Monday, 21 March 2011

thesixtyone - a music adventure

Let me kick-start this site with an introduction to a pretty awesome music streaming website that was just introduced to me by a fellow music-lover. Get ready for a lengthy review, but if you don't want to read it, you can skip to The Verdict right at the bottom of the post for a short summary.

I had no idea what I was in store for when I clicked the link to thesixtyone or t61. What happened was I came face to face with something like looked like this...

Initially, I was quite bewildered by the interface, and had no idea what to do. Then this song started playing and I accidentally pressed the left key on my keyboard and the song (and picture) immediately changed. Turns out that I discovered one of the shortcuts in t61 prematurely.

It took me a while to locate the "login" button at the bottom left of the screen (click on the picture to see an enlarged version), join as a "listener" (the other options are "artist" and "label") and begin exploring the t61, as it is affectionately known.

There is a navigational bar at the top right corner of the site, allowing you to navigate to your "quests", listen to "popular" music and "explore" the site. Quests on t61 are similar to those RPG ones that we've all played in games like Harvest Moon and Pokemon, in that they require the user to fulfill certain requirements. Examples include "Night Owl", in which you have to listen to 5 songs that were newly released from 10pm to 4am (in your time zone) and "Earworm", which as its name suggests, requires you to listen to a song on loop for at least 3 times. Fulfilling the requirements of a quest allows you to push the finish button (and gain some satisfaction, mind) and gain some "hearts" and reputation points. Hearts are used to like songs and reputation points can be used to bid for a song to regain its place on the t61 home page, meaning more airtime/exposure for new listeners (as opposed to merely being in other places on t61).

As you can see above, the number of hearts I have is stated there, right next to the heart symbol on the bottom left of the screen. My reputation is shown via the bar next to the heart. I'm at level 2 now (still a newbie because I only just started using t61 today!) and going on to level 3.

The background screen is a picture uploaded by the artist whose song is currently playing, and the random black boxed caption you see in the center is part of list of captions by the artist that are cycled through onscreen. The interface is basically very pleasing and pared down, almost giving the feel of a screensaver - that also acts like a magical jukebox.

On to "popular" on the top right corner. Using a drop-down menu, you can listen to "top", "hot", "posted", "cc", "moods" music, and music "for you". "Top" and "hot" music are obviously the songs most listened too and hearted, "posted" are the newest releases in order of upload, "moods" allows you to choose from different moods e.g. mellow, party, sad, trippy etc. and listen to songs categorised into those moods. "cc" stands for Creative Commons, which to most people just means that they get to download the song for free. Music "for you" is a channel that collates songs that have been hearted by your friends, all for your listening pleasure. So sucks to you if your friend has bad/different musical tastes. I'm just kidding - although honestly now there are some people...

Next! Under "explore", you can pick and choose how you want to further explore t61 with "open mic", "search", "revives" and "channel". I find open mic to be an extremely fascinating feature of the site. It's more or less like an experience at the thrift store - you never know what gems you might find... or not. Open mic allows you to choose the level of obscurity of the music on an scale of 0 to 100 of the adventure meter (how quaint!), with the most obscure (aka least listened to music) rewarding you with the most number of hearts. Now I know most kiasu Singaporeans (if they use t61) will probably crank up the meter to 100 just to get more hearts, but honestly I just like the thrill of adventure and not knowing what I will end up listening to. The next feature, search, is a basic but useful search tool allowing you to look up specific artist/listeners/songs. The third feature - "revives"- are songs that have been bid for successfully by users and have been revived back into the home page. Blitzing along, "channels" is a feature allowing users to create public or private channels that are for music and social interaction. Unfortunately, the feature is in the process of being upgraded, so I have no idea of knowing what exactly it is like.

If you are curious about how your profile would look like to others, here is mine:

You can access your profile simply by clicking your username. That brings you to this page, which shows your stats in that box on the top left, and your playlists, history (of listening) and achievements (through completion of the quests stated there). Every listener's profile looks similar to this (notice how only artists get to choose what to display for their background images) and you can follow someone (green button) or listen to their songs (either click the purple "listen" button or play their playlists). You can also add songs to your playlist by clicking the "+" button. To see it, scroll over "thesixtyone" in the navigation bar on the top right of the screen. There you will find the usual pause/play, volume and loop song buttons in addition to the "+" button. I didn't want to include too many graphics as once you get the hang of the site, it's pretty much intuitive and needs very little explaining to work out how to use.

The artists' profiles are slightly different, with only the bottom right box with a different menu. It looks like this:

If you are interested/intrigued/fascinated/amazed by t61 as of now, do go and check it out! It's really good for exploring new genres/songs/artists without the hassle of downloading full albums (or lousy quality tracks) and here are even genre filters that let you listen to the genre you prefer. An added bonus for all you RPG addicts (yes, addicts) is the quests, of course. And for music aficionados (I use that term in an ironic way), the hearting and bidding will most probably be of huge interest. I mean, what's more exciting than getting your favourite song/artist right up there on the home page, right? You can also support your favourite artists by buying credits and tipping them or buying songs/albums from their profiles; you'll be listed as their "patron" on their profile and you'll get that warm fuzzy feeling inside from doing something good. No really, this is a sure way of giving back to all those awesome talented artists who hardly earn a cent from releasing their music online. That said, some songs on t61 can be downloaded for free, while some have to be bought. Nevertheless, it's all on the site and you can listen to the songs anytime (provided the artist does not remove it) if you don't want to buy and/or can't download it.

Now for...

The Verdict (if you didn't want to read all the above and are all TL;DR on me...)

+ It's a very cool concept, considering many little-known artists are out there just waiting for people to discover their music.

+ t61 supports artists through their sale of songs/albums and tipping system that will go directly to the artist on a weekly basis (hopefully decreasing the number of starving artists).

+ The GUI (graphics user interface) is aesthetically pleasing and pared down enough so you can better enjoy the music while getting a glimpse of the artist's look, philosophy, music and upcoming shows.

+ The open mic feature is an interesting way to introduce people to new music and break their pre-existing stereotypes of certain genres of music.

+ Quests are fun to do! And give you some satisfaction from completing them. Really!

- One of my friends was irked at the puzzling navigation and also at the fact that she couldn't change her account from "listener" to "artist".

- Many from the t61 community have complained about the newer interface (I have not seen the older one before) because it apparently lacks a channel for the artists and their fans to interact though there's always Facebook.

Based on my experience, I'm giving it 4.5/5 overall, with the 0.5 less because of the slightly confusing interface. But that is a minor problem which no longer mars my exploration of the site and its rich network of music. Take your time to explore the site on your own  - do you agree or disagree with me?

Overall: ♥♥♥♥-
Aesthetics: ♥♥♥♥♥
User-friendliness: ♥♥♥♥-

Rachel loves sharing about the beautiful things in life from different perspectives. She writes on beauty and lifestyle in Cherchez Beauté , and does more abstract stuff on Antelune . When she's not writing, she's playing with her dog Holly, doodling and reading fiction. You can follow her on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .