Back in 2001, Apple CEO Steve Jobs uttered his now legendary one line pitch for a new product his company were about to release.
‘1000 songs in your pocket’
It’s unlikely even he knew how rapidly things would evolve from that point on. From iPod Classic to iPhone X; Pioneer CDJ500 to Ableton Live and Traktor.
Fast forward 18 years from Jobs’ pronouncement, and I’m standing in a cavernous warehouse in the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn.
It’s coming up to 3am on a Saturday night, the lights are down and the music is loud. Really loud.
A friend and I are here to see one of the world’s best DJs power his way through a full-tilt 2-hour set: mixer LEDs pulsing, 3 turntables spinning, hands flashing from one to the next and back again.
Classic tracks drop in from nowhere; brand new cuts slice through the room like laser beams.
As another huge bassline rumbles in within mere seconds of the last, blended in seamlessly on the spot, I turn to my friend with a wry smile on my face as the crowd starts hollering in unison with maybe the very same question.
Where did that come from?
He knows what I’m thinking.
‘Amazing what you can do with 22,000 songs in your pocket’, he says, quick as a flash.
The iPod and all the devices that followed opened up access and lowered barriers to entry for music makers and enthusiasts of all stripes.
In the world of DJs, 80 vinyl records in a box became 22,000 (or more?) tracks ready to go at the touch of a button – for amateur and professionals alike.
This opened up an almost endless array of options (including getting software to do all the work), but it also forced a prioritisation on decision making and design.
The tyranny of choice is real, so when you’re there, live in the room, with 21,975 options, you may want to think not 1 or 2 ahead but 3, 5, or 10.
Choice allows more scope for improvisation and experimentation, but paradoxically also makes it more challenging.
This is partly why creativity can thrive under constraints, and why design and focused practice matter more than ever.
There’s some compound interest at play here too.
The more you play and the longer you stay in the game, the more you get.
The collection builds. The routes, mixes, paths, and ideas stack up. There are signature styles that can be developed, purple patches to discover. The more you can find ways to stand out.
There are some shortcuts available of course.
But here’s the catch. To do it to a level where it means something, where you stand out? You’ve got to build the skills and hone the craft. And there aren’t any shortcuts for that.
The shifts in our culture that technology creates may make the barriers to entry lower, but the barriers to success are arguably higher than ever.
When it comes to the work we do, we’ve now all got the equivalent of 22,000 songs in our pocket.
That range of choices and resources are table stakes now.
It’s going to be our craft, creativity, design and discipline that’ll set us apart.
And the DJ in question? That’s one for another post.