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Trapped in the Spotify Bubble? Just Call a DJ

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You have to dig deep to get beyond the stale musical selections of streaming services, shows Jasper Nijland, DJ and music researcher for Sizzer

Trapped in the Spotify Bubble? Just Call a DJ

On the surface of it, it seems easy today for anyone to find any kind of music, any time. So who needs DJs? And what’s the point of music researchers, in the age of streaming? 

In fact, music expertise is needed more than ever. So says Jasper Nijland, a veteran Amsterdam DJ known as Nothing Toulouse, also a music researcher for independent music agency Sizzer. There, Jasper compiles bespoke selections of music for clients under their ‘SEARCH’ service: collecting neat packages of genre classics, leftfield cuts and undiscovered gems, in specific genres and themes – from Kaseko to “Christmas songs that don't mention Christ or Christmas”. And he does it using the same music historical knowledge and fine-tuned ear that makes him a great DJ. 

Jasper is a rare soldier in the fight against streaming bubbles and the algorithm-fuelled blandifying of good taste. Without people like Jasper, we’d all be listening to the same stuff, all the time. That’s why Sizzer is now launching a new weekly series of Spotify playlists compiled by Jasper, to show off this expertise – and to show how much good music lies unheard, slipping through the cracks, or deep in the racks. That is, until Jasper gets his hands on it. How the heck does he do it? Jasper sits down to talk shop. 


Q> Why do we still need DJs and music researchers now, when streaming services seem to offer the whole universe of music at the click of a button?

Jasper> It makes me think back to when I was a kid, and you’d leave the house with a Discman or whatever. You’d bring about 20 CDs with you, and you’d be able to take your pick. The irony is that today, when you can access more or less anything with Spotify, you have no idea what to play! It’s like they used to say about satellite & cable TV: 1,000 channels, but nothing to watch. At high school, if you’d asked me at any moment what I felt like listening to, I would’ve been able to tell you right away. Now, we’re stumped without our Discover Weekly.

Spotify’s algorithms have created a bubble culture: everyone's Discover Weekly is about the same. I want to break free from that. So I dig in and find other things!


Q> How did this happen?

Jasper> With streaming, it’s bots, not people, who decide what you hear. The algorithms have created a confusing hierarchy where play counts seem dependent on how music interacts in terms of data, rather than representing good taste or historical popularity in the real world. For example, there are tracks that many people consider classics, but on Spotify they only have about 1,000 plays! Just because they’re not on the algorithm’s radar.


Q> Is this also an issue among DJs? Surely it’s harder and harder to find ‘hidden treasure’ in this day and age?

Jasper> Even with DJs there are issues like this. DJs have their standard record stores. With DJs here in Amsterdam, you can tell from the music they play which stores they go to! So these are bubbles too. You have to fight hard to break out – as a listener, a DJ or a researcher.

This job at Sizzer allows me to be as creative as I want discovering music that doesn’t get played enough. Doing that is a lot harder than it sounds – it’s proper research!


Q> How do you do it?

Jasper> There are always artists you can’t find on Spotify, and not just recent newsworthy examples like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell removing their music after the Joe Rogan scandal. In my research, I usually start outside Spotify and then come back later to see what Spotify has.

The research is pretty intense for some clients. I’ll sit there surrounded by material: my physical music collection on the left, Spotify onscreen to the right, YouTube, Discogs, the list goes on… It could be a really specific brief, like vintage music with female vocals about “the colour brown”, “a foggy day”, “the darkside of fame”, or “pizzas”. Sometimes I’ll even go to a record store for ideas. There are a lot of other resources that you might not think of – but I don’t want to give away all my secrets!

But even within the spectrum of music that is available on Spotify, there’s still a lot of music not being played enough. So sometimes I click on an artist within Spotify and do some “Spotify-digging”. I follow a lot of labels and DJs on Spotify, and they often have their own music – they break out of that bubble by promoting their own music or collections. So it’s nice to steal– I mean browse… 

You can also ’train’ your Discover Weekly, by listening to very different and specific genres in periods to see how it affects your algorithm. Otherwise, Spotify can be such a dead end for music exploring.

That’s how these playlists have come about – showing that if you’re smart about it, you really can find some gems hiding in plain sight within Spotify itself. Well, I can.



Q> So what’s the deal with these playlists?

Jasper> Sizzer will be releasing three Spotify playlists every month, each one collecting twenty tracks within a pretty specific theme, time period and/or genre. The first three focus on prog rock, Philly soul and ‘70s lover’s rock from the UK.

There will be a few hits in there, and one or two central tracks, around which the rest of the list was based. But the rest will be lesser-known, including some buried treasure and seriously deep cuts. Each will also come with its own art and some liner notes about the curation.


Q> How similar was making these playlists to your other work at Sizzer, and to building sets as a DJ?

Jasper> I came into this job because I already had a good knowledge of unusual music – which you can see from my blog, and in my mixes. You obviously want to push your favourites to the front, both as a DJ and in SEARCH and playlist making.

But there are challenges beyond what I faced as a DJ. Once you get into the whole field of music research for ads or film, you often get confronted with genres or tracks that are totally out of your comfort zone! This is also something I love about my job, that I get to dive into niches that I don’t usually – or don’t want to – dive into! 

Luckily, we’re not the most poppy bureau in the world, so I don’t have to listen to really commercial stuff. We have a more artistic approach, at least compared to many agencies.


Q> How would you describe the Sizzer sound or vibe?

Jasper> Our official term for it is ‘premium’, but that doesn’t mean it has to sound like a Bond theme! It’s about decent quality. Perhaps it’s a little off-centre, not totally mainstream. When we do have to be more mainstream, we at least try to be as stylish as possible.


Q> What’s it like working there? How is Sizzer different?

Jasper> It’s a bit less corporate than – well, I won’t name names! People do really care about music here – for example, people applying here often get asked to name their top five records, even those in finance!!

I like the atmosphere here. There’s all kinds of music playing, all the time – I don’t like silence. The team is really nice, and the vibe of this kind of agency is great too. People are quite like-minded, which means you can easily hang out with your colleagues. You’ll often get drinks after work – it’s a bit like a family. 

The work is fun too, haha! 

CREDITS

Agency / Creative
Music / Sound
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Genres: Musical

Categories: Streaming Services, Media and Entertainment

Sizzer, Fri, 06 May 2022 15:46:00 GMT