So those people who have collections of music on streaming services that you listen to for hours while you work, run, shop, or do just about anything – are they considered musicians or part of the music industry? They are called music curators, and there are actually professions in the music industry specific to them.
What is an Online Music Curator? An online music curator takes songs or samples of songs, categorizes them (genre, feel, instrumentation, vocals, tempo, etc…), then they use that music for various purposes. It’s all about matching tempo and mood for your clients and listeners. Quite often, music curators can help musicians break through to new audiences.
The term music curator can mean so many things, though – from a professional working under the umbrella of a streaming service, to a person in their home studio piecing together samples of songs that flow perfectly together for their audience to listen to. It’s because of this that music curation has a lot in common with being a DJ. You don’t make the music, but you have a passion for it, organize it, use it, and promote it. There is an art to it – anyone who has ever made a mixtape or a playlist for a trip knows this. And it can get complicated.
Streaming & Radio Music Curators
Ever wonder where those playlists come from that are so very popular on Spotify, Amazon Music, or Apple Music? What about the source of the songs played on your local radio stations? Those playlists probably came from a music curator that was hired to put together playlists that will keep subscribers engaged. They keep the playlists up to date by following music trends and finding new artists that flow with the songs already on the playlist.
They take into account the genre and style of the place they are playing – whether it’s a radio station or a digital playlist for a streaming service and go from there. The major difference in these positions is the employer – streaming service or radio?
A radio curator chooses what songs get broadcast, but they must do so based on the station’s format, scheduling, and the interests of the station’s listeners. The idea is to keep listeners happy. Analytics are important to this job, because different people listen at different times of the day. The tone of the music needs to reflect this in a way that keeps the average listener tuned in.
Curators are usually recognized by the streaming service for the portfolio of playlists they have already curated that have a great number of followers. Once they have found the key to keeping their playlists fresh and have a great following, artists and labels will come to them with their music. There are both editorial and niche music curators and they choose the music to put on their playlists and therefore who their followers get to listen to. In other words, a music curator for very popular editorial playlists can make or break new releases.
On the technical side of this role comes the understanding of market trends so that the curator knows which songs to post to a platform. Having knowledge of how algorithms already work within the streaming service (related artists?) can help a curator suggest content from a more human standpoint, so that the playlists do not become too repetitive or lacking heart.
So, technology and the human mind works together in a certain capacity. Professional streaming music curators and editors may also be in charge of responding to requests from listeners, musicians, and labels. Artists have been able to get signed and often become professional musicians after their music ends up on a curated playlist edited by a human being for streaming services like Spotify.
Retail Music Curators
Making sure that the music played for specific commercial spaces matches the vibe a client is trying to achieve takes more than just a good knowledge of genres and styles of music. In this particular form of music curation, the curator must keep in mind the needs of the moment for the client – marketing strategy, advertising campaigns, and their target audience. You wouldn’t put the same kind of music into the soundtrack for a running shoe ad campaign that you’d want for a playlist in an upscale restaurant.
The tone that a company or client is trying to capture is very important to a retail curator. Also, as much as this seems obvious – not interrupting the flow by adding songs that don’t fit the tone or tempo – is necessary. Interruptions and the choice of the wrong music can kill the mood a company is trying to create with a playlist for their retail spaces or events.
Organization is still key. Curated music collections are often categorized in as many ways as possible: genre, mood, instrumentation, BPM, vocals, etc. When a client needs a certain soundscape, the curators need to be able to pull music quickly for sampling.
Retail music curation can run the gambit of niches. Therefore the tone the client wants to portray is very important. After all, retail curation is matching the proper music to the place, event, item, or brand. There are also rules that need to be followed depending upon the project and client. In some cases there will be a request for no vocalists, or specific instrumentation, or no use of specific words or phrases allowed, and almost always, no swearing or sexual references. The curator has to go by the rules of the client or they don’t get paid.
A curator has to also be willing to go out of their “comfort box” for a client in this profession. Just because you like a song or a genre doesn’t mean the client will be pleased with it. And even if you don’t like a specific style of music, perhaps that type of music is precisely what the client needs…or wants. Therefore, overcoming your personal musical biases is a must in this particular portion of the industry. Also, keeping up with popular trends in music can be important, especially when it comes to ad campaigns and commercial marketing.
Online Music Channel Curators
The type of music curator that I first came into knowledge of was the online music curator. These folks are the ones that have channels (usually on YouTube), and much like DJs, make long remixes or long, themed playlists of music that pleasantly flow into one another. These people either use sound and music samples to pull together and make music or they simply pull music together that is of a specific theme into playlists.
Doing this involves having the licensing and rights to actually alter and republish those songs, so that’s something the online music curator is responsible for. Sometimes these “compilation curators” as I call them will get into hot water because of DMCA and licensing issues. So, you see the channels doing fine and then they’ll lose videos or be removed if there is a question of the curator having the rights to the songs they publish on a digital platform. I discuss things like this in another article.
One of my favorites is ChilloutDeer on YouTube and because I like this kind of music, the hubs has begun experimenting as well on his own channel Geek Digital Music. He purchases licensing to songs and samples and then either remixes the music to create new songs or places the music in themed playlists.
In this way, they publish the music on their channels and help the newer tracks get attention while keeping the older tracks relevant. There are also curators that find music specifically for people to use in online production and streaming as well. They sell licensing subscriptions to their collection. Epidemic Sound, for instance, has one such collection.
Online music channel curators are beginning to have international influence on music. They are creating some of the largest distribution networks in the world and the music industry is not ignorant to this – as a matter of fact, they’re cashing in on it. As these curators get more popular, they are being brought into the umbrellas of the streaming services out there – a perfect example is Proximity, the curators of this YouTube channel describe it as such – “Your favorite music you haven’t heard yet. We are one of the largest outlets for distributing EDM in the world.” Well, they also are major curators of playlists on Spotify – Proximity which updates weekly their choices of EDM, Chill, and Drive music.
I just wanted to share that I have a favorite music curator that began in 2010 as a music-only YouTube channel and now has a huge following. Mr.SuicideSheep actually now has a website where he has portals for both musicians and artists to submit their creations for him to curate. This curator has over 12 million subscribers on YouTube – MrSuicideSheep where there are genre and themed playlists of music that have been submitted. This channel began in 2010 and is still curated by a still-anonymous individual who has left the following quote for their audience:
“On this channel you will find a wide variety of different electronic and sometimes non-electronic music. I strive to find the best and most enjoyable music for you guys. I hope you have a good time here :)”
This has not changed, even though Mr.SuicideSheep on Spotify is a major influencer now among the music curators. They have 26 public playlists and over 116K followers on that streaming platform alone. The channel was signed under a company called the District along with several other branded Online Music Channels. The District owner, Josh Carr-Hilton, brings up a very valid point about the kind of curation these channels have.
“Every decision for every account is made by a person,” he says. “It’s always guided in terms of what somebody thinks someone else is going to love, and they can justify it. The subscribers trust the brand to give them something of quality. It’s that little gift they come back every day to receive, and it’s not something that’s picked by an algorithm.”
“Our channels have a presence on Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud as well, but YouTube is a pretty unique platform for creating an ecosystem where people can have conversations, and we can communicate back to them,” he continues. “The accounts build that rapport with their fanbase every day, and people start coming back and finding it as a home. We have individuals or other channels who are always the first to comment on videos, and do something unique and funny. Then fans start latching on to them, and if they don’t post, there’ll be hundreds of comments asking where that guy went.”
In other words, this kind of growth is organic. Fans get a personal say in what is curated. And that usually means that the following will last for a very long time.