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Streaming in a State of Flow

Excellent article by Joe Weix for the Dropbox blog about the Flow State newsletter:

A current obsession—call it a trend, if you must—are flow state playlists, which have become kind of a thing in the last few months. Basically, they’re heavily curated collections of music designed to assist people needing a little extra gumption. They’re like a nice afternoon caffeine boost, without having to deal with a rude barista.

One of the best work playlists out there currently is a newsletter called Flow State. Every weekday morning, it sends a batch of albums (or playlists, or mixtapes…) of perfect music to work to, usually around two hours worth, designed to get you into a productive, er, flow state.

I am a subscriber to the newsletter for sometime now, and really enjoy many of suggestions from “Marcus”. And his shorts paragraphs about the artist and the music in question are always very interesting. 

The article popped up in my twitter timeline yesterday, but now I noticed it is from March 2019. I wonder how much his subscriber base has grown since then, when it had over 4,000 subscribers.

Flow State runs a substack newsletter, with free and paid versions. A subscription (US$ 49.99/year or US$6.99/month), besides rewarding the authors for their effort, gives access to private Spotify and Apple Music playlists (over 500 hours of music) and weekly podcasts with two-hour mixes. 

Users can also contribute US$99.99/years while getting the same features.

(A bit off-topic but worth mentioning: these Substack prices are a problem for international markets. Useful to compare with the Spotify situation: Spotify Premium charges US$9.99 in U.S., but its global ARPU in the 2020 Q1 was US$4.87, less than half. Consider Brazil, a very important market for Spotify: a local subscription costs the equivalent of US$3.25. To makes things even worse, a Substack subscription costs relatively more, because international transactions with a credit card have a worse exchange rate and an additional 6.38% tax. So, paying US$6.99 for a Substack in Brazil costs 2.5x the local price of Spotify premium, while for U.S. customers, the same value represents only 0.7x of Spotify Premium!)

Anyway, I want to highlight one point about the story, where Marcus tells about his plans for the future of Flow State:

He has big future plans for the newsletter. This includes adding new features for premium users, like building out a digital library, as well as creating community features, like an internet art project in which all subscribers attempt together. And if all that works, “perhaps even provide non-music things to help people focus.”

As of July 2020, those new features have not been released but no problem there. The newsletter is working very well as it is, but the idea of a Flow State-based digital library and community features seems like a great one and it is exactly what I wish that Spotify or other music services were working on and eventually releasing.

I really wonder how premium subscribers handle a 500 hour playlist. Or instead, as Marcus says, the ideal playlist should last two hours: are there 250 shorter playlists for them to navigate?

The routine for free subscribers is even less practical. As the weeks go by, I gather dozens of great music recommendations from the newsletter in my mail inbox. I can listen to the songs, I can add them to a playlist of my own, I can “like” them, I can make a note about an album or artist in my todo list or I can simply archive the emails for later. The amount of great recommendations that must have slipped through is likely huge.

What I like most about this story is that Flow State is a music recommendation purposely built to help people focus at work and be more productive. So it makes all sense that the music recommendation service should itself be focused and organised. It is no small irony that the article praising Flow State ran on a blog hosted by Dropbox, a service designed to keep keep people collaborating in an organised, synchronised way.

So yeah, as it is, one can say that the limitations of current music streaming services are an important obstacle for many listeners to enter and maintain a state of flow while they concentrate at work, study etc.

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