In other words, streaming service’s playlists are a new form of radio. “Bodak Yellow” was passed by on most AM/FM stations; it owes the bulk of its success to RapCaviar, which has around 7.6 million followers and is effectively the rap and hip-hop community’s new megaphone. “Rockstar,” a single from rapper Post Malone, recently reached #2 in the US—becoming the second track to soar up into the charts with minimum (traditional) radio play.

A promising future in the past

Given the profusion of music-listening choices today, we’re now seeing an evolution in the idea of radio, i.e. curated passive content, pop up on other platforms.

“In the last five to 10 years, radio—and the use of it, ‘I listen to radio’—is a relatively ambiguous word,” says Paul Brenner, president of NextRadio, an app that offers local FM streaming on smartphones.

Tom Poleman, chief programming officer of iHeartMedia, the largest radio station group owner in the US, tells Quartz he has seen the definition of the word morph many times over the course of his decades-spanning career in the music industry—to the point where no two companies, musicians, or listeners share the same understanding of what it is.

So how should we define it? “It just means you listen to audio passively, linearly,” Brenner says. “A playlist is a radio. In the old days a radio station was the frequency you tuned into for a programmer’s choice of airwaves. Now it could be a playlist somebody created, or a pre-programmed genre channel.” Spotify currently has 140 million users and growing; its playlists are a perfect entry point for a mass-market audience that is new to streaming.

Curation, taste-making, personalization—whatever you want to call the act of somebody plopping songs in front of you, the music equivalent of sitting down and asking for the chef’s recommendations without bothering to glance at the menu—is the future of music. It is the centerpiece of a music, in people’s private homes, in public spaces, in social gatherings. And if you ask anyone from the older, airwaves-loving generation: That’s also exactly what it’s always been.

Image by chaps1 on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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