In this post I’m going to be discussing Smart Speakers, namely the  Amazon Echo Dot and what place is has if any for DIY Musicians like me.

I’ve had this device for a good while now, but I have to be honest it was pretty much an impulse buy because it was cheap. Apart from using it as an alarm and listening to BBC6 radio most mornings, it’s just been sitting there… listening.

But you can’t fight the future. I know lots of people use Smart Speakers. So, I initially thought it’d be interesting to explore the possibilities for musicians as well as understand how our fans are actually using them.

Yes, there are lots of ways a musician can use one of these, as a drum machine, chord finder, even a tuner. That’s all pretty cool actually with Alexa Skills.You just have to enable each and then you can issue commands like… “Alexa ask drum machine to play a rock beat at 120 bpm”.

Alexa Skills for Musicians
Alexa Skills for Musicians

But, forcing myself to stick with and use one of these things for the last week or so has got me thinking about other maybe more important topics of discussion, namely the future of listening to music. Is it bound for a more passive experience? And if it is what can we do as DIY musicians to embrace it, or should we even bother?

Technology Shaping how Music is Consumed

If we look back over the years at the various ways music has been consumed, it’s interesting to note the sea changes in platforms.

There was a time when people could only get their hands on music if they owned it, and ‘ownership’ I suppose, is a recurring theme here.

In the beginning obviously there was and still is radio, but ownership came in with let’s say, the physical age where vinyl, cds, tapes etc were the prime focus. I know you can obviously get these now and they are somewhat popular but I’m talking about mainstream appeal here.

vinyl physical media
Vinyl Records

Then came the download age where mp3s were the norm. Remember Apple announcing you could have or own 1000 songs in your pocket with their first ipod! That seems so old now and it was only in 2001. But the whole point there is that people were paying to download a collection of digital music, rather than physical copies.

After that, the streaming age which I suppose is where we’re at now. There are so many companies nowadays offering music streaming services at bottom of the barrel prices, with new and interesting ways to tempt us consumers into building ‘online collections’ of curated music playlists.

But what’s after that? I think in terms of these smart speakers, we’re still obviously in the streaming age but the experience is become more refined, even simplified.

No Visual Cue

Voice commands make it super simple to get to a playlist, genre or mood. But it lacks the visual magpie-ish nature of looking at album art, as that extension of the artist is completely removed.

And some may say, well the artwork isn’t all that important – it’s the music which is the important thing! And yes I get that but like I always say on this channel, artwork is an extension of your art as an artist and it brings fans into the world you’re creating.

Bandcamp Album Art
Bandcamp Album Art

Without it, there’s no visual cue or connection to what you’re doing, and I really think in a world where there’s so much music out there anything we can do to set ourselves apart is an advantage.

So, without that visual cue of what to play or feel or what to play next – we can get stuck, or at least I do. So, I find myself asking for a playlist. I’m actually letting Alexa provide the choice of music based on a simple initial command.

So, what does this mean for me and other DIY artists?

Well, this might be a controversial opinion but as a DIY artist, I’m going to ignore them.

Now if you’re an artist who really wants to make it big and get to as many ears as possible then I suppose it’s really important to try your best to get on these genre or mood playlists. So, when someone does ask Alexa to play for example ‘happy music’, your music shows up on that playlist.

Amazon Echo Dot
Asking for a Mood Playlist on the Amazon Echo Dot

I’m going to draw a line in the sand here and maybe that’ll put across the point of my journey. As a DIY artist who is content at forming a small audience, small enough to fund my projects. I’m aiming for my fans to ultimately find me on Bandcamp and the like.

Obviously be on Spotify etc as the majority of people know those platforms. For me, I see way more value in creating an audience through sustainable places like Bandcamp and patreon.

Conclusions

I think the majority of people using these smart speakers aren’t that bothered about looking into artists. I think as I’ve said before, they’re in it for the passive experience. Not everyone obviously, but I do think most people are just using them to hear playlists. Like a radio, without the DJ giving context to who the artists are.

There are going to be instances where people suddenly stop in their tracks and demand to know music is playing. I just don’t think that’s what people want, to suddenly stop the music as it’s mostly for background purposes. Without the extension of the artwork, it just feels like something we shouldn’t really care about.

Want to get your own Smart Speaker and try it out for yourself? Get the latest Amazon Echo Dot.



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