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interview

Robert Kaye

MetaBrainz Foundation

Founder of MusicBrainz, the open music encyclopedia. Executive Director (and Mayhem & Chaos Coordinator) of the MetaBrainz Foundation. After studying Computer Engineering at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Robert spent the dot com boom on EMusic’s FreeAmp team. Robert is also an active hardware hacker, creating art projects for Burning Man regional festivals. 

Robert Kaye

Where are you based?

Barcelona, Spain is home. Before the pandemic I would bounce around the world wherever cheap airfare would take me, so I spent a lot of time living in and taking in the world, but those times are now past. However, Barcelona without tourists is truly magical!

Where do you work? What do you do?

The MetaBrainz Foundation. Nominally I am the Executive Director — this means I deal with supporters (customers), some bigdata/recommendation engine engineering, some hosting, some legal, some business, managing my team and everything else that no one else wants to do.

What are you listening to?

Space Walk, by Lemon Jelly, but my whole listening history can be found here.

How do you discover new music?

Right now, I primarily listen to Spotify and find new music through it.

But, I am very unhappy being tied to one platform and that people must be tied to platforms in the first place. For that reason I’ve been investing a lot of time into the ListenBrainz project which is similar to what last.fm used to do back in its heyday.

We’re working very hard to allow users to find other users who have similar music tastes and then to be able to explore what they are listening to. We’re also working to create an open music recommendation engine, that is free of bias and works to recommend music fairly and not based on what someone is trying to sell you.

So in a way, this answer is very poor, but I really hope that our work can change this for myself and many others going forward.

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

Digital. All digital. I gave away my CD collection in 2013 and don’t even have the means to play a CD, let alone a cassette.

Where do you do most of your music listening?

At work and at home. Each computer has at least decent speakers and each room at home has a good quality stereo system or Sonos speaker. Music is the background to my life and I cannot do without. 

I walk to my office (a few minutes away) so I never listen to music when commuting. However, if I am traveling, I always have my noise cancelling headphones on to try and keep sane.

As far as when I listen to music, check out my reports here. Now with a spiffy map of where the artists are from that I am listening to.

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

I spend so much time building music discovery tools that I have very little time to … discover music. We’re working very hard to change this so that we can use our tools to escape the confines of people who wish to sell us their music!

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

I am most frustrated with music silos and the utter lack of interoperability between these systems. Music that is recommended in these silos is recommended to sell more music and less for you to discover the music you like. I hate this and am spending many waking hours fixing this.

“I am most frustrated with music silos and the utter lack of interoperability between these systems. Music that is recommended in these silos is recommended to sell more music and less for you to discover the music you like.”

How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?

ListenBrainz — see above!

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?

My teammates and I are constantly recommending music to each other. One of them is constantly on Bandcamp and when new stuff comes out that I might appreciate, he sends me a link. Given that we’re all digital people, we share links to music, rather than sending music to each other.

Anything you want to “promote”?

ListenBrainz. We’re working hard to re-create the cool features of last.fm that have been lost over the years. If anyone has is a Spotify listener and you’d like to get some slick insights into your listening habits, come link your Spotify account.

We’re working to tie in as many music sources as possible, but these silos do not make it easy for us.

"I am very unhappy being tied to one platform and that people must be tied to platforms in the first place."

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