I’ve always loved music. I’m a trained musician and completed an undergraduate and postgraduate research degree in music technology – the intersection between analogue and digital. From recording audio and manipulating it to writing my own software, I was hooked. I’d always enjoyed choosing music to listen to especially at social gatherings and had a short stint on university radio as a late night presenter.
After graduating I spent 20 years building a solid career in enterprise IT in education, healthcare, manufacturing and research which has been both a learning curve and overall an excellent choice.
In 2018 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I underwent surgery and radiotherapy taking a full year off work, thanks to my employer, returning in 2019. During that time off all I could really do was listen to music, physically unable to do much more. The surgery had a difficult recovery period and 6 weeks of radiotherapy straight to the area around my brain stem really knocked me sideways. I made some of my Spotify playlists public and gained a small following. My playlists were solely based on personal choice, tunes I’d listened to and ‘collected’ over the years plus a few new ones. I left it at that as I liked my own playlists; I’m sure you like your own playlists! Music was a key part of my recovery, ongoing to this day.
In 2020 during the height of the pandemic I found myself at home again for the majority of the time, when all hospitality and retail venues were closed. I mused on whether such a thing as ‘music consultant’ really existed. It turned out there were loads; agencies large and small, all with a client base and turnkey technology playback solutions. I didn’t have any of those and I was still working for my employer. Something inside me encouraged me to try something small, something new, something different.
And so it began. I decided I wanted to do something that I loved as a hobby, maybe more.
Weddings – the beginning.
I couldn’t find anything to do with music consultants or playlist designers for weddings. Sure, there were loads of playlists and websites with suggestions like, “The best wedding songs EVER!!!” but I personally found them a bit uninspiring. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the predictable classical choices, the retro tunes without meaning or the listless covers-by-numbers that I heard time and time again. Acoustic guitars, solo singers and piano accompaniment is all really good for weddings but the sheer quantity available means a quality filter is required. I remember when we got married I’d have really liked someone to come up with a long playlist for the reception (not evening). We really didn’t have time to sort it and relied on the venue’s stock offering of classical music. It didn’t spoil the day but I remember thinking it could’ve been better.
So I set up a business squarely aimed at the hospitality and retail sectors which were most definitely closed in summer 2020. Excellent business planning there. I chose a name, designed a logo which I got as registered trademark shortly afterwards by doing it all myself (you don’t need special agencies but it does take time) and bought several variants of my domain name.
I ventured forth with a small trial of wedding playlists, set up a website and had a go, mindful it would be a very slow start and I needed to remain employed (as I do to this day) and my employer had been very fair to me so I resolved to fit it in to evenings, weekends and the odd lunch break. This does mean I can’t do much in the day but my priority during working hours was (and still is) to them.
Just start something.
Sometimes in life, the best way to start something is to just start it. It wasn’t going to be high profile in any case, a small group of friends and family would see it initially and learning from my illness I realised that there wasn’t time to plan everything, I had to just do it.
The industry was still effectively closed.
Still, I ploughed on. I thought wedding couples and venues might want something personal and unique. Couples might want help like I did, and venues might like to offer mix’n’match offerings to couples where the venue, vibe and mood is guaranteed rather than being a playlist that kind of fits the bill. Weddings are so unique that each one requires customisation and venues may have a very definite idea about their house style, or what they’d like to offer couples.
I’m an added expense, and a premium one at that. Unlike a photographer, where clients get an album, perhaps a video, digital images and copyright, I offer the transfer of a playlist, but I can also offer on-site delivery thus taking away all the stress of playlists. I also offer part of my fee as a donation to Brain Tumour Support and wedding couples receive a free bear… It’s not exactly much in the way of physical product, although the playlists are a nice keepsake. I set my ambitions high and my prices intentionally high. After all, my dedication of my spare time would (a) limit the number of concurrent clients and (b) I really do want to make the very best playlists I can so I genuinely audition every single track and would be willing to do it on-site if needed.
I didn’t have time to go to wedding fayres just as they were starting back up although they do fit into the model of evenings and weekends. I partnered with a few wedding sites: Wedding Planner (who kindly offered me free membership thanks to an introduction by my friend Luke Moore), Guides For Brides and Bridebook receiving precisely one enquiry. I refined the offering, made it more cohesive and to date is still where the action is for HumanPlaylistr.
Technology for consultancy, curation, delivery and playback.
I had to come up with some information about how the service is designed. Playlist creation and curation is all on Spotify. A premium account helps clients but is not strictly necessary. Playlists are handed over to clients – they are the product that are paid for and ultimately belong to the client. I endeavour to not reuse tracks between clients but sometimes a track will ‘just fit’.
I didn’t and still don’t have my own technology platform. There’s no magic box you can plug into your sound system and away you go. There are agencies who can do that and do it very well. But I turned this into my advantage. There’s no requirement for anything other than Spotify for domestic and closed events. For commercial and trading venues I use Soundtrack Your Brand, which started life as Spotify for Business so transfer from Spotify is seamless. Soundtrack Your Brand provides a subscription model that takes care of licences (a PRS PPL licence will also be required) at the expense of the client, along with the cost of a playback device (could be an old iPhone with no SIM but does have WiFi for example). However, there’s no vendor lock-in with me and clients are welcome to take their playlists and subscriptions with them. I’d hope I’d be involved with future curation for playlist refreshes but it won’t always be the case. My remote delivery platforms are free (Bitrix24, Zoom, Trello) – it’s surprising how capable these tools are at the free tier for small businesses and it’s incredible they’re made freely available.
All of this means low technology overheads and the bare minimum is passed to the client where it’s unavoidable. I’ve assembled a suite of industry standard tools and am now confident in their delivery. You can read more about remote collaboration here, and delivery and playback here.
Expanding my ideas.
As the pandemic eased in 2021 I started knocking on doors, talking to as many people as I could in the industry to consider what I should do next I designed an increasing number of playlists. I relaunched my website – humanplaylistr.com – in its current form again doing everything myself with a template by Codings.dev (excellent support, I have learned much about how WordPress works) created social media channels, made all the artwork and videos using my Envato and Twenty20 subscriptions, learning in the process how to build a WordPress website, Adobe Premiere, After Effects and Photoshop, Canva, Trello, Bitrix24 and finally DaVinci Resolve. A bit of traction was gained and I ended up speaking to Cyanite.ai and Kollekt.fm. I was surprised to speak with them due to my relative newness. I think they were attracted by my novel domain name of all things, especially with Cyanite which is an artificial intelligence-based music tagging and analysis engine – it sounds at odd with what I do but actually is a very powerful verification and validation tool for what I do, rather than me saying, “Trust me, this is what this playlist does.”
Since then I’ve refined my website in 2022 and honed the offering into something I feel is unique to the marketplace. 100% handcrafted playlists made by me and only me. No third parties, no contractors, no team of people (take note cold calling sales – perhaps have a read of my website before you offer me global telecom development teams yeah?) What I’m selling is my taste and capabilities in music, combined with client requests and matching their requirements to make something individually crafted and refined. I don’t want to do the equivalent of your mate playing something and saying, “Listen to THIS!” – you probably won’t like it.
I also launched a client portal using Bitrix24 which means that all project progress, paperwork and communications are kept in one place. No more guessing whether an email was received or what action is taking place; projects are given live kanban boards and planners for precise details, financial documents are retrievable along with many other project assets.
Yes, but what is music consultancy and playlist design?
Music consultancy actually has a couple of meanings, so I added playlist design as a more descriptive version of what I do. I have a large library of catalogued tracks that I can match to your event or venue, whilst also adding your preferences (genres, styles or actual tracks). I then expand that playlist to the length required, finding new music if required. I can then hand over the playlist or organise commercial playback technology and performance licences (in the UK). Whilst it’s done by intuition and feel, with many hours of auditioning, I do have tools that back up my playlists’ abilities.
My pricing is transparent, scalable and flexible – if there’s a particular requirement we can talk about it especially if there will be a repeat requirement. It might seem expensive but I genuinely estimated how much time, effort and resources I would put into the hours required for a playlist.
I know, it could be clearer and it’s a bit of a hard sell.
This is where you’ll have to trust me. I have researched as much as I can that having the right music can help almost anywhere. It also needs to be the right volume, delivered on a quality audio system or you might as well be on a station platform.
There are 3 videos that attempt to convey the idea of music consultancy succinctly, starting with the original promo I made using Adobe After Effects in 2021:
I then made this very short one for social media, again using Adobe After Effects in early 2021:
Then finally I made this one in December 2021 using DaVinci Resolve:
There are more videos on my YouTube channel which attempt to convey how I can understand the vibe of specific venues and how I can assist. I’ve also done a couple for featured playlists such as Island Retreat. They’re really just for attracting attention in social media feeds as the static links to Spotify playlists aren’t always dynamic enough, despite me spending considerable time trying to get the playlists covers artwork appealing and readable on small screens.
Aside from creating more playlists for specific venues (modern busy restaurants, premium car dealerships, luxury boutiques, morning coffee shops etc.) featured and general playlists, I’m looking at mood analysis for playlists (as mentioned above) starting with Cyanite to gain an understanding of how moods change across playlists. I’ll post another time about that as it will cover an entire post on its own, but for now the focus is on creating more content, more playlists and more visible activity. The website is actually nearly 2 years old and recently underwent a refresh and update with a more logical layout so please do take a look.
I can be contacted via any of my social media channels or you can send me a message via my website. I also opened a submissions service because a big thing I discovered in playlists is paid-for playlist additions. Of course it exists, I was just naïve to it. I clarified that no-one can pay to be placed on my playlists but they’re welcome to submit music I possibly didn’t know about. It didn’t even have to belong to the person submitting, it can be anything as long as it’s on Spotify. I’m not affiliated nor represent any artist, label or manager. What you hear is what I want to add.
I hope you like my playlists or at least they spark your imagination. Whatever your requirements, getting the music right at your events and venues across hospitality, retail service, leisure, travel and virtual sectors is becoming increasingly important. What I offer is a truly individual experience, bespoke in every manner which includes the fact that I wear every hat in the company as a sole trader, so you know exactly who your queries should go to!
My time is still restricted so I operate on a first come first served basis and once I have my maximum number of concurrent clients there is a waiting list available. It’s been quite the journey and I’m still learning but I promise, 100% guarantee I’ll do my very best to make your playlists as good as they can be, meticulously crafted with an uncompromising approach to getting the best result.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.