Rhapsody has long separated itself from other music services by the quantity and quality of its editorial: It has a stable of writers that give context to the service's massive catalog, highlighting the important releases while helping subscribers dig into lesser-known music.
Earlier this week it was announced that Village Voice Music Editor Rob Harvilla will become Rhapsody's senior managing editor on March 21. (He will be replaced at the Voice by Maura Johnston, a freelance journalist and former editor of Idolator who will first finish out her stint at the Popdust site.) Billboard spoke with Harvilla about his new job and the role editorial plays in a music service.
Q: What will you bring to Rhapsody's editorial?
A: I've been here at the Voice for just shy of five years. I've been writing for alt weekly music sections pretty much exclusively now for over a decade and freelancing for a bunch of different magazines. So that's initially what I'm bringing -- experience as a reporter and a critic; someone who has listened to thousands and thousands of albums, gone to hundreds of shows and interviewed a ton of artists. I don't think there's any substitute for putting in that work and having that immersion.
Q: Tell me about the value editorial brings to Rhapsody. A lot of services don't offer that.
A: I've been a loyal customer of Rhapsody for almost five years. What I've always liked about it is its catalog. The amount of music that's on albums is enormous. What that editorial has always done is help guide you. What I've always tried to avoid as a critic is talking down to people and telling them what they should like and shouldn't like, and treating it like I'm Moses coming down from the mountain. I think Rhapsody has always avoided that. Rhapsody has always been good at helping you find the stuff you probably first came to Rhapsody to listen to, but also gently and in a non-condescending way guide you towards the new stuff based on the stuff you initially started listening to, based on their guessing what you might be into next.
Q: How do you balance the need to reveal the more popular stuff while also getting deeper into the catalog?
A: I think there's room for both. I love Bruno Mars as much as the next guy. I keep up with all that stuff and listen to that stuff. But I use Rhapsody a lot by going at it really randomly, just searching around and looking at their playlists and actively seeking out something I didn't come there to find. I think that's a balance I've tried to strike as a critic. Every week I know there are certain bands, artists and albums that people really want to hear about. We have to do something on Kanye West when he has a new album out, but we try to balance that with bringing people stuff that's less expected. You're trying to address what everyone wants now and trying to anticipate what they might be into a week from now.
Q: Do you think there are any genres that have been underserved that Rhapsody might highlight more than it did in the past? There's a lot of rock and indie rock being highlighted. Is there anything else you could highlight to bring in new customers?
A: Absolutely. I think rock and indie rock tends to dominate the conversation regardless of the publication or service. That's not something specific to Rhapsody. Chuck Eddy [who preceded Harvilla as Voice music editor] is into all kinds of great stuff. He's been working for Rhapsody for a long time, but he's also written for me, he's done great work on modern Southern soul artists not a lot of people know about. He's really into metal. He's really into country. He already is helping to bring Rhapsody into those areas. There's always going to be stuff that's not getting as much coverage as rock, pop and mainstream hip hop. Rhapsody writers like Chuck, Justin Farrar, Nick Dedina, they're already doing a really good job finding those things and exploring those unexplored areas. My goal coming in is to encourage that and help them further that.
Q: What do you think a person brings that an algorithm just couldn't do?
A: You could do a service like this where it's a cold, mathematical formula where what you highlight is based entirely on the Billboard chart. There are obviously solid numbers you can use to determine what's most popular and what most people want to hear. I think you do want to follow and react to that stuff. But as I was saying, part of what I do is balancing that, balancing what people are obviously really into right now and anticipating what's coming next - what records are coming out two weeks from now, what artists are blowing up from the underground? Part of it is reactive and part of it is speculative