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The Music Tectonics Conference

What's hot in music tech: AI, blockchain, and podcasts

I first heard about the term “music is like fire” from the Music Tectonics Podcast. It comes from “music is like water,” where music is treated as a commodity because of music streaming services. In other words, it’s cheap and you can get it anywhere. As opposed to music being like fire, spreading onto smart speakers, into social media, and everywhere else in our lives.

Dmitri Vietze, host of the Music Tectonics Podcast, printed up 18 trading cards with themes similar to “music being like fire,” which could be collected at the first-ever Music Tectonics Conference. The trading cards were a helpful way of getting to know others at the conference, as well as a fun way to know what’s going on in the music industry. The next best ways were the panels. Two of which, my favorite and least favorite panel, got me thinking about how AI, blockchain, and podcasts relates to music, specifically music curation.

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Great Talks in Music Podcasts: Spotify & Discovery

Where Spotify is now, where they want to be, and how to get there

I find at least one insightful thing a day in a podcast. I wanted to put together a dozen or so music podcasts that have been particularly memorable, but I noticed my top picks had two themes in common: they’re all interviews with current and former employees of Spotify and have to do with music discovery.

Spotify’s VP, Paul Vogel, recently stated that music discovery is one of Spotify’s main focuses. As Vogel describes, “When you own discovery, you own so much of the ecosystem; you own demand generation. Over time, you end up owning gross margin when you own discovery and demand generation.” In other words, the first music service to make music discovery a viable business will be the leader in music streaming.

The four podcast episodes below helped me verbalize my thoughts on how music editorial and curation will help Spotify get there. This article only scratches the surface of the future of music, so I plan to start a series that will highlight other podcast episodes with great conversations around music. Let’s call it “Great Talks in Music Podcasts.”

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Planet Home at the Palace of Fine Arts

Finding solutions from multiple resources

Planet Home was a three-day conference, festival, and pop-up village inside of San Francisco’s historic Palace of Fine Arts. It got people together to talk about and show the progress of potential solutions to our world’s biggest environmental challenges, along with musical performances to close out each night. Notable speakers & performers included Edward Norton, Bill Nye, Chet Faker, Snoop Dogg, and Wyclef Jean.

The festival and village were open to all, but there was a special track, known as Visions, which opened up panels, workshops, and talks with experts in the future of our planet. However, unlike most festivals that offer VIP upgrades for three-times the ticket price, to get into Visions was a different story.

First off, there was an application process, which appears to gauge if applicants already work on these challenges or simply bring new ideas with a “solutionist” approach. I’m not sure what made up the rest of the process, but based on the people I met at Visions, it was a pleasant change over the VIP bros and made for some meaningful conversations.

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77 “Bittersweet” Sad Soul Songs

SG Lewis' fans compiled some of the saddest songs with soul

SG Lewis asked his Twitter followers what were their favourite sad soul songs. Similar to what I did with brokemogul’s “Best Music Documentaries,” I took over 100 responses and compiled it down to 77 songs.

What I love about this list is how deeply personal and eclectic it is. It comes from over 100 different people who have the same purpose in mind and some level of love for SG Lewis but are probably pretty different otherwise. I removed a few songs that didn’t fit and some late 80’s/early 90’s R&B, but I tried to keep too much of my bias out of it.

It was hard to define what’s sad and what’s soul music. Or what’s old for that matter. Some songs may sound happy – Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” is a good example – but can be used just as well for sad times. The Twitter responses pushed the boundaries of what soul music can be defined as, which I can appreciate to a certain point (it’s still a good song.)

My biggest conflict was not including Angie Stone’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” and it’s for the most childish reason. Seriously, wait for it. I swear there’s a random fart noise every measure or so. Or am I just making this shit up? First one starts 14 seconds in. It’s an otherwise genuinely beautiful song.

SG Lewis still has yet to post his own sad soul song. Maybe we can get 77 more in the next year with his choice included.

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Singularity University’s Global Summit

Hundreds of entrepreneurs solving the world's biggest problems but one

I remember listening to a panel at MUTEK, a global touring electronic music & arts festival, and the speaker asked us all what we thought was the greatest existential threat to humanity. She said most of us were probably thinking of climate change, I was not. While they might be right about climate change, the first thing that popped into my head was the dissemination of information. It greatly affects all other issues. It influences our world view and on a global scale shifts elections, shapes our political and social response to climate change, and everything in-between.

Singularity University recently held their annual Global Summit in San Francisco and I’ll I want to talk about is the XPRIZE panel. XPRIZE holds competitions to see who can come up with ways to solve the world & humanity’s biggest problems and award millions to the winners. The first XPRIZE was put together by Peter Diamandis, who founded XPRIZE in the late 90’s.

Adults always ask kids, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I always felt like an astronaut was a pretty stereotypical but bold claim for a kid to make. Peter followed that childhood dream and when NASA didn’t seem to be a viable option, he built a $10 million competition for the first team to build a working commercial spaceship, which was awarded to Burt Rutan in 2004. Peter hasn’t made his dream into space yet, but it seems right on the horizon.

XPRIZE’s panel at the Global Summit felt like a bunch of superheroes on stage. They’re creating new competitions in areas including adult literacy, removing carbon from the air, using ai on a number of issues, and over a dozen other prizes that have already been paid out. One thing they haven’t tackled, however, is still my greatest concern.

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Durand Jones and The Indications

Takin' it back from the highs to the lows

I already touched on Durand Jones and The Indications when I heard them live at Outside Lands, 2018, but let’s try it again. My literal jaw dropped when I first heard Durand Jones and The Indications, but not from Durand’s voice. The group’s drummer and falsetto backup, Aaron Frazer, had me from his first note.

Like Khruangbin, their build-up has taken a few years, but Durand Jones, Aaron Frazer, and The Indications have got a full lineup of classic hits and I don’t say that often enough. How Aaron and Durand’s voices play off each other, from the highs to the lows, is unmatched. At least for this generation.

Not to get too “number-y,” as Aaron likes to say, for how talented this group is, I do not see it reflecting on their social, music services (Spotify seems decent), or from many bloggers (according to the Hype Machine.) So I’ve taken it upon myself to reach out to these bloggers, specifically ones that love soul music, and see what’s up! I’ll keep you up-to-date. You just make sure I do what I say.

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Khruangbin is sex on stage

And they're my favorite band for it

I’ve already covered Khruangbin back in 2017 at Outside Lands, but they’ve come out with two albums since. More importantly, they’ve become my favorite band of the year.

It all started when I saw them at The Fox in Oakland late last year. Every time I talk about it, I always say it was the sexiest show I’ve seen. You wouldn’t guess it by their music necessarily, but the chemistry between Laura Lee on bass and Mark Speer on guitar is mesmerizing in sound and look.

A few months later I saw Tommy Guerrero at Noise Pop 2019 and he reminded me so much of Khruangbin’s guitar melodies. As much as his catalog may be bigger than theirs, the trio from Dallas has stuck themselves in all areas of my life, which may have a lot to do with how popular they’ve gotten.

One thing I’ve learned since obsessing over their music is how much of the music-making process is collaborative between the three. Inspired by dub, Thai funk, and middle eastern grooves. And as Mark put it in an interview, they don’t need a lead singer, they’ve got a guitar to carry the melody.

Their latest album is a dub version of Con Todo El Mundo, entitled Hasta El Cielo. I haven’t included any of the tracks on this featured playlist yet. I just haven’t warmed up to it enough, but it’s well worth a full listen through. Along with everything else below.

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The Gray Area Festival

Where art breaks stigma

Like MUTEK a few months before it, The Gray Area Festival pushed the boundaries of visual art & music through technology. It felt progressive in style and message.

The most memorable panel was ZERO1’s, which brought together a handful of the top projects – and their creators – from its international artist incubator. Particularly memorable was Rashana Bajracharya with an immersive experience to help women explore their bodies and get a better understanding of common health issues like yeast infections. Rashana comes from Nepal, where the lack of education around women’s health is even (much) more problematic than in The States. It’s compelling to see how art can help break through the stigmas behind women (and men)’s health.

I have yet to find her work with ZERO1 online, but here is something she made with the WCA out of Hong Kong. It’s just as inspiring as her talk at Gray Area.

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VB Transform 2019: AI by All

And how we've got recommendation systems all wrong

I had the enormous privilege to go to VentureBeat’s Transform 2019, an AI conference in SF. My mission was to find out how to make recommendation systems better. Services like YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and Spotify use them to help people choose what to consume next, and the one thing they all seem to center it around is a person’s past behavior. It shouldn’t.

For Amazon, behavior should be a sizable part of the equation in recommending products to buy, but for ideas, stories, and any kind of content, it’s different. It should be different. People can go to their friends and family for what’s happening in their community and culture, but the greatest promise of the internet and other mass communication is being able to hear ideas & stories from people anywhere around the globe. Mind you, there’s a lot of them out there.

That’s where editors, curators, dj’s, and other domain experts come into play. It’s about gearing them up with the latest tools and technologies. They will be the ones best suited to program recommendation systems to help people get outside of their own filter bubbles. One of the speakers at Transform put it simply, this isn’t just about artificial intelligence, but augmenting (human) intelligence as well. First and foremost, the people who are at the forefront of a field. Someone who’s made it their life’s work. Next, democratize it to everyone else.

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Michael Kiwanuka & Tom Misch · Money

Expectations are high when two talents get together

Expectations are on high when you get two talented musicians together, but the outcome usually doesn’t match up. Rarely do the two amplify the talent.

When I heard Michael Kiwanuka and Tom Misch collaborated, I was intrigued but tried not to set expectations too high. When I hype anything up, I feel like it always falls short. Money might be the exception.

Tom Misch is slowly gaining status as one of the best guitarists of our time, and leads Kiwanuaka’s voice in this disco melody. A departure from his usual soul music, it reminds me of a Mayer Hawthorne song with a bit of James Mercer’s voice on Broken Bells. That’s why I love the song so much. Not only does it exceed my expectations, but it’s a departure from what I’ve heard in Kiwanuaka’s past.

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