Today’s interview is with Dave Cowen, creator of the Shuffle Synchronicities newsletter!
Tell us a little about yourself.
While I've been published in The New Yorker and McSweeney's, I'm mostly a DIY writer these days. Most recently I've self-published 6 books in the last 4 years (available here). Some of which have been featured in The New York Times. The relative success of the self-published books inspired me to start my Substack because I've seen the benefits of DIY publishing.
How would you describe your newsletter?
I describe Shuffle Synchronicities as an unusual mix of music & memoir. The project started when I began to discover Synchronicities between the songs that came up on my Spotify shuffle and what was going on in my life. For those that don't know, Psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the term ‘Synchronicity’ in the 1950s; and it's the coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer. Many other people in the world have this sort of spiritual relationship with their music and their life, and this is a newsletter for them and more. Specifically, the concept is that every day I Shuffle my Spotify Liked Songs playlist (over 35,000 and counting), then write about how the song Synchronizes with my life and maybe somehow the readers'.
Why did you decide to publish on Substack?
The practice of shuffling for Spotify synchronicities was discovered, for me at least, in my 2019 book This Book Is The Longest Sentence Ever Written And Then Published, which is an experimental stream of consciousness memoir about my spiritual awakening after my father committed suicide. Originally, I was going to write a project just focusing on this device as another self-published book. However, the serial nature of the musical synchronicities, which seem to happen pretty much every day, seemed to want to be more immediately experienced and shared than collected and published later in book form. I happened to be reading a New Yorker article about Substack right before the new year of 2021 and when I started to subscribe to some of the amazing creators' newsletters on the platform, I realized this mixture of newsletter and medium-length prose and email and article and social media and blog and whatever else you want to call it (a Substack!), it is the right medium, the right delivery system, for this particular project.
What has your experience with your newsletter been like?
The experience with the newsletter has been very meaningful and enriching for me and I think for many of my readers. Creatively, I have the freedom to explore new territory in music criticism and memoir. I didn't try to become a professional music critic before this partly because I didn't like to rate or rank music (I think everything is good in its own way) and partly because well I was too busy failing at screenwriting LOL. But using music as a launching off point to explore my life and other themes like spirituality and self-help; mental health and bipolar disorder; books, movies, TV, and art; gender and sexuality; love and relationships; family and friends; the Enneagram, Numerology, Astrology, Tarot, and other esoterica; and of course other music; has helped open me up to new possibilities in the form, which I feel has also resonated with a niche group of readers.
What have you liked most about your experience on Substack?
Substack as a platform is very simple to get started with and use effectively. I had always thought of starting a Patreon, but this felt more specific to one project, instead of just generally supporting the creator, which I feel less comfortable with for my particular output of work, though I also definitely subscribe to other creators' Patreons. Mostly, I like the 'here's a box put anything you want inside of it' format. And the lack of censorship. Because part of my project is quoting selections of song lyrics, which is a bit of a gray area in terms of intellectual copyright law. But I'm heavily influenced by thinkers like Lawrence Lessig and Lewis Hyde and David Shields and believe that the balance between intellectual freedom and property control needs reforming and redefining. Substack seems to be part of the leading edge of this.
What have you liked least about your Substack experience?
You've been well on top of this, Scott, which is one of the many reasons I read your work, but it does seem particularly challenging to be discovered on this platform. Shuffle Synchronicities is listed in the top 25 of Paid Music Substacks in the Beta Reader Discovery thing. However, it doesn't seem that many people use the Substack Reader yet. I think most of us would welcome a major advance in discoverability.
How have you let people know about your newsletter?
I mostly Subscribed people that I knew already and thought would be interested. Then I also post sometimes on social media. Recently though, I've also started having (and paying) guests to post their own Shuffle Synchronicities, which has brought in some new readership. If you are a creator with a Substack (or not) but are interested in collaborating on a guest post, please do reach out.
Is there a post in your newsletter that you consider most memorable, and if so, why?
The concept and the audience's interest really seemed to click right around the third post, which I think is memorable for its quality (daily writing has peaks and valleys haha) as well as the fact that it's a good exemplar of how the project weaves music & memoir as well as often books and spirituality together. In terms of guest posts, Ray Padgett of the Bob Dylan music Substack Flagging Down the Double E's and I collaborated on a post that seemed to have a lot of synchronicities and was also well-read.
What do you hope for your newsletter in the foreseeable future?
I plan on and have committed to my readers to write the newsletter daily for this calendar year of 2021. Then we'll see. Haven't ruled out continuing for another year. Or FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE haha. But perhaps I'll move to weekly. Though I'm pretty sure it will continue in some form. I'm always looking for more collaborators to do guest posts with, and Scott, if you're interested, I'd love to have you. [Editor’s note: I have drafted a guest post for Dave’s newsletter.] But really I am just enjoying the process of showing whatever readers there are that there seems to be a spiritual connection between our music and our lives.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Thanks so much for the opportunity to be featured on your Substack, Scott. I really enjoy your work for the Substack creator community. Keep it up (if you want)! [Editor’s note: Thanks, Dave, for these kind words, this interview, and your newsletter! Intriguing newsletters such Shuffle Synchronicities help motivate me to keep improving Sub Pub.]