When it comes to music listening, curated streams are “the new black.”
As the public’s hunger for music – and the potential of exposing one’s melodic and lyrical art to masses of people on a global scale – has never been higher, the desire of music listeners to hear their favourite songs whenever, wherever, and however they want has led to a demand for curated streams.
That includes a new market for music streams curated by listeners themselves, which is the idea behind a promising new Canadian start-up Milq – a service designed to let participants collectively curate, and thereby organize, the world’s culture.
“The intention is to allow people to collectively curate, and by doing that, to organize the world of culture.” – Jordan Jacobs of Milq
Milq is the Canadian-American brainchild of three people: Torontonians Jordan Jacobs and Tomi Poutanen and New York-based Don MacKinnon. As a service, Milq is a curator of all things cultural, of which music is simply one component. Milq has been available online since November 2014, headquartered in Toronto with a staff of 12, with an additional office in New York.
“The idea behind Milq is simply is that we’ve reached this amazing place: all the world’s cultural content is available on demand to anyone on any device, which should be a fantastic experience,” says Jacobs, a former entertainment lawyer with Toronto firm Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP and his own Jacobs Entertainment & Media Law. “But we feel like it’s completely overwhelming, just based on cacophony.”
Jacobs describes Milq, which he calls “sort of a playable Wikipedia,” as a platform of engagement and community that “enables a niche audience to co-exist in a wider world. What we tried to build is cross-cultural, and it allows people to indulge their really super-niche interests, but in a wider context where you’re connected to the rest of it,” he explains. “That’s an experience that doesn’t really exist elsewhere.”
How does it work?
“Anything I search produces an automatic playlist,” Jacobs explains. “Everything is deeply tagged and indexed. We have much more metadata about every single piece of content and the tastes of the users, so we’re able to present people stuff that they like but is generally outside of their frame of knowledge; and when you click a tag, it produces immediately, in real time, a playlist.
“So whether it’s ‘New York Punk’ or the year ‘1985,’ whatever it happens to be, we type it and produce an immediate playlist for you and also show you every existing playlist where that tag has been used. Because of that, you see connections to things that you can’t find anywhere else. You get every frame of reference for an artist or a song, so that part I think is fascinating for people.
“Anyone can ask any question – whether it’s as simple as favourite cover songs, as niche as Polish jazz, or as obscure as you want to get – and then everyone can answer that question using media from Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram or Vine, and play it back using Rdio or Spotify.
“We basically pull content from everywhere so those playlists operate seamlessly. And those answers, when they come in, get organized on the back end by algorithms that are deeply tagged and indexed and really are meant to determine the best quality and most personalized taste for you.
“So the intention is to allow people to collectively curate, and by doing that, to organize the world of culture.”
Jacobs says hundreds of thousands of listeners/curators are currently using Milq, with partners ranging from The New York Times to the NBA to various record labels.
“Because the content is being curated by a person standing behind it and writing about it, it’s much more thoughtful and you end up with a much richer, deeper experience, and a community behind it,” says Jacobs. “So if you like something, you can connect with the person who happened to put it there, and you start to see these relationships forming from people across the world.”
Jacobs developed and produced the Elvis Costello songwriter performance/interview series Spectacle, and his co-founding partners have similarly illustrious histories, working in fields that prepared them well for Milq. Don MacKinnon founded Hear Music, later sold to Starbucks, and known for such titles as Bob Dylan’s Live At The Gaslight 1962, Joni Mitchell’s Shine and the multiple-Grammy winning Ray Charles album of duets, Genius Loves Company. Tomi Poutanen, the company’s Chief Technical Officer, ran Yahoo Search International and created Yahoo Answers.
As far as who Milq appeals to, Jacobs says the simple answer is everyone, from “kids up to great-grandparents.” He says classical music skews “older,” as do people using Milq on their computers; the younger generation uses it on their cellphones, and EDM lovers usually skew “younger.”
Jacobs says Milq has not yet begun to monetize its company, but hopes to eventually obtain sponsors for their playlists, and will be announcing partnerships “with lots of different cultural organizations and creators” within the next six months.