Playlist Professional

Songza Review 04/05/12

In case Spotify, MOG, Pandora, 8tracks, Rdio, and Rhapsody aren’t enough to satisfy your music streaming needs, enter Songza. Songza aims to give you the the perfect playlist for any occasion with just a few mouse clicks. Songza has been around for years as a hub for users to listen to music playlists. Last week they introduced a new feature, Music Concierge, that gives them an edge on the competition, or so they claim. Sonza shares the idea with Playlist Professional that expertly curated playlists are the best way to enjoy and discover music. Ideal listening made easy is an exciting venture, so I looked forward to spending the weekend with Songza’s Concierge. I came away with mixed results. There have been other reviews touting the wonders of Songza’s Music Concierge. However, those reviews do not talk about the results of using Concierge as this one does. I used the desktop version of Songza for my review. This and iOS, is the only way to use Concierge at the moment. An android app is in the works.

Songza has been collecting music playlists for years. The playlists are arranged by mood, activity, genre, etc., as is customary with most playlist sites. Instead of having to wade around trying to find a suitable playlist, Concierge takes the guess work out and only requires you answer a few simple questions. I first visited on a Friday afternoon and was presented with 5 choices, or filters, that included; Work/Study Music with and without lyrics, Energy Boost, Office Party, and Office Favorites. These are the playlists Songza assumes I am looking for based on what time and day it is. I needed a pick-me-up, so I made the obvious choice of Energy Boost. I was then offered five genre options; Happy Pop, Energetic Rock, Energetic Rap, Upbeat Classics, and Rowdy Rock. I decided pop music would be a good place to start, and after choosing the “Happy Pop” filter I was given 3 playlists to enjoy. That was easy enough, but how are the playlists? According to Songza, these playlists have been put together by “music experts”. It’s important to note that we are taking Songza’s word on this. We have no idea who put most of these playlists together. On a video presentation with techcrunch the Songza creators said the playlists are made by “ethno-music-ologists (???) that may include a Rolling Stone editor or a working DJ”. No music professional is going to offer their knowledge without being credited, and rightfully so. Most of the playlists we came across did not credit anyone, and there are no music experts listed on the site, so the term “music expert” is still in question. With this important note out of the way, let’s get to the music presented.

The 3 playlists to help my energy boost were “Walking on sunshine”, “The world of Bruno Mars”, and “Feeling good in the 90s”. Having just seen Bruno Mars’ lively performance on the Grammy awards, I decided this was a great place to start. The description said the mix was made of Bruno Mars’ contemporaries and influences. The first 3 songs to play were Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, Diana Ross’ Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, and Marvin Gaye’s classic Let’s Get it On. Songza allows up to six skips per playlist (just like Pandora) so I decided to skip through to get a feel for it. Unfortunately, only 2 of the six songs were upbeat. They were all good songs, but were hardly giving me the energy boost I desired. So I started over in my choices. This time I chose the playlist “Walking on Sunshine”. This was a nice playlist of songs that are upbeat and fun, made up of mostly familiar pop hits from years past. Well, decades past, actually. So far, our playlists have provided us with nothing but classic song choices, and the 90s playlist wont get much more current. When I think of pop music, I tend to think of current tunes within the last 10 years at least. None of the “Happy Pop” playlists offered anything current. This presents the first problem with Songza’s Concierge. Visitors would be served better if it knew what era to choose, or what age its user is to make more appropriate suggestions. Presumably, Songza will use your profile information, past playlists listened to, or its thumbs up/down feature to help pinpoint the right playlist for you. For now though, I am left feeling unsatisfied in my listening options for an energetic Friday afternoon.

Saturday morning found me aching due to a mild hangover from the night before. I decided to give Songza another try, and to my delight, the first round of filters on the home page asked if I was recovering from last night. Yes, I am! I was then immediately offered three playlists to choose from. Apparently, Concierge needs to ask you less questions at certain times than it does others. Three playlists were offered up; “Sunday Morning Come Down”, “Hello Hangover”, and “Mellow Morning”. Reading the descriptions for each told me that “Hello Hangover” was really a playlist of country drinking songs. This was the opposite of what I was looking for, so I opted for “Mellow Morning”. It was described as music for taking it easy with a newspaper and a big cup of coffee. The playlist started off nicely with easy beats and soothing vocals. Unfortunately, it only took 2 songs until the pace picked up considerably. Upbeat drums and guitars are not what I am looking for. I was hoping for something calming, and peaceful like a new age playlist, or a chilled out electronica selection. Zero 7, Mazzy Star, Bon Iver, Ulrich Schnauss or even smooth jazz would serve a hangover nicely. This would have been a great place for a vocal or non vocal filter, because I am not interested in singing along with a hangover. Next, the indie band Grizzly Bear comes on, my mellow shifts abruptly bouncy. This playlist is officially on my nerves. It is much peppier than I am, and while it might be a great way to start an active work day, it is not conducive to regenerating my brain cells from the night before. Now I am wondering how the Concierge decides which playlists to offer. I’m guessing it is an algorithm that is being used, or keyword recognition. Why else would a playlist of country drinking songs called “Hello Hangover” be offered to a zombie like me?

Normally, I would abandon the Concierge at this point to find a more appropriate hangover soundtrack elsewhere, but for the sake of this review, I tried the 3rd playlist titled “Sunday Morning Comedown”. Bill Withers was up first and the songs that followed were nice enough to suit my mood. They were all classic singer/songwriter tunes with easy guitar, and male vocals. I have a hard time believing anyone under the age of 35 would enjoy this playlist due to how dated the music was, and am curious again how accurate Songza would be if it knew my age. For the time being, I am left thinking that if humans do a better job creating playlists than a algorithms do, they would probably do a better job recommending them as well.

My Sunday Concierge experience was much more gratifying. I was having friends over to watch NBA games and grill food all afternoon. Again, I turned to the music Concierge to help me pick the best music. The third time is the charm, yes? The initial Concierge filter that suited me was, “Creating a Cool Atmosphere”. Clicking it gave me 5 very different styles of music to choose from; 60s Bachelor Pad, Trending Indie, Old Soul, International, or Eclectic Mixes. I decided on Trending Indie, because I felt confident it would be a mix of non familiar tracks. I was rewarded with three excellent playlists; One created by the alternative, super mag, Pitchfork, and the others were made up from top indie blogs from around the web. All of these met my needs of new music without the fluff. Knowing I had found suitable playlists, I decided to hit the back button, and try my luck with Eclectic Mixes to see what was available there. This was even a deeper home run! The three playlist options provided were all unique and interesting. I wound up choosing one titled “irrelevant bees” which was compiled by a New York DJ. He had a short bio, and a tumblr page that reflected his rare groove tastes. This mix was interesting, original, entertaining, and a hit with my friends. Success! My experience on Sunday was exactly how I imagine things going in a perfect music service. The playlists were prepared by music professionals like DJs, magazines, and blog writers. These are the true music experts. If only it could always be this way, I thought. The truth is it can be this way, and undoubtedly that is what Songza is shooting for. The Concierge idea and technology is in its infancy. Eventually it will learn who you are by monitoring your listening habits and music preferences, allowing it to make playlist recommendations for you specifically. The questions it asks, and the filters it presents will evolve as well. Quality DJs and music pros will continue to get on board as they realize the free exposure offered.

I was unsuccessful in my first two attempts with Songza’s Concierge, but I leave feeling excited about the possibilities in the future. I will be sure to pop in from time to time to see how things are going. In the mean time, I have created an account at Songza, and saved several of the playlists I discovered to enjoy later. Best of luck to the gang at Songza. Thanks for making it easier to find just the right music for any situation.

**Update 4/18/12**
It has been three weeks since I first used Songza and its Conceirge. Visiting today I learn that Concierge still brings up the same playlists when choosing the same filters regardless of what day you are on. This means if you want to listen to “Energy boosting, Happy Pop” music today at 1:00pm, you will be shown the identical three playlists as you were on Friday afternoon three weeks ago. Songza’s creators brag that Concierge is an answer to Pandora’s “staleness”, but finding the exact same music three weeks apart isn’t exactly fresh. To be fair, there are plenty of additional playlists to be sampled on the Songza platform. Just click on the Popular or Browse All tabs located above Concierge to be taken to the playlist database. It includes playlists arranged by mood, activity, genre, popularity, and much more. Somewhere on the Music Concierge pages, you should be encouraged to browse this extensive collection if you are not satisfied with Concierge’s choices. This would be a way for Concierge to learn what you like and better meet your needs the next time you visit.

Today I have chosen to listen to a playlist titled “After Work Chill Out”. The playlist curator has a tumblr site listed, so I click the link provided to learn more about them. Doing so immediately stops the music flow as I am whisked a to another website. This is an oversight. Instead a new tab should be opened. Obviously there is plenty to be excited about, and kinks to work out when using Songza. I can’t see me using it now as there are easier ways for me to find what I want to hear. For the average music listener who doesn’t have the time or collection, you could do much worse than trying Songza. My interest is definitely peaked, and I will be back to investigate Songza and its Concierge in the future. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check me out on Facebook or Twitter.