The Death of the Curator

March 21st, 2011

One of the many new startups strutting their stuff at sxsw was Roqbot, a service that aims to get bars/restaurants/and cafes to replace their current music set-up (iPod) with their service, that allows patrons to choose pre-selected songs via their mobile devices.
The service promises to let you:
“Be the DJ at your favorite bars, restaurants, and cafes”

There’s been some protest and noise in the DJ scene, wondering if services like this will steal weekly DJ gigs.

That doesn’t worry me too much. Any venue that doesn’t value a curated perspective isn’t a place I’d want to play (even if I played venues other than dance clubs/house parties).

What is worrisome is the blanket notion that crowd sourcing a selection is always better than the selection of a tyrannical curator.

This argument resonates both with the mash-up work I’ve been doing as Dj Invisiboy, and with the collaborations I’ve been doing (and struggling with) in Recess’s Synthesis series.

Democratization is great, and certainly has its place, but there is, and always will be, value in the dictatorial approach, especially in the creative realm. (Also in the piloting of planes and surgery, see also: shit that matters.)

What irks me about Roqbot is not its service, but an apparent lack of understanding of it’s marketing terms / marketplace. Choosing the next song in a set isn’t DJing if you didn’t choose the last song, that’s just a chaotic fight for attention and control. DJing is the creation of a unified set, based off of the experience the DJ brings, and the evolving nature of the audience. Despite what most businesses in the mobile market preach and want to believe, most people on their phones in bars aren’t engaged, they’re bored. You do not want your DJ to be bored, trust me.

As in music, so it goes with “art:” the vast majority of the works you love were created by a single tyrannical mind. There are, obviously plenty of examples of quality, celebrated works created by a collaboration, but in the scope of all celebrated works,  these are in the minority. Think about a cruise ship – do you want one captain or a different captain every hour?

It reminds me of a quote by Charles Bukowski:
“As the spirit wanes the form appears”

See also: Too many cooks and The wisdom of Solomon


Great post Abraham. Unfortunately, our tagline has been taken a bit too literally. It seems that a number of people in the DJ community are unhappy. We have to intention of trying to replace the DJ. The tagline was really about giving users the power to influence the music in public spaces. DJs are providing a curated experience and a true performance. The San Francisco venue we’re set up in frequently has DJs and I don’t think the idea of letting people influence the recorded music is in conflict with have great live music on other nights. The vast majority of the businesses we’ve worked with so far have no live music at all. Our goal is to support all the content creators in the music industry.

The term jukebox has been hijacked by personal music services like Pandora that have no relation to the jukebox at all. We wanted to evoke the idea of letting people influence the music but we’re open to suggestions for new taglines.



Hi Garett.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Yeah, I’ve seen some of the unhappiness.
I’m not worried about losing gigs to Roqbot (as I think many are) but the tagline does, in at least one interpretation, belittle the work that DJs do.
I think the current glut of inexpensive apps and equipment that promise DJing on iPhones and iPads (and the novelty that promotes that kind of behavior) has put us in a position where we have to defend our turf against free-jays.
Is that a bad thing, I don’t think so. If I can’t out spin a guy whose investment in DJing is 1.99 and 2 hours, then I’m the one with the problem.
But any tagline that promises that “You can be the [insert profession]” is going to rile up that profession, regardless of the intent.


I can’t promise we’ll change the tagline (although it is under consideration) but I can promise we’ll do the best job we can do support the DJs and all the other artists. We’ll have to buy you a beer when we make it to Portland.



Yeah, this seems like a more likely replacement for a jukebox than a DJ. It actually sounds like a pretty fun idea to me.


Yeah, I’m not afraid of losing any gigs to it, though as you know, I don’t welcome yet another thing to distract peeps from the present and draw them into phone world….[end bitter ranting now]
They have a prototype near you, you should give it a shot over at and report back. Watch out though, looks like they’re bumping lots of Black eyed Peas ; )


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