An interview with Adam Linder, developer of Albums.
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Adam Linder, and I am an app developer, data engineer, and all-around computer person based in Philadelphia PA. My day job is at a small start-up focused on helping non-profits think about, clean up, and operationalize their data. I am also the developer of Albums, an album-focused Apple Music client for iOS and iPadOS.
How did you get interested in that?
I only really started learning to code 3 or 4 years ago, at the tail end of my 20s, but I’ve been sitting in front of a computer for pretty much my whole life. More specifically, I’ve been sitting in front of a computer and listening to music for pretty much my whole life. You could define eras in my life by the hardware and software I used to listen to music. There was the era of Winamp and the Creative Zen Nomad, then of iTunes and the iPod. I fell in love with a feature of the iPod called album shuffle — playing one full random album, then another one, and so on, and it became my default way of listening to music.
Album shuffle wasn’t ever part of the built-in iOS Music app, and after kicking around the idea for a while, a few years ago I decided to learn iOS development with the goal of writing a utility app to shuffle albums. I launched version 1.0 of Albums in August of 2019, and over the last several years (including a year where I focused on it full-time), it has grown into what I like to think of as a “music relationship manager.” I use it to listen to, keep track of, and discover music.
I got into the data engineering side of things totally by accident. I started volunteering with the Philadelphia Bail Fund toward the end of 2019, helping them with tech support. That grew into a project to onboard them to a CRM, which meant cleaning up their existing operational data. I’d fooled around with Python and Pandas in the past for a previous job, and in doing that project I saw how transformative it could be to work with data in code. I learned that it scratches a particular itch for me to dig into a messy database and clean it up, so I’ve been honing those skills and working with other mission-driven organizations ever since.
What resources would you recommend for people that are interested in what you do?
The internet is bursting at the seams with amazing resources to learn how to do this stuff. Tons of individuals are making great instructional content, and that’s on top of resources like Stack Overflow and Reddit. Just go try to make a thing to solve a problem you (or someone else) has and Google when you get stuck!
What tools & gear do you use? (Could be hardware, software, something else entirely.)
Hardware-wise, I’ve got a Mac Studio hooked up to two crummy LG monitors that I have never been able to calibrate correctly. I’ve got an adjustable standing desk and one of these wacky keyboards (https://kinesis-ergo.com/keyboards/advantage2-keyboard/) because my hands hurt after I type for too long. The most important hardware in my office is my stereo pair of mostly-still-working OG HomePods, which are playing music pretty much all the time.
Xcode is my Swift IDE and PyCharm is my Python IDE. I use Tower as my git client because I am not hardcore enough to learn git on the command line. I keep to-do lists in Apple Notes, and I listen to music in Albums ;)
Besides the tools, what routines help you get your work done?
I’m an early riser. I love having a couple of quiet hours to myself before starting work. Typically I’ll spend 7AM to 9AM reading and/or doing crossword puzzles, then doing yoga, then finally eating breakfast and doing the dishes. By that point I’ve had plenty of time in my own head, letting my brain warm up, and it’s off to the races.
Albums, as the name implies, is about listening to full-length albums. Why an albums-first approach?
Of course there’s no “right way” to listen to music, but the album has always been the canonical unit of music listening to me. An album is a marker of an era in an artist’s musical journey, and listening to it in full lets you spend time with the ups and downs of a particular creative energy. I try not to be too “old man yells at cloud” about things, but I just can’t get down with this new world of playlists, curated or algorithmic.
And — more people than you might think agree with me. I often get feedback from users telling me Albums is the only app that fits they way they like to listen to music. I also get feedback from users who typically listen to playlists, but like how Albums inspires them to spend more time listening intentionally. It doesn’t have to be one or the other (even if it is for me!).
This Complex article talks about the length of albums and how they're getting to be pretty long (especially in hip-hop). Do you think that's the case?
Eh, I get that this iteration of the streaming music business incentivizes longer albums, but I don’t agree with the premise that albums are “getting” long. Especially hip-hop albums — there are plenty of 70-80 minute rap albums from the 90s and early 2000s.
Some of my favorite albums are 20 minutes long and some are 80 minutes long. If an artist has something to say, they shouldn’t feel artificially limited by a time limit to say it. That doesn’t mean that some 80 minute albums wouldn’t hit harder or feel more cohesive if they had half the tracks, but I’d always rather err on the side of a creator creating the vision they see in their head.
How do you decide which features to prioritize when developing?
I try to maintain a healthy balance of “what would make the app better for the most people” and “what is interesting to me in this moment.” I like to offset the bigger projects (CarPlay support, iCloud Sync, song shuffle) with trips down rabbit holes to keep things interesting for myself. That’s how you end up with the ability to bulk-tag albums from a plain-text list, or the “Workout Jams” Insight Collections, which cross reference your play history with your Apple Health workout history.
I intend to keep working on Albums for a long time, and there’s plenty on the roadmap to keep me busy. The most important thing for me is to make sure I’m excited about what I’m doing (or at least excited about the next thing I’m going to do once I finish slogging through the current thing!).
Perhaps a difficult question, but what are some of your all-time favorite albums? As many as you'd like to mention.
Speaking of feature rabbit holes, one of the deepest and most personally rewarding was been implementing the last.fm history importer. I’ve been tracking my listening on last.fm since April of 2005, when I was a sophomore in high school, and now I’ve got all of those play counts and listening sessions right in Albums.
My most-played album of all time is Weatherbox - Flies in All Directions. Most of my favorite stuff is punk/indie rock/emo adjacent, although I also have a deep love of hip-hop.
How do you discover new music?
It’s very important to me to keep up with new music, and I actually tend to listen mostly to music that came out in the current year.
I subscribe to sites like chorus.fm, HipHopDX, and Pitchfork in my RSS reader. I avidly read the chorus.fm forums, as well as several genre-specific subreddits like /r/hiphopheads. I also follow a lot of bands on Twitter. Some of my favorite recent discoveries have just been bands other bands tweeted about.
If you’ll permit me one last Albums feature mention — earlier this year I added the ability to add tags to albums not in your library. That totally revolutionized how I keep track of music I want to check out. I have a “Check Out Later” tag that I add music to as I come across it on the internet, then I’ve got everything in one place when I’m in the mood to try something new.
How do you relax or take a break?
The most important question of all! I don’t always have an easy time slowing down. I started doing yoga at the very beginning of the pandemic and it has been totally transformative for me in terms of my relationship to myself, my mind, and my body. I also like to bike around Philadelphia’s many excellent trails. I have four cats, and my wife and I spend a lot of time hanging out with them. Nothing like a purring cat to remind you to chill out.
Whose work inspires or motivates you, or that you admire (music, tech – anything)?
Okay, grab bag! The single most creatively inspiring thing I read this year was Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s memoir The Man Who Could Move Clouds. Several of the sentences in that book wired new pathways in my brain. I look forward every week to Nilay Patel’s podcast Decoder. Every episode is thought-provoking and substantial, whether he’s talking to the CEO of Intel or an Excel TikTok Influencer.
In the iOS developer world, I think Russ Shanahan of Happy Scale, who you spoke to recently, has really built something incredible. He brings such compassion and dignity to his business, and is just an all-around super generous person. He spent an hour on the phone with me when I was thinking about making a go of Albums full-time, which really meant a lot.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks so much for asking me to do this, Raj! If people want to keep up with the latest on Albums, they can follow @albumstheapp on twitter and go to https://reddit.com/r/albumstheapp. I also write a long-form newsletter about it at https://albumstheapp.substack.com.