Lean back: Songza, ubiquitous listening and Internet music radio for the masses
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Launched in late 2010, Songza was a small player in the Internet radio universe, available only in the United States and Canada. However, the trade press celebrated Songza for its novel solution to bringing Internet radio to mainstream and profits back to the music industry: 'lean back' listening. In June 2014, Google acquired Songza, incorporating its staff, ethos of expert curation, context-sensitive playlists and staunch 'anti-snobbery' into Google Play Music, now available in 62 countries and a major competitor in online music. In this article, I investigate how 'lean back' listening helped Songza court a wider audience for Internet radio. To do so, I examine how these efforts were framed in the trade press, arguing that Songza's mass appeal must be understood in relation to histories of domestic ambient music listening, including how it has been devalued and feminized. I also consider the Canadian context, countering how the US context has been generalized in the far from borderless world of streaming music. Ultimately, I argue, Songza's 'solutions' obscured problems involving what happens when music becomes a service; the relation between domesticity, the public and the media; and the place of gender, labour, pleasure and democratic practices in the discussion.
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