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interview

Mark Williamson

ROSTR

Mark joined Spotify in 2011 & helped start (& then ran) the Artist Relations team there for almost a decade. After leaving Spotify, Mark founded ROSTR - A startup building technology to help create a fairer & more connected music industry. Mark currently lives in Baja, Mexico with his wife & 3 boys (one of which is furry.)

Mark Williamson

Where are you based?

My family & I had been living in L.A. for the last 5 years, but a couple of months into the pandemic we packed up & moved out. We spent the winter in the mountains around Tahoe but in the spring we moved to Todos Santos on Baja, Mexico.

Where do you work? What do you do?

I run a startup I co-founded called ROSTR

We’re a modern version of the music industry directory. We’re currently tracking 150k+ relationships across the music industry between artists & around 10K labels, agencies & management companies.

What are you listening to?

Music has taken a slight back-seat to soccer in the last month as I’ve had a lot of the Euro championships on in the background! Otherwise very recently I’ve had the return of Kings of Convenience and Polo & Pan’s new record on a lot. 

How do you discover new music?

Part of what we do at ROSTR is keep an eye on up & coming artists. So I tend to be across a lot of new music (almost by osmosis). 

But, I’m actually more in a zone right now where I’m digging into catalogues of indisputably great artists who I haven’t spent nearly enough time with (vs trying to find some hot new artist on a playlist).

What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?

I spent almost a decade at Spotify, which I joined after becoming obsessed with the service, so I’m definitely a streamer by default. 

However, I find myself increasingly listening to digital radio. I feel like my ~10 years of listening history on Spotify has dug a deep algorithmic hole. So I’m leaning more on traditional radio curation, on great stations like BBC 6Music, to help me climb out of it & into more variance / serendipity.

“I’m leaning more on traditional radio curation”

Where do you do most of your music listening?

Mostly when working, which these days is from a spare bedroom in an AirBnB.

How do you find and listen to pre-release music?

These days, I don’t really. I had enough pre-release links sent to me in my Spotify days to last me multiple lifetimes 😉

What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?

My biggest frustration with digital music & the way DSPs & streaming have evolved in general is that there’s been such a de-emphasis on “your library”. Spotify has recently made some improvements but you can probably still get better library functionality if you spun up an old PC with Winamp on it. 

I don’t think this is entirely unintentional either. Every DSP & music service out there wants to be able to “drive streams”. They want to have promotional power. They do this by shifting your behavior so you’re more likely to listen to 🔥 HOT  NEW PLAYLIST™ that they control than that album you found that you might really love if only you gave it 2-3 more listens. 

For an illustrative analog take a look at your Netflix account. “My List” is about as much library functionality as the largest & longest serving video platform wants you to have. They want their carousels, filled with Netflix originals, to choose your viewing for you. 

Music streaming is basically on the same track & that kind of sucks…

Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist

Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.

Listen on Spotify

Do you tip other people off to new music? How?

I have a couple of text chains with friends where we share music. Often via Spotify link. I guess we also do this at a much larger scale through ROSTR where we highlight new music / new artists to our users.

Anything you want to “promote”?

ROSTR! If you work in, or with, the music industry it’s a platform you’ll probably find valuable. We have a version that’s 100% free to use (no ads either) & we recently launched a new ROSTR Pro tier which has a series of powerful tools to help professionals & companies work with the industry more effectively.

"My biggest frustration with digital music & the way DSPs & streaming have evolved in general is that there’s been such a de-emphasis on your library"

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