Tag Archives: music

Why Spotify Discover Weekly Is The Best Music Curation Tool?

Apple Music arrived with big bang. Its approach to music streaming is surprisingly old school. It relies a lot on human curation and its programming resembles old radio (some of the shows are definitely worth listening though). It´s biggest rival Spotify is relying more on big data. At the moment it seems that latter approach seems to be the winning formula. Eventually recommendation engines will become a core differentiator (as the libraries will become quite identical) for streaming services, so the headstart Spotify has is not insignificant.

Human curation was the way taste making happened back in the day. I used to rely almost totally to Dj Anonymous on my music recommendations. Best dj´s in the world have much more refined taste than any machine yet. The challenge with human curation is that it does not scale.

The recommendation engines were not really been yet up to task because the algorithms have not been advanced enough to recommend right songs. Music is nuanced thing and linear recommendation is not usually providing satisfying listening. Previous Spotify recommendations have been borderline ridiculous:

Prince Spotify

Previously there has not also been enough data available. For recommendation engines to work, you need to have massive amounts of data and something that is relevant. The key for Discover Weekly to work so well is that Spotify realized that the data they should be mining are the playlists people are making.

“For all the special sauce and the algorithmic work, the fact that we’ve kept it simple and that it’s just a playlist has really helped it resonate with people”
Matthew Ogle (Discover Weekly Product Owner)

The more people are making playlists in Spotify more “human curation big data” they are gathering. Currently there are over 2 billion playlists in Spotify. Spotify has been able to strike the right balance on learning about your listening habits and combining that with the big data:

“On one side, we’ve built a model of all the music we know about, that is powered by all the curatorial actions of people on Spotify adding to playlists. On the other side, we have our impression of what your music taste is. Every Monday morning, we take these two things, do a little magic filtering, and try to find things that other users have been playlisting around the music you’ve been jamming on, but that we think are either brand new to you or relatively new.”
-Matthew Ogle (Discover Weekly Product Owner)

In the beginning I wasn´t that impressed with Spotify´s weekly recommendations. Majority of the songs I knew already (20+ years of record collecting has its handicaps). After couple of weeks I started to appreciate the brilliance of it. Spotify Discover Weekly has become my “comfort playlist”. It plays stuff I know, but drops every week couple of nice gems I had not heard or had totally forgotten. During working week I listen to lots of weird stuff outside my usual taste profile, Spotify´s weekly recommendations don´t seem to pick on those anomalies and the quality is constant:

Like mentioned earlier, eventually data will trump human experience. In many fields, we are already there.

“In the next generation of software, machine learning won’t just be an add-on that improves performance a few percentage points; it will really replace traditional approaches.

Today, you’re much better off building a smart system that can learn from the real world – what actual listeners are most likely to like next – and help you predict who and where the next Adele might be.”
Eric Schmidt, Alphabet executive chairman

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What My Disdain for Grateful Dead Can Teach About Branding

Music has played crucial part of my life. It started with hiphop and heavy metal and has throughout the years expanded to almost every possible genre. One cult band that I have however never truly understood has been Grateful Dead. The hippy band is know for their marathon gigs like this:

I am not the biggest fan on The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa or Bruce Springsteen, but I still can get why people love them so much. I noticed that Grateful Dead was doing their farewell gig (to celebrate their 50th anniversary) on this July and that prompted me to again test some of their material on Spotify.

Nothing.

Nada.

Zip.

I totally fail to realize what makes people to devote a cult following to band so bland. Maybe it is because I don´t do drugs or have not been part of the hippy movement. On the other hand I don´t gangbang, but I still truly enjoy and find resonance in N.W.A.´s music. Grateful dead remains as a big enigma for me and to many others as well.

Grateful Dead

Some old hippies

“We’re like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”
Jerry Garcia

But why would I care about Grateful Dead? Or why would Grateful Dead care about me? I am not their core audience. If you are selling licorice, you don´t need to care about people who don´t like or licorice. This is the fault that many marketers have. They mistakenly believe that their target audience is everyone, which is hardly ever the case. If your target audience is everyone the individual purchase is small. When you have focused audience, you can ask for premium price.

Brands get super touchy-feely when blogger outside their target audience says something negative. It does not matter at all. Focus on your cult following. If you want to create a cult around your brand, you have to also alienate the non-brand followers. For deadhead, there are only “we” and “they”. If your product is only meant for alpha-male blokes, why should you worry about offending women ot vice versa?

“In the 1960s, Grateful Dead pioneered many social media and inbound marketing concepts that businesses across all industries use today.
Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott (Marketing Lessons From Grateful Dead)

Although listening to Grateful Dead is equivalent of water torture, I have to applaud their business acumen. They were never high on the charts, but were able to focus on small devoted and lucrative audience. They kept the loyal customers happy and did not waste their efforts on trying to get new and fickle customers. Funnily enough, there are at least two books dedicated to business lessons from Grateful Dead.

Brands spend much of effort on parity. They want to make their brand easy to compare with other brands. That is the main fault. If you create your own category, the customer has only two choices: either buy or not. Love it or hate it. Ambivalence is not an option.

“They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”
-Bill Graham

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Hip-Hop Innovation & About Being The First Magpie

“Good artists copy, great artists steal”
– Pablo Picasso

There was an interesting research lately about musical patterns in US pop charts from 1960 to 2010. One of the most headline-catching “findings” of the study was that the Beatles was not really that innovative, but was merely channeling existing patterns in charts. Contrary to hip-hop, of whom the researchers put to pedestal as the most important music revolution in charts.

“There’s three of us but we’re not the Beatles”
– Run DMC (King Of Rock)

Which sounds about right: the evolution of music has been a series of artists, intentionally and not, building on each other.

“Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant sh*t to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother f*ck him and John Wayne”
– Chuck D (Fight The Power)

As a life-long hip-hop fan, it naturally tickles my fancy that the research highlights hiphop as one of the most revolutionary turning points in music charts. Hip-hop is the evolution of music. Through sampling you can turn every musical genre to a potential hip-hop song. Rapping enabled you to have much more message and words in one song as you are not confined by traditional song structure and need to have catchy chorus. You also do not necessarily need to be able to sing or play instrument to make hiphop (little bit similar as in punk). Hip-hop serves as the blueprint on how the innovation should work:

  • Use, alter, remix, combine existing material. Other man´s five-second-horn stab is other man´s full song.
  • Rethink the traditional form. Rapping is a closer to preaching than singing. With the abandonment of the traditional harmony and music conventions you free up more time to deliver your message
  • Democratize the tools. The more inclusive are the tools, the more opportunities there are for new interesting and surprising things to happen.

“Most decent popular music researchers would probably agree that the Beatles were not so much innovators as musical magpies – and that’s not a criticism. They, like all of us, listened to all sorts of stuff and were duly inspired”
– Mike Brocken, director of world´s first Beatles master degree (!)

There has not ever been such thing as a solitary inventor. Innovation is not about figuring stuff out in isolation. It is ability to combine existing things in new ways. It has never been about being the first. It is about being the first magpie.
Apple has not really been the first in anything, but they are the most innovative and also the most profitable company in the world.
Our obsession in coming up with something new is a quest doomed to fail. We should concentrate to listen to all sorts of stuff, be inspired and combine that existing stuff in new ways.

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Why You Should Not Listen To Social Media Complaints?

I was yesterday listening to Chaka Khan concert* in Singapore Jazz Festival.

The event was typical Singaporean culture event. It was mostly corporate and stiff audience mostly concerned on social media updates and eyes on their mobile phone screens. Presenter talking about “building jazz ecosystem” (whatever that means) made me cringe. I did not have that high expectations, but the music was great and the audience (including couple of stiff Finns) started to dance.

When Chaka Khan had just ended one of her greatest songs “I love you, I Live You” (listen below), someone from the audience screamed:

“PLAY FREEDOM”

Going to the next song (from the same album What Cha´ Gonna Do For Me?), the same dork screamed again.

“PLAY FREEDOM”

I would be a little bit hesitant to treat one of the best soul singers ever as a jukebox, but the main problem is:

Freedom is not even a Chaka Khan song.

Although it is a great song, Aretha Franklin has done it.

First it made me annoyed and then it made me think.

That guy was like your usual social media complainer: he wanted to be heard, he did not know anything about what he was talking about, he was loud and only thought about himself.

Quite often people complaining about you or your advertising on social media are not even your clients. They are people whose main satisfaction in life is to be upset about different things and make other people´s life miserable. If you upset people who are not even buying your product, does it matter at all?

Brands are overly sensitive of negative feedback, but quite seldom they stop to think who is actually giving that feedback. And again if you get any reaction from consumers, it just means you have already passed the clutter and created some cut through amongst your audience. As we know the biggest problem is not that people get angry, it is that they don´t really care. Negative top-of-mind is better than no top-of-mind at all.

Essentially we all were consumers in the show as we had bought (or got bribed) with tickets. Some consumers are more important than others though. Probably the guy (of course it was a guy) is super annoyed that the artist did not play the song he wanted to hear. Essentially his opinion is worthless. Do your homework: if you don´t even know the songs of the performer, shut up and enjoy the performance. Maybe you learn something new.

Well as we are heading to the weekend, we should leave all the negative feelings behind. Therefore I´d like to highlight these three nice edits of classic Chaka Khan songs to appreciate the great artist. No major mutilation to the originals, just extending the best parts. Also because she did not perform either Clouds or Fate yesterday:

Chaka Khan: I Love You, I Live You (Danny Krivit Re-Edit)


Chaka Khan: Clouds (Blackjoy Edit)


Chaka Khan: Fate (Todd Terje Edit)

Also for the guy who was yelling for respect, here is a little bit more re-imagined Baltimore version of it:

*Overall Chaka Khan was actually quite enjoyable. She did only the essential hits (like mentioned above, Fate & Clouds were pretty much only ones I was missing). She sang really well when she was singing but also looked a little tired. I did not mind her 30+ minute-break on the middle though, when her backing band Incognito took the reins. Incognito has always been a little bit too polished on their records to my liking (well they were Acid Jazz), but they actually worked better live. Colibri was an awesome version and their drum & percussion section was on some serious Whiplash-mode at times.

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Everything I Have Learned From Business, I Have Learned From Wu-Tang Clan

The most duplicated, anticipated, validated
Urban legends in the books with the ones who made it
Highly celebrated, everything was work related
Current top 40 got the Wu deep in all their business
20 years Killa Bees, yeah, we hold the pennant
Monumental stance on the cover with my co-defendants
Drop her sentence, in remembrance
Construct these jewels so they can live through my descendants
-U-God (A Ruckus in B Minor)

As some of readers of this blog might know, I have always been quite deeply involved in hiphop. Although I don´t rhyme or deejay as much anymore, I still collect records and try to follow latest music as closely as possible. Recently I was asked to write a story about Wu-Tang Clan for the biggest Finnish music magazine Rumba. If you are Finnish reader, I recommend reading it.

Wu-Tang Clan has been one of the most influential bands for me and they shaped my teenage years profoundly. What is remarkable of Wu-Tang Clan, that they were not only able to do classic albums, they build a successful business imperium as well. Regardless of your personal preference regarding hip-hop, there is quite a lot to learn from Wu-Tang Clan:

1.You Need A Good Logo
wutang

Wu-Tang Logo is legendary. The basic version with black & yellow colorway shines like Batman pattern at night. The logo is also flexible and works in different shapes, colors and adaptations.

2. You have to have a strong leader
rza

The musical peak of Wu-Tang Clan is still their debut album. That was also the time, when their leadership was most firmly at the hands of one person: RZA. He produced the album and fierce members of Wu-Tang were freestyling against each other in studio to secure a slot on the album. In later years, the egos of certain members of the group have gotten bigger and there has been more turmoil regarding the artistic direction. Unfortunately the democracy has not necessarily been that successful for them artistically.

3. Do your own thing

Wu-Tang Clan borrowed its subject matter from old Kung-Fu movies and the sounds were lifted from dusty soul albums. That was totally unique at that time. It was not tested in focus groups, did not have market research behind or was not anything really that was ever done before. Quite often you cannot predict what people want, you just do something you believe and hope for the best.

4. Nurture your talent
“We reinvented the way hip hop was structured, and what I mean is, you have a group signed to a label, yet the infrastructure of our deal was like anyone else’s. We still could negotiate with any label we wanted, like Meth went with Def Jam, Rae stayed with Loud, Ghost went with Sony, GZA went with Geffen Records, feel me? And all these labels still put “Razor Sharp Records” on the credits. Wu Tang was a financial movement”
RZA

Wu-Tang Clan as a band has sold 6.5 million albums in US. Overall they have sold 40 million albums worldwide. That number includes the individual solo albums. What was a strike of genius from RZA, was that every member of the group was able to get their own record deals from another record label. This enabled that almost every major record label had at least one Wu-Tang artist on their roster. Solo albums might have diverted the attention from the group effort, but from individual artists it was great. Especially in the beginning the sales figures were outstanding for the each individual Wu-Tang solo album as well.

5. Expand

Wu-Tang Clan was not only about music. It was about merchandise (Wu-Wear), tours, movies and even video games. The business part was always totally integrated to the music as well. Above song is called Wu-Wear: A Garment Reneissance and it is a legitimate song, but at the same time you can also view it as a blatant advertising. Wu-Tang Clan never sold out, they sold in.

6. But Don´t Expand Too Much

At some point, there was new album coming from random Wu-affiliate almost every month. This was the time before streaming, online mixtapes or even well-developed piracy, so if you wanted the records you had to buy them. Naturally the quality was not always that good and there was definitely certain Wu-fatigue at the end of the century. For example, the video below features “the youngest” member of Wu Shyheim. That song in question was probably as good as it gets, but generally no one really remembers him or any other of those loosely affiliated Wu-wannabes. Already in 1994 there was over 300 Wu-Tang affiliates.

Licensing business is the best business there is, as you it is essentially opportunity to print money. You should not license your brand to anyone, as you want retain some scarcity and appeal of your brand. Stamp of Wu-Tang Clan was commoditized at the turn of the century, but lately they have tried to regain some exclusivity. Maybe it is too late already?

7. Keep Innovating

This December Wu-Tang Clan released their new studio album “A Better Tomorrow” (which was also distributed as a bluetooth speaker). That is no the whole story though, there is also album called “Once Upon Time in Shaolin”, but there is one catch. There is only one of them in existence. Apparently someone has already offered 5 million of it as well. The music business is in ruins, but at least these hiphop-veterans keep on trying.

If you are interested more about hiphop and business, I recommend reading “The Big Payback: The History of The Business of Hip-Hop”, a brilliant book by Dan Charnas. It has great coverage of Wu-Tang Clan as well. Besides that I also recommend listening to Wu-Tang Clan regularly. It is good for you.

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Streaming Services Are The Last Hope of Music Industry

Last week Taylor Swift has been applauded as a crusader of music rights as she withdraw her album from Spotify:

“[People] can still listen to my music if they get it on iTunes. I’m always up for trying something. And I tried it and I didn’t like the way it felt. I think there should be an inherent value placed on art. I didn’t see that happening, perception-wise, when I put my music on Spotify. Everybody’s complaining about how music sales are shrinking, but nobody’s changing the way they’re doing things. They keep running towards streaming, which is, for the most part, what has been shrinking the numbers of paid album sales”

Taylor Swift´s comment is just a hypocrite sugarcoating of a smart business move and a great marketing stunt. She is still able make a platinum-selling album (the only one this year for that matter), so she concentrated on maximizing the physical sales. She would have left her albums in Spotify, if they had paid her more through premium service. She is smart businesswoman, so she definitely did the right thing for herself (proven by those platinum sales). It is not clear though, would she make even more money if she would have left her album in Spotify?

The last point of the quote is however just pure stupidity. Paid album sales have been shrinking way before no one had ever imagined music streaming. Streaming services kill downloads (both legal & illegal), because downloads are inferior format. Music streaming has been a truly a blessing for music industry. I might listen the new Taylor Swift album once on Spotify because all the publicity. She would get something out of that listening, but more than from me not listening that album or using BitTorrent. I would not buy or even illegally download that album in any case, because I am not that interested. Big stars benefit more from lurker listeners than smaller artists.

Essentially there is only one important thing to really understand about current music industry:

People will not be paying for physical music anymore. Period.

This is called progress and you cannot stop it. Taylor Swift is an outlier with her platinum sales. Increase of vinyl record sales is just a too well covered hipster activity. You have to be a total moron to think that vinyl sales could help even slightly the struggling music industry. The real question is: are people willing to pay for streaming services? They are the last resort to make any money from the actual songs. Currently it seems positive and with the launch YouTube Music Key, there is enough competition to keep it interesting for the near future.

It is naturally disheartening to read about that Iggy Pop cannot live with his music or how little Aloe Blacc gets royalties from writing one of the biggest songs of the year:

Avicii’s release “Wake Me Up!” that I co-wrote and sing, for example, was the most streamed song in Spotify history and the 13th most played song on Pandora since its release in 2013, with more than 168 million streams in the US. And yet, that yielded only $12,359 in Pandora domestic royalties— which were then split among three songwriters and our publishers. In return for co-writing a major hit song, I’ve earned less than $4,000 domestically from the largest digital music service.

But what is truly the alternative?

Iggy Pop makes his money from advertisements. He could not do those without being a musician first. Although he remains fit, I doubt it is from starving.

I appreciate Aloe Blacc tremendously. I have been supporting him by buying physical records made by him from the start of his career with indie group Emanon. Is Aloe Blacc better off now or when he was pressing and self-publishing his records? Although the revenue share from “Outside Looking In” was probably more favorable than the terms and conditions of Spotify, he is now more successful by every account. “Wake Me Up!” would not be as big song without Spotify and the exposure of that song has benefitted Aloe Blacc way more than the petty 4000$ from the streaming royalties. The sad fact just is that the individual hit song will not necessarily make you money anymore. That song is more of advertising. Is it right or wrong is a philosophical question, but does not change the shifted dynamics of music business.

I agree that 4000$ looks shameful for making one the biggest songs in the universe, but life is not fair. People do not want to pay for physical music anymore, expect for old luddites like me, who still get excitement from the special box sets. Actually I am more worried about the viability of Spotify´s business model. They are currently handling over 70% of their revenues to different rights holders according to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek:

Spotify has paid more than two billion dollars to labels, publishers and collecting societies for distribution to songwriters and recording artists…that’s two billion dollars’ worth of listening that would have happened with zero or little compensation to artists and songwriters through piracy or practically equivalent services if there was no Spotify.

They are not profitable yet, either.

“Wake Me Up!” has been estimated to generate almost million in Spotify royalties. Someone is getting paid (and there might be a master plan behind it). The history of music has not really been a financial success story of artists. Record labels, shady managers and other Svengalis have exploited the creative work of musicians. So either the artist are afraid, smart or just increasingly naïve by pointing the finger to Spotify instead of their employers, record labels with whom they have signed their contracts.

You can still make money out of music, especially if you are strong brand, innovative or just really good. Dave Grohl (from one-of-the best live bands in the world) sums it up nicely on Reddit discussion:

Me personally? I don’t f*cking care. That’s just me, because I’m playing two nights at Wembley next summer. I want people to hear our music, I don’t care if you pay $1 or f*cking $20 for it, just listen to the f*cking song. But I can understand how other people would object to that. You want people to f*cking listen to your music? Give them your music. And then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show.

Amen to that.

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Anatomy of An Insight: Base + Spotify PartyDrone

I thought that everything there were left to say about drones was in this ad:

Luckily I was wrong, because this is really nice:

Insight: Many festival sponsors try to catch the attention in the actual festival area. That is hard, as you are competing of the attention with the main attractions: the bands. Therefore wise marketer uses places that are not that contested. Like in this case the route to the actual festival area. Especially in the Nordic music festivals, camping area is quite untapped potential for many marketers and people actually craving for entertainment. Personalization was nice added bonus, but I think that just bringing music and entertainment to places which do not have those, is a great insight and idea.

I see potential for this idea to be used in further campaigns for Spotify as well and not just a one-off. In general, I feel that Drones are perfect fit for surprise and delight –campaigns. Just as long you remember that drone is not the actual idea, but what inspiring, innovative and insightful you can do with the drone.

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Forgotify: Exploring The Far Far End of The Long-Tail

There are over 4 million songs in Spotify that have never been listened. That is 20% of all the songs in Spotify.

That number is good demonstration of Internet market dynamics. It used to be (and still is) hard to get your song on the radio. If you were able get on the playlist, you were quite sure to get certain amount of listens. Nowadays, it is easy to get on Spotify, but to be actually heard requires active promotion. Especially, if you are not Daft Punk.

Forgotify aims to change that (or at least get a couple of these unheard songs on rotation). It is a discovery website, which enables you to randomly listen to those unheard “gems” from Spotify. The songs were not necessarily that horrible. I find some classical music, Hebrew folk songs, chansons and Christian punk*. No one just knows that these songs are there to find and listen. And no one cares enough to promote them.
Forgotify
*“Scaterd Few was a Christian punk band from Burbank. CCM magazine described their music as “pure punk for dread people,” stating that it was a cross between Janes Addiction and Charlie Mingus.

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How to Disrupt the Marketplace like Beyonce

“I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it. I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans. I felt like I didn’t want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it’s ready and from me to my fans.”
-Beyonce Knowles

Sometimes the best marketing is just let the product speak for itself. Just as the speculation for the albums of the year seemed to slow down, Beyonce dropped a bombshell. In this era of leaking albums way ahead their release dates, Beyonce actually was able to release her record “in a secret”. Last Friday morning without  advance single, marketing campaign, radio airplay or TV performances. That naturally was not a secret for long as every media jumped to cover that. What is also notable that the album is currently sold only as an album exclusively in iTunes. What can we learn from this approach?

1.    Reward your fans first
As the average life cycle of hit song is only weeks at best, who actually buys albums anymore? Who remembers that Harlem Shake happened this year? Beyonce is one of the few artists who still have a fan base big enough to move considerable amount . Why you should not treat your most loyal customers well and give them something they hold in high value? The approach has been successful: the album sold 430k units on one day. The rest can cherry-pick their songs later (see point 3)

2.    Good content is the best marketing
When you are superstar and you really believe in your music, it is only natural to believe that every song in that album is a potential single. The most-sold and most solid pop album ever Thriller was quite close to it: having seven of the nine songs as singles. Beyonce has done video out of every song of her new album (17). Actually some radio stations are currently having all the songs in rotation. Don´t be misunderstood though, this is not cheap way to do it. Although you save a little in media spend, having Hype Williams to produce your video is still costing you quite a much.

3.    You do not really need to disrupt everything, just one thing
What is really brilliant with Beyonce-approach is that it is rare instance when you can have the cake and actually eat it too. Beyonce just skipped the pre-launch PR & advertising bits. The download is album-exclusive only for a week. Then it is back to the usual: streaming services start, there will be singles from the album and I bet that Beyonce will not decline interview requests.

4.    Finding the right partner is crucial
Beyonce partnered with iTunes to make this happen, her husband Jay-Z partnered with Samsung to make other hyped album launch of the year. From the bigger artist perspective, the music business is increasingly more B2B than B2C:

5.    Understand what business you are in
So what is music business nowadays? It is not about selling albums or even singles. It is about creating experiences. This is obvious when analyzing how much the biggest artists get from touring. Experiences are not limited to real-life, but are happening more in digital. Before you made music video to promote the song. Now you do song to be able to do the YouTube-video.

To pull something like this out and with this effect, you need to be an artist of Beyonce-calibre (there is not that many) and also you have to be first to do it. Free publicity of the stunt is something you cannot duplicate. So this approach per se is not the future of music business. What is the future, that the money does not come from only music, it comes from the whole package.

Although for this week, we can try to believe that music album still matters like in 1980´s. The album is actually quite good, but naturally not the Thriller.

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