Talk: Eurobest 2014, Helsinki, Finland. (verbatim)

I joined the BBC in November 2013 shortly after our division, BBC Digital, launched Playlister, an online music service which enables signed-in users (in the UK) to curate playlists of any music they hear on the BBC. Be it on TV, Radio or online. These can then be exported to other digital music services such as Spotify. It’s a pretty neat, and it’s engaging our younger audiences with a more personalised BBC experience.

At the time of its launch a developer friend of mine questioned the need for yet another means of consuming music online, when the opportunities to do so already appear endless.

This got me thinking. Not about an answer to his question, but about the sheer amount of digital content available to us and our subsequent increased rate of consumption.

It struck me that we no longer “chew our food”, so to speak. We gorge!

So is it better to gorge or savour?

Well both are satisfying for different reasons, therefore having the choice is great. But I’d suggest we encourage the latter from time-to-time, as savouring and spending time with what we consume is a healthier, more fulfilling experience.

Bringing this back to music; we all know the internet made a massive impact on the music industry. It had to adapt and change since it was losing revenue. Recording artists changed their approach and expectations. And as music fans we changed the way we consume.

It’s no surprise then that recording artists and their management now focus much more effort on crafting the live experience. On touring and gigging. This is where they can actually earn some money. And we, the consumer, spend more money on going to concerts than ever before.

It’s at a concert that we actually listen to a band’s entire track list, since there’s no option to skip. This is good. We leave the event feeling satisfied. We’ve ‘experienced’ something memorable, out in the world, with other people. And, importantly, we spent time with that artist.

Being a child of the seventies and eighties, I experienced the vinyl years, the CD years, and now digital, (not to mention tapes and mini-discs along the way). And as a designer who cut his teeth working for the music industry, I’ve designed packaging for all these formats. Fear not, I’m not about to mourn the loss of physical product. I can assure you I’m quite comfortable owning less plastic. I do however miss the pre-digital quality time I’m sure many of us used to spend with an album or artist.

As we snack track by track, artist by artist, it appears we’re opening the flood gates for the X-factor generation to pour in with their delicious pop treats which, whilst tasty, lose their flavour very quickly. We’re caught in an endless and rapid cycle of selection and disposal.

If the tech world can create conveyor belts of endless everything for us to snack on, could it not also create different ways to consume?

How about an app which only allows you to listen to one album a month, or one artist or playlist? This would give both the listener and the recording artist a chance at a relationship, as opposed to endless speed dating. No one wants to speed-date forever. We want to fall in love.

This idea isn’t regressive. It merely offers restriction. An alternative way to consume. A diet! And diets can be healthy.

There’s no denying that when Digital disrupted the music industry, something far more important than money was lost. Perhaps then, Digital should be the one to bring it back.


I gave this talk at the 2014 Eurobest tech conference in Helsinki. The format of the session, “The Tech Off”, was devised and presented by Tech Dept. Three leading technologists and/or creatives are each given five minutes to foist an idea, observation or challenge. The audience then select a winner, (using a clap-o-meter) :-D

Read a review here.

UX Principal, BBC. Former member of The Designers Republic and owner/director of Kiosk.

UX Principal, BBC. Former member of The Designers Republic and owner/director of Kiosk.