Context > Opinion: Tim Quirk Crushes It


Last week I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Google For Creators day in Nashville, sponsored by Google (obviously) and the fine folks at Flo {Thinkery}(thanks @hellomarko). It was a great day of peeking under the hood of various Google properties, including Google+, YouTube and their RightsFlow team (way to go @michaeljoel). Search #nashvillecreates on Twitter for updates. While the day emphasized music, and ended with great performance from Ashley Monroe, Mat Kearney and Sheryl Crow (more on that later), so much of what was discussed hit home for those in the audience that ranged from musicians, music biz folks, technology companies, non-profits and marketing groups.

Stage setup for Google For Creators
Stage setup for Google For Creators

One person that captured the crowd’s attention was GooglePlay music head Tim Quirk(@tbquirk). The former frontman for pop-punk band Too Much Joy, and a Rhapsody exec, Quirk was obviously comfortable in front of a crowd. He threw out a series of to-the-point assertions that have guided his team’s work. And while targeting a music audience, Quirk’s points had resonance across myriad areas of life, communication, relationships and communities.

– It’s not about you – it’s about your audience/community/user/etc

– Don’t fetishize the past.

– Don’t automatically look for a digital equivalent to an analog experience.

– Metadata is key.

– Context is more important than opinion. No one cares what you think.

@tbquirk profile
@tbquirk profile

While each could support deeper exploration, it’s this last statement that has stuck with me. Context > Opinion. What does this mean? Well, in the context of Quirk’s talk, it was about how artists, record labels and the like communicate with their fans.

It’s something that guides the GooglePlay team in how they present music. It’s the idea that one person’s opinion of why something is good/bad/beautiful/ugly, etc. works to create dead ends. You agree or not, and you move on from there. If you disagree, you either like to argue, or you go away feeling like you have less in common with the person that posted.

But context provides an opportunity to extend a conversation and go deeper. It doesn’t draw a line in the sand that declares a false in/out dichotomy.

For example. I can tell you that Husker Du is one of the most amazing bands ever and that anyone serious about music needs to be familiar with them. While I may believe that, it communicates that I’m setting a boundary of those who are with me or against me (and on this account, my wife is against me; I’m the same with her and Steely Dan).

But if I tell you that some of the things I love about Husker Du are their blend of melody and noise, their confounding of the orthodoxy of punk rock in the early/mid ’80s; that Husker Du has been cited as a core inspiration for The Pixies and Nirvana, that Pete Townsend hand picked Husker Du leader Bob Mould for a tribute concert, and that Mould was part of Foo Fighters’ last tour as a DJ, and appeared on the Foos’ last record, then I’ve given you context for why I like them. There’s nothing for you to agree or disagree with, and plenty for you to explore. What’s more, even if you don’t love their music like I do, you understand why I love it, and you understand something about me. And the reverse can be true when my wife explains why she loves Steely Dan.

The Google event was closed out by performances by a series of artists, headlined by Sheryl Crow (also included Ashley Monroe & Mat Kearney). After Ashley Monroe finished, Crow came out to great applause, only to chastise the audience for not “getting it” and opining that we’d all “missed” an amazing singer. Twitter blew up immediately, calling it Sheryl Crow’s Music City Smackdown.

Now, despite where you were in the audience, Sheryl Crow drew a line. For those of us who weren’t talking during Monroe’s set, there was a mixed sense of “tell ’em Sheryl!” as well as, “don’t paint me with the idiot brush, Sheryl.” For those who were talking, well, there was no questioning how they were perceived by the upcoming headliner. Here’s where context may have helped.

Sheryl Crow winning friends & influencing people
Sheryl Crow winning friends & influencing people

Had Sheryl Crow come out and told us why she loves Ashley Monroe and how she wished we’d been able to enjoy it like she does, the room may have seen her as a champion of others (which she is), and felt a part of that. Instead, people wondered if the rant would continue during Crow’s set. It didn’t. In fact, she made a joke about how she’d never read “How To Win Friends & Influence People.” And she played a fantastic set of songs new and old (there’s my opinion. D’oh!).

After the Google event, both Crow and Monroe headed over to Jack White’s Third Man Records studio to participate in a taping of CMT’s Crossroads series as a night of Willie Nelson & Friends (which featured Willie, Jack White, Neil Young, Crow, Monroe and others). I know this because a friend of mine works for the show, and we were talking about this context > opinion the next night, as well as about the Music City Smackdown.

My friend said that Crossroads “is all context. It’s all about how diverse artists love things about each other and then we show why.” And while the audiences were likely worlds apart (industry networking/workshopping versus 100 dedicated friends and fans), I have no doubt that the context provided at Crossroads made the mood of the room far more inviting than the opinions thrown at the crowd at the Google event.

I’m reminded of a quote attributed to T-Bone Burnett as he expressed his songwriting process as it related to the spiritual themes in much of his work:

“You can sing about the light. Or you can sing about what you see because of the light. I prefer the latter.”

Context is story, emotion, passion and invitation. Opinion is boundary, ideology and finality. This maxim is also a wonderful way to help us all think about how we develop and foster relationships, communities and communication. Thanks Tim Quirk! You had a room full of people develop their own“Crush Story” last week:)