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Annoyed by Restaurant Playlists, a Master Musician Made His Own (nytimes.com)
129 points by devy 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

“The color of the wall, the texture of the furniture, the setting of the room, wasn’t good for enjoying music with darker tones.”

First world problem.

My favorite source of background music is "radiocoast.com". Not because it's that great, but because someone figured out a way to beat the music industry. He got a collection of background music records made for the Seeburg 1000 and 2000. Seeburg was a jukebox maker in Chicago. As a sideline they sold background music devices which played a big stack of special records over and over - 1000 or 2000 songs. They bought the rights to the music, and their own orchestra recorded them. So they had full content ownership. The records had a nonstandard groove width, a nonstandard diameter, and a nonstandard hole size; DRM, the early years. They were not copyrighted and predate the "no formalities" copyright law. So anyone with the records can legally distribute the music. Which "radiocoast.com" does.

> First world problem.

Why is that wrong for first-world people to tackle first-world problems? Just because you don't believe in a particular piece of psychology doesn't necessarily have to make it untrue.

Seriously, it's quite annoying to see problems dismissed just because they're "first world problems". Comfort is important and we're proven to process things subconsciously.

Nobody said it's wrong. Everyone has the right to choose the kind of problems he/she would like to solve.

Sakamoto is also passionate about his activism for the environment (anti-nuclear) and copyright law reform.

Just using the phrase "first world problem" by itself has negative or dismissive connotations. No one uses it to express that something is positive or even just neutral.

I see it as dismissive but not negative. Somebody charges you a fee to help you decide on a super car. Good for them and good for you! Yet I will decide by myself if I care or not. For sure if things do not work out the worst it can happen is that you end up with a random super car. I just can't make myself to care enough about it.

Because sometimes, good is good enough and someone being "annoyed" is just pitching themselves as a niche into the market.

Right, the problem of solving background music for wealthy people at expensive restaurants is clearly and unapologetically a first world problem.

Anything wrong with solving so-called first world problems?

No, I meant to defend it.

I totally agree with Ryuichi here, too - poorly chosen soundtracks to public life can be grating and draining. My least favorite is the same classic rock or pop songs that we’ve all heard hundreds of times.

As an international music star for decades, he appears to live a rather first world life and is simply tending to the environment around him.

Just for fun, this is a restored Seeburg 1000. Playlists, the early years.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2Y6OKy4AMc

It sounds very interesting. Unfortunately, the service seems to require to install Flash

If you click the WinAMP or iTunes link it downloads [listen.pls]( which can be played in any of the previously mentioned players or VLC.

The raw stream is;

All you need is a browser.

Plenty available on YouTube though!

It's not a good restaurant playlist if it doesn't have Massive Attack or Bonobo!

The thing that drove me bonkers when I used to work in restaurants was the monotony of listening to the same 2-3 hour playlist on repeat all day, every day. Certain songs still trigger me if I hear them today. They're fundamentally linked to the restaurant and I always feel a flood of memories when I hear them.

I often put a song on repeat for a day or two. When I hear the song later, it's linked to the place I was at and the work I was doing at the time.

For example, 'Strobe' is linked to waking up early and working in a coffee shop/lounge area with black tea and a banana.

I remember reading something about music being one of the last things to go for patients with dementia, I wonder if there's something related going on there.

I am dating myself here but there was a period of _many years_ where trendy restaurants seemed to be competing to see who could play the most tracks by the Gypsy Kings.

I feel like we're still in the 15+ year era of Kruder & Dorfmeister on repeat at every trendy restaurant and bar ...

Any specific tracks?

> It's not a good restaurant playlist if it doesn't have Massive Attack or Bonobo!

Different people from different backgrounds and social status want to hear different music. How do you attract your target audience? That's the problem to tackle.

Kind of ironic: I knew a group of students in Nottingham (UK) that had to instigate a blanket ban on Bonobo at social gatherings. They played him so frequently after getting back from nights out that it started to get monotonous.

Bonobo and Massive Attack are great great afters/kick ons music.

They both go surprisingly well with ketamine (so I've heard). Nothing like a group of mates getting super weird to Bonobo at 6 AM on a Sunday morning.

I expect to be a lonely voice saying that I actually dislike music playing in the background anywhere I go. I'd rather hear white noise or just the background noise that's present. This will sound a bit nutty, but I've always felt that music is trying to "tell me how to feel" in a sense...as if it's trying to hack my brain and influence my mood. (I'm personifying the music...or perhaps mistrustful of the motives of those playing it?) If a "happy" piece of music is playing then I feel like I'm being influenced to feel happy. If sad/melancholy music is playing I feel like there's an outside influence that's trying to induce me to feel sad. Long story short I find background music to be incredibly distracting and somewhat frustrating.

I agree, but I think more in just a noise level sense. If I'm among the first few to arrive at a restaurant or bar, and it's nearly silent, I don't find that desirable, so some music is nice (or, as you suggest, some white noise, though that might be weird). But once there are enough people in a space to achieve a comfortable background din, the music should just be shut off.

I would prefer that music not [be] the result of algorithmic computation.

This is the problem with so many playlists, automated DJs, and the like. You get the monotonous "best hits" compendiums or ham-handed, jarring mixes with no sense of flow.

This is one of the reasons why I ditched Amazon Music. Many of them seem to be programmed by algorithm ... or by people who have no idea what they are doing.

I've been pleasantly surprised to find that there are a number of music podcasts that satisfy my music needs on a weekly basis. A number of artists I like have weekly "radio" broadcasts that curate music that's caught their ear. (I listen to mostly electronic music though, so YMMV for other genres.)

Yes, me too. If you're interested, my current list is:

- A State of Trance with Armin Van Buuren (though recently he's started adding much more talking so I'm close to dropping it)

- Club Life with Tiësto

- Hardwell on Air

- Corsten's Countdown

- Afrojack: Jacked Radio (this one is really hit-or-miss for me. I skip maybe half the episodes)

As an aside:

- the "Song Exploder" podcast is a fascinating view into what goes into making music though that one falls into the "Talk" category

- I love the old "Timeless Mixes" by the (now defunct) DJ River. Which are helpfully all available as a podcast, so once in a while I'll mark a few of them as unplayed so my player will download them and add them to the playlist.

I'm a big fan of "Vocal Vibes" by Richiere, "Mellomania Vocal Trance Anthems" by Pedro del Mar, and "Uplifting Only" by Original Uplift. Found all of them through the Digitally Imported / DI.FM streaming service.

DI.FM doesn't get enough attention. I subscribe, and have found so much music I love through the service. I'll even occasionally buy individual tracks, through other channels - I think I read somewhere DI.FM was going to start offering music sales but only to US customers initially.

Yeah, it's a great service. Used to be $50/yr, and they recently bumped it to $70. Given that I listen to it anywhere from 5-15 hours a day, I'd say I'm still getting my money's worth :)

That subscription also gives you the same higher streaming quality for DI.fm's sister services for Jazz Radio, Rock Radio, and RadioTunes (which has a great assortment of channels ranging from jazz to decades music to world and ambient).

The app and site let you mark songs as favorites and review a list of songs you've favorited, but there's no obvious way to purchase those. If they added direct purchases, I'd happily go pick up a bunch of my favorite tracks through them.

I had no idea about those other sites, thanks for bringing that to my attention.

Is there a way I could have discovered that from the DI.FM website? Or did they tell me in an email I didn't read when I went premium?

You can find old ASOT mp3s here: http://www.asotarchive.org/

You might be interested in my new weekly electronic music podcast: https://www.patreon.com/digitalscofflaw/posts?tag=Fox%20Popu...

It's all original. I create songs with lots of variations for myself in Ableton to help me focus, then hit record and let it run for ~20 minutes. People seem to like the results.

Try Radio Paradise. You won't be disappointed.

Try di.fm and somafm.com

Sakamoto is one of my all time favorite composers. If you like stripped down, bare piano music you should check out his BTTB (Back to the Basic) album. It's my go-to relaxation spin.

Definitely a great musician and I don’t think most people in the US realize how influential Sakamoto and YMO were worldwide, and how famous they are in Japan. I did not know until recently.

Sakomoto, Haruimi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi created not only several seminal YMO albums, but also dozens of solo albums and projects with a sound that often preceded American and European music by a few years. They are credited with laying the groundwork for techno, electro pop, and dance music. Also, Sakomoto’s influence can be heard in 8 and 16 but Japanese video game music from the 80s and 90s. I’m fact, Yuji Naka is Sega even said he started programming after being inspired by YMO’s electronic music. Ryuichi Sakomoto offering to make a playlist for your restaurant is about like having George Harrison or David Bowie offer to do it.

Sorry about the typo cluster - I meant ‘8 and 16 bit’ and ‘In fact’, and ‘of Sega’. It’s distressing to think I proofread that.

As an aside, I think there has been some interesting trends in the playlists used in public businesses, and mostly for the better.

For example, a few years ago I noticed that Walgreens would generally have pretty good pop music playing. But what was most striking was the songs were not hits, or perhaps older hits, even though most were from major label productions.

I have surmised that companies providing these playlists might be able to negotiate better deals with the publishers, directly, giving the publishers (and writers) an opportunity to monetize their back catalog.

In the UK the broadcast station Virgin Radio used to use "classic album tracks" as its strap line. It was a really good way to dive deeper into the back-catalogues of bands.

Alas not a single mention of if these songs required a whole different set of licenses to play. The act of changing the song list can lead down to a confusing licensing set as there's at least 4 different licensing authorities, each covering a differing set of songs.

Spotify has a service for businesses that includes all the relevant license fees.


Useful link!

My understanding is that if you ever have considered playing music in a business, you pretty much have to get licenses for all of them. AFAIK, ASCAP/BMI/Whoever don't operate their own services, so you're always at risk, if you don't get licenses from everybody, that whatever service you use will play a verboten song and poof there go your profits for the last N quarters.

At least with the ones above (Soundtrack Business), all that licensing seems to be included at least in US/CA. Sounds really complicated to deal with each one otherwise...

Confused. Do restaurants have to pay to play songs?

Yes, legally restaurants have seperate licensing requirements and can't just use Spotify for their music.

In reality, most small restaurants and cafes just use Spotify. Bars and larger restaurants tend to be a bit more fastidious in getting the correct rights.

>In reality, most small restaurants and cafes just use Spotify.

I've even been to cafes where every few songs were interrupted by an ad about the benefits of upgrading to Spotify Premium....

Yes, this is because, a small restaurant can use just Spotify or another music service and not have to pay the license fee. This doesn't apply to larger establishments. (https://www.restaurant.org/Manage-My-Restaurant/Operations/R...)

Now that's a funny drive-by down-vote.

Normally (rant mode on) it is my opinion that most drive-by down-votes are by lazy cowards who think someone's opinion is wrong, but is unwilling to debate (probably because their counter-argument is rather weak, honestly). Too much of this and you get the atypical "mob mentality" typical on most social media networks -- most of which have become intellectual wastelands, replaced by feel-good quick-dopamine-hit memes all focusing on whatever "side" the social media collective has embraced. (Counter-narratives and counter-opinions, beware.)

But this doesn't quite fit the usual pattern. In this case, I must have misinterpreted something, perhaps. But someone is not willing to say what is incorrect.

Interesting! Because, the alternate view is that I'm absolutely right, and the downvoter just had a weird beef with Spotify or restaurant.org. Hard to tell. It's a social media downvote after all.

Yes, because they are playing for a large audience, which isn't covered by the licenses that you use at home.

It’s not about whether the audience is large or small.

Performance rights are about whether it’s public or private and the venue is paid or free. For private use where those present are by invitation only and haven’t paid to be there, I don’t think any further license is necessary, beyond simply owning a copy of the work to be performed.

(IANAL; correct me if I’m wrong.)

If you are a group of people reading a book and discussing it in an organized manner you are supposed to pay royalties for it. (Source, I've gotten such money from Sweden)

Sounds like a good reason to stick to classics in such groups.

Seriously, if I knew about such a stipulation, I'd be incentivized not to buy copyrighted books to read for a book club in the first place.

I'm really glad there is a corpus of public domain works; so much good is possible (or positively incentivized) because of it. Too bad it isn't growing much (e.g. Steamboat Willie is still, still under copyright restrictions nearly 100 years later).

In the UK you have to pay for a PRS licence and also a PPL licence. We pay about £500 a year in licencing to legally play a radio in the warehouse.


> A PRS for Music licence also allows you to play live music on your premises (such as in a pub, restaurant or nightclub).

> PRS for Music collects and distributes money for the use of the musical composition and lyrics on behalf of authors, songwriters, composers and publishers.

(somewhat off-topic)

in school, i took a wonderful class about computer music, taught by the eccentric composer and charismatic professor Dr. Rodney Waschka III. he dedicated one class to the topic of royalties and the three major artist guilds. we learned that any business that wants to play the radio will usually just pay subscriptions to all three guilds rather than keeping track of royalties owed to individual artists.

when Waschka organized campus concerts in this niche and highly academic field of art, these concerts would naturally be performances of pieces written by himself and his colleagues from other universities... so the university paid royalties to Waschka and his colleagues, who would then use the money to commission each other to compose new pieces.

Spotify needs a location-based check-in system where an users’ tastes vote for piped music play, and/or some way to vote on the next song: like a distributed, semi/automated what was turntable.fm.

Check out Rockbot. My gym uses it to crowdsource the next few songs. If you're not at a location that uses it you can tune into their HQ and play music for their employees presumably. Unfortunately you can hear it yourself.

That would be a very interesting, I love Spotify in combination with SoundHound for creating playlists. But being able to cross reference/get better suggestions that way would be neat.

Music selection is a big deal for spaces where people plan to spend social time. I think the reason a lot of places get it wrong is because they are simply not operated by people with good musical taste who understand how important it is to other people.

Starbucks employs music curators: https://www.fastcompany.com/3067250/meet-the-music-nerds-beh...

I saw an article recently which told a tale of trendy coffee shops featuring where obscure but desirable music selected by expert hipster curators. Supposedly, some ask employees to track the number of people they see using Shazam, that being considered a sign of success. I have spent a lot of time in coffee shops while traveling, and I do recall hearing a few songs which stuck with me that I couldn’t find any trace of on the Internet, even after asking in the specific subreddits for the bands related (a unique cover of the Cure, for instance). That certainly doesn’t happen at Dunkin Donuts. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to locate this article.

I always would love to have a curated playlist by someone like Ayreon to "just listen to great music", and not those boring playlists on spotify. Back when I in my teens and the golden age of MP3 was upon us I had more time to do this myself, but nowadays I am getting a bit lost on it all (not enough time to "just discover").

Nice to see this guy tackled the issue (even if for another setting).

This reminds me of a bar I used to frequent that had an electronic jukebox. It was quite the redneck place, and the music was accordingly heavy. Every once in a while my friends and I would go to the jukebox and select a full length record of Concierto de Aranjuez that lasted like 25 minutes. It toned down the raunchy atmosphere and made the place quite enjoyable.

If you're looking for sophisticated but understated dinner music you could do a lot worse than Lenny Breau's "Guitar Sounds". You probably have to torrent to get it but it's worth the effort.

hell yea, lenny breau was an unbelievable talent. and very often forgotten when people talk about great guitarists.

I can't remember the last time torrenting anything had any noticeable effort required.

This is a copy of the playlist made by the nytimes: https://open.spotify.com/user/nytimes/playlist/2YY3rAwm9tldN...

If others agree with the author’s opinion, it makes the case for curation like Apple Music launches with and has been touting as a differentiator.

The best music curation I experienced was a service called Songza, which was acquired by and absorbed into google music. I still have a subscription to google play music, even though the songza playlists had gotten hard enough to find at one point that I stopped trying.

This article & discussion was enough for me to stop working briefly and go research whatever happened, and apparently Peter Asbill is still at Google and I should try again.

Update: holy shit, yeah.

Any recommended playlists? I'd like to check some out, but Google music doesn't specifically tag the Songza playlists

Try random play. It'll spin up a thematic playlist.

I loved Songza as well. It was a sad day when Google bought them out.

Google Play music has very listenable curation now. So worth it.

Why is this on hacker news?

> On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

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