Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Is Social Media Ruining Music? Part 2

While technology and social media play a vital role in the sharing and creation of music, they can fall foul of attempts to encourage the connection as in the case of Microsoft's brand new tool, Mixshape. Merging the ever more social Spotify with Internet Explorer 10's superfast rendering and touch screen accessibility; it promises to enhance your musical taste on any occasion as 'The New Mixtape'

Using a selection of complex computer algorithms, attached to a vast swarm of music data from The EchoNest, it allows you to input a group of songs in a playlist before expanding the list into an easily adjustable wave, creating a visual version of the music it thinks would complement and expand your playlist, taking all the effort out of building a vast playlist. With settings and moods including 'Lazy Sunday', 'Endurance Work Out', 'Open Plan Office,' and perhaps most bizzarely, 'Wedding Day Breakfast,' it seems to have every base covered and its intuitive controls make it surprisingly easy to use.

This seems perfect, but sadly where it falls down, is on music selection. Unless you do your playlists specifically by genre, no matter how you tweak the curve the playlists are never as good as those you'd do yourself. I experimented with a range of genre's and my own Spotify playlists and no matter what I gave it to work with, what it spat out resembled a mish mash of ideas. Although good (but not perfect at identifying tempo's), it fails to recognise remixes, tempo changes, instrumentation or general feel.

An obvious retort is that it's much quicker and easier than manually creating the lists, but as an unashamed music geek, a huge slice of the fun is poring over reams of songs and delicately crafting your mixtapes to suit your own needs. I have playlists stretching back several years based on ideas as wacky as a reimagining of 1980s Miami with modern tracks, 'Basement Party' and even 'Tropical Carribean Island Electronica', and no matter how good Mixshape is, it can never replicate the love and care that went into creating them.

Music is a beautiful and diverse art form, encompassing such a range of human experience that its difficult to see how algorithms, however complex, lack the subtlety and freedom of our individual expressions of taste. Mixshape doesn't completely ruin the mixtape, and for grabbing a couple of hundred tracks of one genre it is very good, but it's ultimately flawed by it's own cleverness. As the  slogan says, it's 'About The Music' and what makes music so special is our personal interaction with it.

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