Playing to the Crowd: The Soundtrack

—Nancy K. Baym

When Spotify is among the new media upending how listeners relate to music and how, in turn, musicians feel compelled to relate to their audiences, it feels a little ironic to use it to provide the soundtrack to my new book on that very topic, Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, Audiences, and the Intimate Work of Connection. At the same time, it makes many of the book’s points: You can hear nearly every musician I interviewed for the project and most of the others I quoted or mentioned for free on the platform. I (or you) can easily make a playlist of them all, and make it public, shareable, and embeddable. With that much power to create and redistribute in audience hands, music work, like so much other work, seems to depend more than ever now on building lasting relationships with those who would use your wares.

The book asks what happens when people practicing a profession (in this case music making) come under new pressure to create unique, personal, engaging, intimate, and never-ending relationships with their audiences through sharing “authentic” moments of their lives on social media. To tell the story, I interviewed about forty professional musicians (a murky term if ever one there was), read interviews with many more, read autobiographies, read the press, and reflected on my own life experience in music fandom. This playlist offers readers a one-stop-spot to hear the artists they haven’t heard when they read about them, to get a sense of the breadth and limitations of the kinds of musicians I discuss, and, I hope, to raise some fond memories or point you to a new favorite.  

The playlist here goes with the book more or less in order of appearance. The first band and song mentioned are UB40 and “Red Red Wine” and that’s the first song on the playlist. About 35 of the songs are by people I interviewed. The rest are quoted or serve as examples. For each artist I interviewed who agreed to be named or whose public materials I was citing, I chose a specific song when one had been mentioned, one that seemed exemplary or appropriate based on my knowledge, the one with the most plays on Spotify or, sometimes, my favorite.



Nancy K. Baym is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the author of Playing to the Crowd (NYU Press, 2018). More information, most of her articles, and some of her talks are available at


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