With KiwiFm going the way of DodoFM last month the local music scene suffered a hefty blow. Fortunately it wasn't the deathblow. Yesterday NZ On Air left the antiquated airwaves behind and stepped into the now with the launch of their own music-streaming website.
Dubbed AllTracks, it's a 2.0 Kiwi music listening experience. A down-with-kids way of getting local music out there. A pastel-coloured tribute to the wide, varied and exciting music of our wide, varied and exciting peoples.
Mostly, it's a disappointment.
Essentially it's just a bunch of playlists, presented by genre and "curated" by a couple of radio hosts, ex-radio hosts and, in the case of the Folk & Country category, a whole radio station.
• Read more: New NZ streaming site AllTracks launched
These "hand-picked" playlists have no rhyme or reason to them. They're merely a collection of songs cobbled together that offer no thematic journey at all. There's been no consideration of song flow or set rhythm applied, so forget about getting lost in a wondrous musical journey through some top local tunes.
Instead it feels like these curators have simply rattled off as many local songs as they could recall offhand before buggering off for lunch. Quantity rather than quality rules and there's barely a rare cut, deep album track or overlooked gem to be found in the mix. It's a squandered opportunity.
An extra special shame shout-out goes to the Rock's Bryce Casey, the "curator" of the Rock & Metal category who clearly didn't even pretend to give a crap when compiling his playlist. In a category absolutely bursting with bands he chose to include not one, not two, not even three, but four bloody Shihad tunes on his playlist.
Four! Simply disgraceful.
After that BS I almost admire the utterly shameless chutzpah of Dance & Electronic curator Dan Aux who saw fit to include two of his own songs on his playlist.
Wellington muso Barnaby Weir gets a pass for that same crime in his Reggae & Roots playlist, seeing as he's in just about every reggae or roots band in the country...
What I'd really like to know is why there's no unsigned or new music playlist. That should definitely be there. This site is supposedly about discovery. I'm pretty sure we've discovered all we're going to about Connan Mockasin by now. How about trying to break some new acts rather than championing the same tired old faces? Get jiggy wit it gawddamit. You're on the Internet now. All bets are off. Go crazy and wild. Please.
So, the playlists have problems. But none that can't be easily fixed with some thought, some care, and a whole lot less Shihad.
For example; how about each time the playlist updates the curator writes a couple of paragraphs explaining why they chose this set of tunes and what the music they've picked means to them.
This would give each playlist valuable context and make for a much more interesting and involving end-user experience over the nothing that exists at the moment. Right now it's just shoddily compiled and totally meaningless. Sort it out.
The other big problem is that AllTracks is a "portal" site. This means it's a middle man.
You click on the playlist you want to listen to and it shunts you off over to YouTube, Soundcloud or Spotify.
I know times are tough but couldn't NZ On Air have sprung for local hosting of these local tunes? You're trying to encourage people to listen to Kiwi music; at the very least make it listenable. The playlists should all be onsite so people can listen to them easily and with an acceptable level of sound quality.
Because at the moment it's a hodgepodge of carelessness. Not every song is available on each host site. Soundcloud suffers the most in this regard, with a massive number of omissions.
Unforgivably, sound quality is also inconsistent, reliant as it is on the host site. YouTube is the worst offender here. NZ On Air clearly hasn't uploaded these songs themselves to ensure the video is of decent quality. They really should have. Volume oscillates wildly between tracks and YouTube ads interrupt the flow. It is borderline unacceptable.
The best listening experience is provided by Spotify, so I hope you have an account there. The userface is slick, sound quality is decent and it by far offered the best user experience, with basic features such as shuffle and repeat. However having to return to the AllTracks site to switch playlists seemed clunky.
Another thing I'd like to know is why there's no master playlist that compiles every song from each of the curators' selections into one massive playlist? If AllTracks was serious about encouraging you to "Explore New Zealand's Music" as it claims, rather than just fool around in a genre you already like, then wouldn't that be a fantastic, simple to implement, idea? Yes. Yes, it would.
I know this all sounds harsh, but it's only because I care. Tough love is what's needed here. Because at the moment AllTracks is fairly pointless. You can easily compile your own local music playlist on Spotify, you can easily hunt down any old Kiwi music vid you feel like watching on YouTube and Soundcloud will spin off randomly through similar acts from any starting point you give it.
I want to like AllTracks. It's a great idea that's been poorly implemented. I sincerely hope those responsible raise their game.
Because AllTracks could become something special, something important, something uniquely Kiwi. And that's the idea, ain't it?