FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
In the Algorithm-Driven Music Discovery Business, Conduit Brings a Purely Human Approach to Playlist Curation
BOULDER, CO, January 17, 2017 — When longtime freeform radio DJ Joel Davis listens to the playlists “curated” for him by the major music services, he hears a few new things he likes and some that he already knows, but mostly he’s left wondering, “what makes them think I’d like this song?”
Frustrated by the algorithmic guessing game, Davis pondered better ways to discover music — something that eschews machine thinking and strict genre restrictions in favor of the more artful, personal approach he and his fellow DJ’s take when programming their shows for KGNU Radio in Boulder/Denver, Colorado, where Davis has been a volunteer DJ for over 25 years.
It turns out the solution was right in front of him all along in the form of those very same programmers. Enter Conduit – a human-curated streaming music service created to help you discover the music you didn’t know you love. To begin, Davis teamed up with startup enthusiast and software developer John Jordan to flesh out and build the idea, then recruited a dozen or so of his favorite DJ’s — people he met through KGNU and his 20 years as a record label manager and owner, to put together music for the service.
The Conduit concept is simple: for $6 per month, subscribers get unlimited, ad-free streaming of eight channels esoterically categorized by genre and mood, and consisting of a stream of “sets” (mixes or playlists) created by Conduit’s curators. Deliberately opaque channel names (Calmbience, EasyRiser, GYSHIDO, SoulTerrain, TerraSonic, Twilight, Twang and UPbeats) give Conduit’s DJ’s the freedom to draw from a wide range of music. This forms the core of the Conduit aesthetic: freeform programming, a radio format that developed in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. It was soon overshadowed by commercial radio driven by marketing dollars from major record labels, and is kept alive primarily by about 80 community stations scattered across the U.S. “The idea behind freeform,” says Davis, “is that listening becomes more interesting when great DJ’s are given the freedom to select songs for the way they fit together, rather than by genre or style.” Essentially, Conduit’s curators bring not just their expertise and taste; they bring their humanity. “That’s something the algorithms just can’t do,” says Davis.
Other inspirations for Conduit include early internet radio entrants Gogaga (a mostly-live internet station for which he was a programmer in the late 90’s) and Spinner (which became AOL Music), entities respected for their well-curated offerings before the advent of the “all-you-can-eat” approach that started with Napster and gradually evolved into today’s major services. “Everything moves in cycles,” muses Davis. “I think the circle is looping back to a point where people want a more human connection in their music delivery.”
Davis sees Conduit as a complement to those ubiquitous services, not a replacement. “There’s definitely an appeal to the idea of paying $10 a month for pretty much every song ever made, and thousands of playlists for every mood” says Davis. “But in my experience, people end up clicking on what they already know, or what the recommendation engines suggest, which is also largely based on what they’re already listening to,” says Davis. “Most casual listeners I speak with (and I ask just about everyone I meet about their listening habits) say they’re in a musical rut but don’t have time to search for new music, or don’t know where to look. They miss that friend who turned them on to new sounds through excellent mixtapes. Our curators were those mixtape makers. We want you to get to know and trust them so that you can choose a channel, press play and let our curators take it from there.”
Another major distinction between Conduit and the streaming giants is the music on which they focus. Davis explains that, “the big services take the wide view, from Adele and Kanye on down. That's not to say they don't uncover some underheard gems too, but much of what they feature is squarely from the mainstream.” With its non-commercial, freeform radio roots, Conduit specializes in music barely on or beneath the mainstream music industry’s radar. That’s not to say you’ll never hear anything familiar on Conduit. “You definitely will,” states Davis. “But our focus is on music that you haven’t already heard everywhere else. The ocean of music considered by the others to be too ‘undiscovered’ to feature is where we swim.”
The depth and breadth of music Conduit’s curators select required Davis and Jordan to rethink their plans for signing up with one of the established digital music aggregators — the companies who provide the music and licensing for most new streaming and download services. While the aggregators charge a premium price for access to the millions of songs in their catalogs, as Davis searched their libraries for lists of tracks requested by Conduit’s curators, he had only a 70% - 75% success rate — unacceptable by Conduit’s standards. The solution was clear but daunting: to build a proprietary song and royalty database that stores and serves Conduit’s thousands of tracks and mixtapes; reports royalties to the music rightsholders as required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA); and calculates the commissions to the curators for their work.
“We learned pretty quickly,” says Davis, “that the music streaming sector favors the major players who, of course, must be all things to all people. They apply powerful technology to all aspects of the delivery of music — one of the most human forms of expression. At Conduit, the tech simply allows us to present music selected by humans, for humans. We think that’s a pretty important difference — a difference you can feel once you start listening.”
joel (at) conduitmusic.co