Audio-First #1: The Charter, My AirPods Review, & Must-Reads In The Audio Canon

  
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Hello audio nerds! Thanks for tuning into the inaugural edition of Audio-First. In this series, I plan on exploring all of the dynamism happening across audio and music.

It’s no secret that for startups and creators riding this wave there’s an unprecedented opportunity. This is because most of the tailwinds are less than 5 years old. In 2016, music streaming overtook physical sales and downloads. 65% of today’s active podcast listeners got started in the past 3 years. Voice assistants are ubiquitous in our homes and smartphones, even if they’re underwhelming. Meanwhile, hip-hop surpassed rock as the most popular genre in America just 2 years ago. Bad Bunny, an artist with less than three years in the music business, just sold out MSG this year.

With all these tectonic shifts in audio, there are also new fault lines. There’s a whole new conversation on the economic value of art. There’s an inescapable loudness. In public spaces, I’m in my own world, perhaps to a detriment. I want Audio-First to explore the dark side as well. 

Now as far as I know, “audio-first” isn’t a common term. But it neatly encapsulates this category of technology putting audio front and center. Originally, I bit the term from Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s blog post of the same name. It’s mostly a PR piece explaining why Spotify made big-ticket acquisitions of Gimlet and Anchor. But Ek’s post nicely lays out the opportunity for “audio-first” products:

Consumers spend roughly the same amount of time on video as they do on audio. Video is about a trillion dollar market. And the music and radio industry is worth around a hundred billion dollars. I always come back to the same question: Are our eyes really worth 10 times more than our ears? I firmly believe this is not the case.

Audio feels undervalued, especially given all this new infrastructure.

Fortunately, audio has some big advantages going for it. First, it has unrivaled surface area in our lives. Starting from the oral tradition all the way to the Fortnite headset, it’s the glue of human interaction. Secondly, as Alex Danco laid out in a must-read post, audio has incredible “heat”, meaning it’s information-dense, precise, and high-resolution. Lastly, it’s all here and now. We’re not waiting on another iPhone moment. It’s already happened.

For Audio-First, there’s a ton of angles I can take. I’m probably most qualified to comment on the startup market (which I am currently mapping out for an upcoming edition). But as a music lover and guitar player, I plan to explore trends in music as well. More to come.

AirPods Pro, like ‘Attorneys General’

Since I’ve been a proud AirPod shill for some time, many people have asked me what I think of the new Pro version. In so few words, I love them. The reviews are stellar for a reason: noise canceling is a godsend. Going from V1 AirPods to the Airpods Pro, I’ve realized there’s just a crazy amount of ambient noise in my life. Subways, cars, jackhammers, construction. Urban life has so much noise pollution. We are never going back to the jack-up-the-volume-while-the-bus-is-going-by way of doing things. I bet I won’t use my V1 AirPods ever again.

Aside from noise cancellation, the biggest new addition is the native text message reading. (ICYMI - incoming iMessages are read aloud by Siri.) I love it. More and more, I find myself dictating messages out, especially when I’m outside running. It works fine enough, even if the Siri interaction is a bit slow. To me, it seems obvious that Apple will have a Siri-led category of new apps. It’s just a matter of when.

Interestingly, I rarely use the much-hyped Transparency Mode. In most cases, it’s simply better to live in my audio cocoon. And if I need to hear someone or something, I just take a pod out of my ear so the music stops.

l still think the chief innovation of AirPods is the ability to wear them for 5+ hours, forgetting they’re even there. The newest AirPods Pro satisfy that but add a whole new dimension of immersion. Some smart internet minds are thinking about how noise cancellation could unlock new experiences. Going forward, I’ll be watching what comes with SiriKit intents and noise cancellation. 

Band practice

To give the upcoming editions of Audio-First more context, there are a few quick reads that will make future editions even richer. I highly recommend reading:

  • Why I’m Closely Watching (/Listening To) The Audio Space (blog / slides / video) The TLDR - audio seems poised to be a much bigger part of personal computing. In fact, I think airpods could be remembered as our first taste of transhumanism, and will soon work like a lo-fi AR or a lo-fi Neuralink. But right now, it’s just a familiar blend of music and podcasts.

  • Pop Is Now Good, And Rappers Are The New (Indie) Rock Stars (link) The TLDR - thanks to the internet, ‘niche’ artists can amass huge followings. Consequently, the lines of ‘pop’ versus ‘indie’ have blurred so much it’s almost meaningless now.

  • The Audio Revolution by Alex Danco (link) The TLDR - from the lens of information theory, audio is a surprisingly information-dense medium. More than you probably realize.

  • AirPods As The Next Platform (And The Native Applications Therein) (link) The TLDR - AirPods may be the next platform/infrastructure from which apps and businesses could be built. Already, it’s unlocking new forms of presence. 

Liner notes

The guitarist from Incubus is making a Netflix for live concerts. It’s Unclear Which Beach House Song This Is, reports The Onion. The Phone Call Isn’t Dead, It’s Evolving (featuring some cool audio startups). Musicians on Musicians: Billie Joe Armstrong Interviews Billie Eilish. Searching for deities in Wyoming. When it’s cold, I pretend I’m in Brazil or the 70s (playlists from yours truly). My most-replayed Soulection in months. 

If you enjoyed this email, forward it to a friend. If you didn’t, forward it to an enemy. 

Stay tuned and keep it locked,

Nick

@NpappaG

PS - feel free to send me any news, ideas, or playlists related to Audio-First. Twitter DM is probably the best way to reach me.