Things change. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to navigate your way around a new city, you’d buy a map, and, if you were extra industrious, or just really lost, maybe a compass. If you wanted to listen to music while you were bumbling around this metropolis, you’d pop a CD into your walkmen. Maybe this would be an album from one of your favorite artists, or perhaps a new discovery. Back then, the artist would take months, sometimes years, pouring over their sound, sequencing and packaging their music in order to deliver a perfect, cohesive reflection of where their head was at. It’d be up to you to evaluate the merits of this album, and you’d do so by judging it against a set of established criteria. You’d have a lot of help in this — there were entire communities of fans and critics, and this collective provided a framework for evaluating the merits of popular music.
But, like I said, things change. Today, you’re probably more likely to find a map on someone’s wall as you are in their backpocket, and while artists still make albums (great ones, in fact), people are just as likely to listen to a playlist as they are an album or a single. There are communities of curators, both professional and amatuer, who craft hundreds of these beauties every week, and these playlists are scattered across dozens of websites and digital music services. Speaking as a former lead for editorial teams at Google Play Music and Rhapsody, and as a founder of this here media agency, Third Bridge Creative, I can tell you that there is specific criteria for creating and judging a good playlist. Curation, it turns out, is an art form, and, like all art forms, it can and should be judged on its merits.
Traditional music outlets such as Pitchfork or Rolling Stone have yet to acknowledge this shift, and so we’ve created the first site that treats the playlist like a piece of art. The site is called The Dowsers, named after the ancient process of searching for water or precious metals, which we thought was an apt metaphor for our own search for the perfect playlists. On the site, we collect the best mixes from around the web — yes, we are practicing the meta-craft of curating curators — and we use our decades of experience as professional curators to mold our critiques. We also create awesome original playlists, because that’s what we’re good at. We aim to be your map and compass for the ever-expanding world of digital curation; we want to show you our favorite spots, and ensure that your own musical journey is safe and rewarding.
We’ve assembled a great team to do this. Our day job here at Third Bridge is creating hundreds of pieces of editorial content for digital music services every week (check out this excellent essay by my partner about how we do this), as well as bleeding-edge content for brands and websites — like data-visualizations of hip-hop sample data, or recipe videos that explain band influences. To accomplish all this, we’ve assembled a team that includes writers and editors from Pitchfork, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and many others, as well as curators from Google, Spotify, Rhapsody and Apple. This same team will be your guides on The Dowsers.
Needless to say, here at Third Bridge we love music. But we’re also gluttons for data, and we’re experts at using analytics to gain insights into how people engage with music. This post is the first in a series where we’ll take readers behind the scenes of The Dowsers. We’re practitioners of the dark art of content marketing, but we’re also fans of full transparency, so think of these posts as open source content strategy. In the coming weeks, we’ll share the results of our experiments on The Dowsers, and how those inform the business decisions we make for the site, as well as Third Bridge as a whole. Expect to encounter terms like KPIs, dashboard, audience targeting, promo spend, etc. We’ll also throw in some colorful graphs.
My partner, Garrett Kamps, and I have a combined 20 years creating and selling music content in the digital space. If you love music, go check out The Dowsers. If you’re in the business, or are just interested in how the sausage is made, check back here for future installments of this series. It should be a fun ride.