In praise of Blue Note’s Spotify app

Its been fantastic to read the unilaterally glowing coverage of the Blue Note label’s Spotify app, and if you’ve not tried it yet I strongly urge you to go and do so. The best review I saw from a friend was just two words: “worm hole”. He’s right too: you can lose hours to this.

I’ve looked into creating Spotify apps a few times in the past, and have always suffered the same problem: without an incredibly deep catalogue to mine, your options are fairly limited. When contemplating an artist-specific app the same conclusion was always drawn: how interesting can this be when you can only really have text, images and links to audio? (Note: you can have video in a Spotify app, but it cannot be from YouTube, which for most artists makes it a no-no.) At best, it would be like a fairly average website and therefore not something likely to pull fans in. The exception is heritage artists like Dylan, McCartney, Springsteen et al, where you have a vast array of content to make use of. For any artist who has been around less than 10 years, however, I’d say it is a no-go; there’s just not enough content to mine.

Blue Note as a label ticks this main box required for a great Spotify app, as it has an incredibly rich and extensive catalogue. Where it really gets interesting though is in the feature set. To me, this app is sets the standard; it really is a best practice example for Spotify to show others. Why? Because it doesn’t just show content and link to music; it provides new ways in which to discover and filter the Blue Note catalogue. Here’s just a couple of them:

The Blue Break Beats section allows you to explore the songs sampled by modern-day artists, connecting songs like The Chemical Brothers “Chemical Beats” back to the Jimmy McGriff’s “The Worm”. You can play both tracks, but the critical feature is that you can also jump to the precise point in each song where the sample appears (e.g. 8 seconds into the former, or 5 seconds into the latter).

Another killer feature is the Filter. This provides means to explore the Blue Note catalogue through various means. On a simple level, you can jump to certain periods in the labels history to see the releases from that time. You can also filter by style: “Tradition”, “Groove” and “Voices” – and this can be combined with the year filter making it possible to find cool vocal jazz from, say, 1971-1976. As if that isn’t enough though, you can also filter further by instrument. Fancy hearing something from ’71-’76 that features acoustic guitar? No problem – set those options and the app throws back Milton Nasciemento’s “Clube Da Esquina 1”. The instrument options to filter by are ridiculously extensive too. Want to hear a track with a DJ on? Filter to include “turntable” as an instrument and you’re good to go.

I could go on, but really the best thing to do is just to install the app and get stuck in; there’s no end of means to play around and discover some incredible music you may never have heard of.

For me though, this app represents something more. It is a shining example of what happens when a client (in this case a label) gets a development house involved and let’s them show how brilliant they can be. This sounds obvious, but often it is far from the case. Often, a client will try to be too prescriptive, pushing their own vision onto the developers and not letting the experts they’ve hired actually demonstrate their expertise. The end result is a massive compromise that, if it were a movie, would have the development house asking for it to be credited to “Alan Smithee” so their names didn’t appear on it.

A friend once commented that a great manager brings the best out of the people in his/her team. I couldn’t agree more. Too often I’ve seen managers crush the talent and input of a team member for no reason other than ego. That’s ridiculous; the end result of which is inevitably something compromised and mediocre. Don’t mistake this for an advocacy of running things by committee by the way: there also lies a path to the distinctly average. It is possible to have vision and bring out the best from a team, without question.

So there lies the genius of the Blue Note app to me. Huge credit should go to the partnership of the label and Retrofuzz, the developers behind this. I would imagine this has been a tough but highly rewarding project for both to work on, and I’ve no doubt – based on both the extensive glowing PR, but also the social chatter around the app – that this will be boosting revenues for Blue Note which, lest we forget, is the main aim here. They’ve set a new gold standard for other Spotify app developers to follow – and let’s not beat about the bush here: Spotify needs more apps like this in order to bring genuine value to their platform. This represents a big win for all involved, and rightly so. More like it please!

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One thought on “In praise of Blue Note’s Spotify app

  1. Excellent post. Another win for the timeline is that it charts the development of jazz music itself over the past 70 years, and shows how the changing formats – from 78rpm to LPs and beyond – offered musicians more playing time to develop solos and musical ideas.

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