This week, the usually excellent Hypebot published a post by Kyle Bylin called Music Discovery: The Path to Digital Failure. In this post, Kyle takes issue with a recent Billboard article about how music discovery is one of the key areas in the new music business. Kyle pulls no punches. He says âMusic Discovery is a lie that is never going to come trueâ. His argument is threefold:
(1) âMusic discovery is a dead pool of music startups, where zero successes existâ
Iâm not sure which world Kyle lives in, but it is not my world. I see music discovery success everywhere I look, from emerging startups like Discovr, Songza, Turntable.fm, SpotOn, The Sixty One, We Are Hunted, and many more, to more established companies such as The Hype Machine, Shazam, Soundhound, Last.fm and Pandora. There are companies like The Echo Nest (where I work), Rovi and Gracenote that supply data and tools for music discovery. The biggest tech companies in the world: Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, are all investing heavily in music discovery technology such as music recommendation and playlisting. Likewise, the growing music subscription services like Spotify, Rhapsody and Rdio are working hard to provide tools to make it easier for their listeners to explore and discover new music, recognizing that this is essential for subscriber retention. Even the traditional music tastemakers â such as the music labels, MTV and broadcast radio increasingly rely on discovery technology to surface new, interesting music. Oh, and by the way, three of the largest exits in the digital music space are discovery-related: Last.fm ($280m), Gracenote ($260m) and Pandora (with a current market cap of 1.5bn). I wouldnât mind going for a swim in that dead pool.
There are hundreds of companies, big and small, all around the world successfully improving the music discovery experience. The success is quantifiable and real: more music sales, longer listening time, improved subscriber retention, more satisfied listeners. Asserting that there are zero successes is just plain wrong.
(2) âMusic discovery isnât a problem, and itâs not a solution either. Music listeners donât have trouble figuring out what to listen to; they simply donât know what to listen to next. They have more than enough music, but not enough time to explore it.â
This is crazy time. First, Kyle says âMusic discovery isnât a problemâ and then in the very next sentence he says that listeners âsimply donât know what to listen to nextâ. The only way that this can make sense is for Kyle to have a very narrow understanding of what music discovery is. I suspect that when Kyle says âmusic discoveryâ he means âartist recommendationâ, which is a very small part of the music discovery world. Music discovery is so much more than just artist recommendation and a big part of music discovery is helping that listener decide what to listen to next.
(3) âMusic discovery requires a lot of work; no service can do that work for you.â
So we went from âMusic discovery isnât a problemâ to âMusic discovery requires a lot of workâ. Which is it? Certainly if it isnât a problem then it shouldnât require a lot of work. If I really donât have trouble figuring out what to listen to why must I âset aside a few hours to sift through and listen to a lot of âbadâ musicâ. Yes, music discovery can be hard. That is why so many people are trying to build tools to help you explore for and discover new music. Thatâs why Billboard suggests that music discovery is one of the key areas in the new music business. Todayâs music listener is totally overwhelmed by the amount of music available. Helping that listener sort through the 20 million songs that they have in their pocket to find something that theyâd enjoy listening to next, perhaps something new, or perhaps an old favorite, will indeed be a key part of the new music business. Music discovery is not âa lieâ â it is real, it is a big part of todayâs listening experience and will be an even bigger part of tomorrowâs listening experience.