

They stream about 1/3 of the data that YouTube streams daily, with around 100 servers. Tim is not intimately familiar with the tech that goes into make Pandora work.

[The questions kept coming, but I couldn’t stay any longer, unfortunately. If you have a chance to attend a Pandora Town Hall, do it!]

radio is fun!

Aside from the occasional mistakes (which were swiftly corrected), things went fairly well with my first foray back into radio. The live stream is experiencing some technical difficulties, and more to the point, it wasn’t working during my show. Apologies to anyone who tried to listen then. (Anyone = Benjamin, who may be the only reader of this blog in a time zone where 3-6am Eastern is not an unreasonable.)

If you would like to know what tunes I chose, the playlist is now available. You can follow it weekly if you like, although there is not an RSS feed.

back on the radio

In a few hours, I will be starting my first shift alone at WRIR. Luckily, not many people will be listening from 3-6am (Eastern). If you’re up, feel free to tune in (terrestrial radio and streaming online) and laugh at all my screw-ups.

I have spent several hours tonight creating a playlist, rather than just going in and doing it on the fly like I used to. Partially because it’s been a long time since I thought about my music collection from the perspective of radio (family-friendly content), and partially because having all of my music in iTunes makes it easy to sort through by song rather than pulling each disc off of a shelf to decide what to play.

The hard part of the whole process was determining how much music I need to bring, since I will also be playing stuff from the WRIR library, making announcements, and other breaks throughout the show. I suspect this will get easier the more I do it.

thing 16: wikis

One thing I have learned from participating in several wiki projects — from Wikipedia to my libraries’ FAQ/Policies wikis — is that it takes a lot of work to populate and maintain a useful wiki. One of my favorite uses of a wiki is Whole Wheat Radio (which seems to have disappeared recently).

The streaming radio station out of Talkeenta, Alaska, switched over to using a wiki to maintain information about the artists played and available albums/tracks. Users could contribute as much information as they wanted to. For a while, I was addicted to adding content to it. Part of why I haven’t listened much in the past few months is because I would easily spend an hour or two adding data to the site every time I turned on the stream.

If the site ever comes back, I recommend you check it out. Aside from the wiki aspect, anyone can play DJ and pick the songs they want to have broadcast. Pretty cool!

side note: It appears that the music, at least, is still streaming.

marketplace

I love Marketplace. The programming is always top-notch and the content is accessible to the average person. One of my favorite things about Marketplace is that they seem to always connect the segue music with the previous story. Sometimes I recognize the tunes, but generally I don’t. Today on Marketplace Money, they followed a story … Continue reading “marketplace”

I love Marketplace. The programming is always top-notch and the content is accessible to the average person. One of my favorite things about Marketplace is that they seem to always connect the segue music with the previous story. Sometimes I recognize the tunes, but generally I don’t. Today on Marketplace Money, they followed a story on keeping cool in the heat and saving money with the Dar Williams song “As Cool As I Am”. Heh.

as it happens

I was driving home last night from a friends house just a little after 9:30pm. The radio in my car was on, as it usually is, and tuned to the public radio news station. To my surprise and pleasure, I caught the end of Future Tense. Since August 13th, Future Tense has been aired at … Continue reading “as it happens”

I was driving home last night from a friends house just a little after 9:30pm. The radio in my car was on, as it usually is, and tuned to the public radio news station. To my surprise and pleasure, I caught the end of Future Tense. Since August 13th, Future Tense has been aired at 9pm, followed by some random CBC production due to the lockout. That all ended this week, and last night was the second airing of one of my favorite programs, As It Happens. You may have noticed that for the past two months I’ve had a blog sticker on the main page:


I’m taking it down now. I’m not Canadian, and I have little stake in the politics of the CBC, but I am glad that Mary Lou and Barbara are back on the air.

i can’t change the laws of physics!

Talk of the Nation honored the passing of Jimmy Doohan today. Robert Justman and Wil Wheaton were guests on the program.

Talk of the Nation honored the passing of Jimmy Doohan today. Robert Justman and Wil Wheaton were guests on the program.

future of cell phones

Talk of the Nation had an interesting segment today on the future of cell phones. Jenny will be pleased to know that guest Walt Mossberg uses a Treo. The audio is available after 6pm Eastern. You could also look and see if a radio station will be broadcasting the show online in the next few … Continue reading “future of cell phones”

Talk of the Nation had an interesting segment today on the future of cell phones. Jenny will be pleased to know that guest Walt Mossberg uses a Treo. The audio is available after 6pm Eastern. You could also look and see if a radio station will be broadcasting the show online in the next few hours, if you’re eager to listen right now. RSS for the show is also available, if you’re interested.

Ooh! I just noticed that my favorite public radio tool now lists public radio podcasts.

kcrw to podcast

I don’t have an iPod or iShuffle, and I don’t know if/when I’ll ever get one. The library blogosphere and tech geek forums have been bubbling over the podcastings being done by various librarian blogger personalities, so I figured this would be one more bit of info that would send them all into a tizzy. … Continue reading “kcrw to podcast”

I don’t have an iPod or iShuffle, and I don’t know if/when I’ll ever get one. The library blogosphere and tech geek forums have been bubbling over the podcastings being done by various librarian blogger personalities, so I figured this would be one more bit of info that would send them all into a tizzy. KCRW, the intrepid eclectic public radio station out of Santa Monica, will begin offering a podcast that “features the station’s locally produced talk, news, cultural programs and commentaries…free of charge” on March 1st. The announcement page includes a list of the programs that will be podcasted.