Even as the titans of music streaming race to conquer the world, wooing consumers with artist exclusives and enormous catalogues, finding new music can feel more difficult than ever. Trevor McFedries, co-founder of new text-based music service Choice Cuts, thinks the flood of content results in a kind of "choice paralysis," and that he and partner Harley Wertheimer may have the solution.
After you sign up online, Choice Cuts texts you two songs once a day. You might get Alex G's "Bug" and rapper Kari Faux on Monday, and then an Amy Winehouse demo and a Brazilian funk track on Tuesday. The service offers pop b-sides and slept-on remixes, emerging global talent and obscure vintage soul. It's a mess, but a beautiful, mesmerizing one. Some weeks, a third track is chosen by an elected curator (Moses Sumney and WeDidIt's Nick Melons have both taken turns) resulting in a playlist that's born Monday morning, but gone Sunday night.
The service's hastily-built platform ("I made it in like 6 hours," McFedries says), plus the warm-and-fuzzy intimacy of getting a text with two songs you might like as you head to work, is resonating with people; subscriber numbers are growing by the thousands. Below, McFedries and Wertheimer break down the genesis of their bright idea, and open up about the big moves they're planning for the future.
What are your backgrounds in the music industry?
HARLEY WERTHEIMER: I do A&R for Columbia Records. I worked for Mark Ronson and his label, Allido, when I was in college. And they eventually put me up for a job at Columbia Records, where I've been now for about four years. I was always DJ-ing and I helped Mark with his Authentic Shit radio show on East Village Radio.
TREVOR MCFEDRIES: I started off as a DJ/producer. I produced stuff for Sky Ferreira and Banks, [the latter] who I also managed for two years. I've always been a lightweight developer, making little apps for myself. That's the short and sweet version.
Choice Cuts is like really taking things from a macro level down to the micro, emphasizing quality over quantity. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MCFEDRIES: In this age of media, we're always bombarded by this choice paralysis, where you open Netflix and spend an hour and a half trying to figure out what you wanna watch. Or you set up a Spotify playlist with 350 songs and you're like, where do I start? So we were like, wouldn't it be great to provide songs at contextually relevant times? Not serving you black metal at 11:30 PM before you go to sleep, but someone's driving to work in the morning they have time for two songs so, alright, here you go. Really high-quality bite-size content at a time when you can digest it.
WERTHEIMER: We really have such different music tastes. My background is a lot of west coast rap music and funk and soul. I spent my childhood digging for records that I heard in rap songs while Trevor grew up in more hardcore and dance and this and that. But Choice Cuts is supposed to be like when one of your homies picks a song, and then another homie picks a song that's totally different. You get a bit of two different worlds.
It isn't just you two, though, right? I remember you putting out a call for potential curators a while back.
WERTHEIMER: Yeah, Trevor and I were working in very different parts of the music industry [populated by] very different types of people, and those were the first people we blasted out to and those were the people who got really excited like—oh dude I'm into this. Our first week was Nick Melons and each day he would add a song on top of our two songs—and at the end of the week you would have a Nick Melons playlist. After we did that I got literally 20 calls from friends saying I wanna do a week. Like, it's always gonna be people like Moses Sumney who maybe people don't know enough about yet, and this is just adding to their story or building more of a dialogue with their fans.
Choice Cits is essentially a taste-making service. Even when you're not picking the songs yourselves, you're choosing the curators. I feel like it lives and dies by how much your subscribers trust you. How can you sustain that relationship as your consumer base grows?
MCFEDRIES: Whats cool is that it's been ballooning, and I think that shows people are enjoying it and that they're telling their friends about. It's a pretty simple process, instead of having to dig through thousands of emails, this comes as a text message every morning. And we put up good shit.
It seems very LA-based right now, like I get the texts at 11am on the East Coast.
MCFEDRIES: Yeah, were gonna start making stuff time-zone dependent. That's a big issue for Harley because he's always traveling.
What can subscribers look forward to in the next few months?
MCFEDRIES: More contributors. Getting more friends involved. I think ultimately the goal for both of us is to make this a platform where we can get you different types of interesting content—an article or short video at 1pm each day, or on Sunday at 6pm you climb into bed and you've got two great movies to watch. The reality is that this was built in six hours... its kinda like an app without an app. We patched it together but the reality now is like—we've proved the idea works, now how do we make it as good as possible?