06 Sep 16

All Songs Considered Not Considered Harmful But Rather A Bit Limited In Scope

AllSongsConsideredNPR, you are great. You have shows that cover literally everything, from debating whether AI will be become skynet or Her, to fixing my car while getting relationship advice (RIP Tommy). I spend 3 hours a day commuting like a real American, and most of that time goes to podcasts from NPR.

Despite the title of this post, I like All Songs Considered quite a bit. Let me address you in the second person. I like the genuine excitement that you have for music and shows, especially because of the your two main hosts are a model to look up to, being older than stereotypical ages of people that get excited about new music and shows. Even when you had show a few years back of the worst songs of all time where you teamed up with Carrie Brownstein to try to make me feel bad for liking everything (We Built This City – Yes, We didn’t start the fire- yes, Baby I love your way – DEFINITELY YES). I don’t even know to what extent you were trolling, but it made me more aware about one thing.

I like everything now. I have the things I really love, but I also pretty much like everything else that I hear. I think this is okay. When I go to a vinyl garage sale, I buy 75% stuff I want and 25% stuff I don’t even know and I am not ever unhappy with it (to be fair it helps that it costs $1/LP). It’s completely fine.

Couldnt be as picky when there were only 4 mp3s on the internet

Couldnt be as picky when there were only 4 mp3s on the internet

Remember in high school and college when ‘liking everything (‘except country’ – as the phrase went)’ and a mishmash of random MP3s was code for “I don’t know care about music and I’m not cool, but I know how to dl warez (aol ‘zarew’ channel and hotline represent)”? Well, I was never much of an elitist, but I understand how that sentiment came about – it’s because it takes time to learn about a certain kind of music, and at freshman year of college, you won’t probably be able to know deeply about more than a few unless you are the Kid That Knew All Music. Now college is long past for me, I’ve seriously studied and listened to much more music since. And now I’m the guy who likes everything. But I still don’t feel that I will ever have that expert feel (or ‘hipster tone’ when I am jealous) to talking about music. But I appreciate the expert knowledge of the band’s background, influences and similar artists that folks like the All Songs can share with me. It’s so nice to just be able to enjoy things that are presented to you in this format without doing any research-like brain activity.

But what is up with the title ‘All Songs’? I love hearing about Weezer, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, Neutral Milk Hotel, but it does make things more like “Indie Rock, Folk, Female Hiphop and some Electronic Songs Considered”. If you had such a title, I would be 100% satisfied with the show. But as it stands I am 95% satisfied. 5% means that at some time during the show I wonder ‘what would it be like if they played something without conventional rhythm next. When I started listening, you mentioned ‘experimental’ artists sometimes so I expected some artists that really try to do something different with music. And there is much non-experimental music that you don’t play, not because it’s not accessible, but for some other reason.

My dream podcast would have hosts like you guys that also included equal amounts of classical (old and avant-garde), jazz, harsh noise, computer music, and maybe some hawaiian music. Those are just the styles that have been in my interests, but it would be nice to get the other styles as well, giving the show more of an ethnomusicology feel then a hipster bent. I wish it could be less comfortable, not only for the audiences, but also for the hosts. One of the things that’s great about your podcast is that it introduces new music, and I feel like that’s at odds with the need to be an expert on the subject. In a nutshell, the show could do with more ‘curiosity’.

To be fair, you do occasionally play more ‘friendly’ noise/drone/experimental stuff like Fennesz and Deafheaven, and that’s a great start. But it’s once in a blue moon and that stuff is still closely connected to the indie rock world. I do understand that if you play both ‘harsh’ and ‘eclectic’ pieces that you risk losing users, but isn’t that true for any change you make? Lately NPR podcasts have been booming and it does seem like the goal of many is to maximize listeners, but if that is really the main concern, then maybe the show needs a new name. Titles are important in subtle ways. As it is I notice that when I listen to your podcast I feel that I am opening up my horizons, but then when I think about the problem of only playing the music you have expertise on is actually kind of limiting. And even a little scary because I don’t always realize the latter, maybe in part due to the subconscious effect of the title.

Just to test the idea I am really curious as to what would happen if you sprinkled these tracks over several shows. These are not new songs, but it’s a start to get the conversation going:

Playlist with all songs here. Single songs:

– David Dunn – Mimus Ployglottos

– Kalapana – The Hurt

– Merzbow – Rainbow Electronics

– György Ligeti – Désordre (Etude No. 1)

– Takeda Wataru – Seikatsu No Gara

– Paul Koonce – The Flywheel Dream

John Coltrane & Johnny Hartmann

Most of those songs are fairly old, and of well-established artists in these styles. I used them for examples, but my ideal show would present these kinds of classics for reference as well as find newer stuff in those styles and introduce them to me.

What would happened if you got a more even distribution of songs by getting other listeners to also suggest styles? Would it become noise? I don’t think so. I think it would give the songs you already play more perspective. I think it would make you feel more vulnerable – but as a lot of this new podcast world is showing, vulnerability is nice and can actually help drive the show.

All that being said, given the age of this show I’m sure you’ve had this discussion before, maybe even on the show. I’m curious to know what was the result of that discussion. Obviously, I’m not a radio producer and can’t say what’s best for your show. It’s a lot easier for me to describe my ideal show and its ideals. I originally had the title ‘All Songs Considered Considered Harmful’, but that’s just because its hard to resist and would make for nice hacker news clickbait. You’re doing a great job anyway, and I’ll be listening.