Curation has been a major part of my musical upbringing, and I think this is also valid for most of you. We listened to radio shows and trusted the advice of the local record store owner or a friend's recommendation.
Nowadays, however, curators mostly stick to playlists. They've become tastemakers only rivalled by the viral power of short-form videos on TikTok.
Years ago, when I got my first iPod, I started creating playlists—mainly themed after a particular genre of music or occasions where it might come in handy (e.g., parties or road trips). And obviously, one playlist with my current favourite tracks.
In late 2015, I started to curate a weekly playlist for my online magazine Negative White called Songs der Woche (Songs of the Week).
However, there wasn't really a concept behind the format—I just gathered some songs I like (yes, random numbers) and published the clips alongside some descriptive texts on the website. Later, I sent them out as a newsletter as well.
At 2018's edition of Kaltern Pop Festival, I discussed the format with music promoter Frank Lenggenhager. He suggested reducing the number of featured tracks and giving the thing a more precise shape. The Weekly5 were born.
So partially, it's Frank's fault that I bother you every Sunday. Well, you might actually enjoy it. But many things happen until an edition lands in your inbox between 6 and 7 am.
Here's how I create an edition of Weekly5.
Guiding Principles & Values
Weekly5 folded with Negative White mid-2020. But it also left a big hole in my life because discovering and sharing new music brings me great joy.
Realising the loss (and some urging from friends), I decided to bring Weekly5 back in 2021 with the sole purpose of sharing great music. Alongside, I defined five core values that guide everything I do around Weekly5:
- Curiosity I'm driven by the urge to discover new music and encourage everyone to be open-minded.
- Quality I'm striving for a unique and intimate experience of discovery through a high standard of quality.
- Diversity I pay attention to diversity in gender, origin, and musical genres alike.
- Independence I'm independent of outside influence. Reviews cannot be bought. Opinions are honest and truthful.
- Integrity I uphold the values and communicate issues transparently.
These are the basic principles that guide Weekly5. However, when it comes to individual editions, it gets more concrete. You can nail it down to a four-step process. They are not always clearly separated but overlap more than they don't.
First things first: There have to be songs. A big part of finding new songs is my email inbox. From the days with Negative White, I still receive around 20 to 50 promotional emails every week. I sift through them and delete the mediocre and outright bad to filter out the great stuff. At least 50 per cent of the tracks that end up in the final edition come to me by email.
I also check some playlists dedicated to new music on Spotify and Apple Music—especially the personalised ones. They are the second-largest source for Weekly5.
The third source is social media; Instagram first and foremost. Here, I follow a lot of labels and artists. And occasionally, I find something.
Now and then, I might have still some leftover songs from last week that still have the potential to end up in an edition. But mostly, I have enough new material, so I don't have to rely on them.
In the gathering phase, I only take a quick listen, skipping through the songs to see whether they capture my attention. I know this sounds incredibly disrespectful towards the artists and their work. However, listening to all the releases I get—especially full-blown studio albums—is simply impossible.
Anyway, the around 10 to 15 songs that pass the skimming land in a secret playlist called "Weekly5 Potential".
The selection phase is probably the hardest one. Out of these 10 to 15 tracks, I have to choose the five best tracks. Here, I listen to the songs multiple times—sometimes, I already make rough notes on paper.
It's hard to pinpoint clear criteria that clearly influence the selection process. Indeed, the values of curiosity and diversity play a significant role. But I cannot deny a level of subjectivity. It's me who has to like the song; otherwise, I'm not able to recommend it.
But I try to have at least one female artist in each edition. The same goes for Swiss artists because I want to support my local scene. [By 22nd May, 36 female artists or bands with female members were part of Weekly5 in 2022. Also, 25 Swiss artists were featured.]
Another limiting factor is the genres. I usually avoid mainstream sound and extreme edges like metal or hard electronic music. It's always a balance between providing recommendations you might like and my goal to introduce you to something new.
Furthermore, I try not to feature the same artists multiple times, although I regularly fail. But at least I try to have a bit of a time gap between the features.
Once I distilled it down to five tracks, the most extended phase starts: the writing. I already know the artist if I'm lucky, and I don't have to research a lot. Otherwise, I start reading: Wikipedia, Spotify biography, and articles on other media platforms.
But the flesh in my short description is, fortunately, very subjective. I write about why I love the song. Then, it's mostly my state of mind determining how long the writing takes. Sometimes, inspiration comes easily, and sometimes it doesn't.
When I have time, I already start writing on Friday evenings (and drinking admittedly too many beers and smoking too many cigarettes). But often, I only get around to the writing on Saturday morning (and drinking admittedly too many coffees and smoking too many cigarettes).
The last step is the production of the newsletter and everything around it. For example, inserting the YouTube videos, creating a catchy title, defining the cover photo, etc.
I have to add the tracks to the playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. And if the songs are available on Bandcamp, I buy them as I pledged a couple of weeks ago.
In the end, I schedule the newsletter for Sunday morning. So in case, you wondered: No, I don't get up that early to send it out.
Now, creating a regular Weekly5 edition takes me around 8 hours—not counting the work of promoting the content on social media (Yes, you should follow on Instagram and Twitter). And I constantly think about possible improvements, changes, and adjustments to the service.
Yes, it's quite a time-consuming hobby.
It's not cheap either: I pay $300 per year for the newsletter tool and about $150 per year for the Apple Music subscription that I don't use privately. Then, there are costs for domain and server: again, about $200 per year.
Bottom line: Weekly5 not only costs time but also approximately $650 per year.
Thankfully, I can count on a couple of members who decided that Weekly5 is worth supporting financially. They help me to cover the costs. And it's also an even better feeling to be so greatly appreciated.
Yes, now comes the pitch: If you also think this newsletter is worth supporting, please consider becoming a member. There's a monthly ($5) and yearly ($55) plan that you can cancel anytime.
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And if you still have any open questions or want to give feedback, feel free to send it here.