Dave Rowntree is normally the mild-mannered one sat behind his drums, flying a plane, or working as a solicitor. While Damon tries to change the world or Alex takes some of his latest cheese round to the Cameron’s for supper, Blur’s tub thumper has hit out at the discovery skills of streaming services – and Spotify takes quite a pasting.
Speaking to Stuff for the August issue (out 1 July), Rowntree, who has his own new music show on Xfm, said: “Streaming services are some of the worst music discovery platforms I've ever seen. Look at the recommendations in Spotify: if you play a Blur track it tells you that you might also like Pulp and Oasis. No! Really? It's just pathetic.”
“I can't believe they're doing it with algorithms,” he continues. “It's too clever for algorithms but too stupid for humans. I don't think there's any value in coming up with a magic algorithm to draw connections between music anyway. They’re not mechanical, they’re deeper and more interesting than that.”
Rowntree isn't anti-Spotify or anti-streaming – far from it, in fact: “There's no love lost between me and Spotify but I'm still a subscriber,” he says. “As a music resource it's one of the best in the world but one hopes Apple will have a better go of it than Spotify did.”
That means we’ll almost certainly see Blur on Apple Music, which launches with its three-month free trial later today, and its human-centric approach of hiring industry experts such as Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga is sure to please Rowntree – to an extent.
“Getting a bunch of experts in to start with is a rather more interesting way of setting things up,” he says. “Deezer gets trusted curators in each territory to draw up lists of recommendations but that can only really ever reflect the tastes of a fairly small segment of the population.”
Rowntree would rather see the job handed over to the listeners, but isn’t convinced the streaming services will go for that. “We have social media to draw these connections now. It’s the way every other kind of creative medium does it, so why has music got to be different? Streaming services have found themselves with a lot of power and that gives control over to somebody else, so I imagine that’s the last thing they want to do.”
So what of Tidal and Jay-Z’s band of audio avengers? Does hi-def audio hold the key to streaming success? “Part of the reason music went 'low res' is because it went online and internet speeds were slow. Now that's no longer an issue perhaps things will change but in general it takes a driver to make things happen,” Rowntree explains. “Just because there's an opportunity to have better sounding music doesn't mean people will grab it.”
“The leap in quality isn't nearly as big as it was from vinyl to CD, so that alone probably isn't going to do it, especially if they’re going to have to spend more money [to get it]. If there’s some must-have hardware, that might do it, but just the increase in quality probably isn’t enough.”
For more on the future of music discovery, pick up Stuff’s August issue, which is on-sale on 1 July, available from all good newsagents, Apple’s Newsstand or pointing your web browser at newsstand.co.uk/stuff