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Music Discovery Is A Burned Out Phrase

Burned-out-motorcycleBy freelance music writer Tyler Hayes (@thealbumproject).

Previously only for those seeking out new music, music discovery is now something forced on the average Internet citizen from companies looking to expand subscription music and rebuild after the Napster fall. Rather than making real progress towards helping people find new music to listen to, the 'music discovery' terminology is on the verge of its 'social networking' moment as it gets wildly exploited and burns out into a million little buzz words.

If music discovery faces an inherent problem, it's that most people stop looking for music after their youth. Not a hard data point, but a fact that can easily be verified at any time by asking a 30 something what the last album they bought, or even what the last band they listened to was. This is a problem for music services like Spotify and Rdio, it's not a problem for iTunes. Digital distribution means that as long as iTunes sells a handful of tracks, enough to keep the lights on relatively speaking, that Apple doesn't mind, it's simply a value add for them. Spotify, on the other hand thrives on premium subscriptions. Individuals paying them $10 a month to listen to as many or as few songs as they choose. Ads are a nice addition to the business for posterity sake, but ads don't make the wheels go round.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Music discovery has to become a buzz word. It has to be something that gets pushed down people's throats or Spotify and subscription music lose. People don't pay $10 a month to listen to old Weezer songs over and over again, or at least they shouldn't. Buying less than 12 albums or 120 songs a year means that it's probably cheaper, or a better bet, to buy the music out right and "own" it, verse renting. The goal is to sell people on the idea that they'll have access to essentially infinite music, that they need an endless supply because they are constantly discovering the latest and greatest music, more than they could afford to buy.

It doesn't matter how a person is discovering new music, whether at the grocery store or by using one of Spotify's third party apps, what matters is how much they're discovering. Every person discovers some new music over the course of their life. The issue is I don't see a fundamental change happening in the music discovery space, only a coat of paint and flashy banners. If anything in the current space could have awoken a sense of urgency to discover new music it would have been Pandora. An automated system that steers your musical choices in a certain direction based on your interests? Seems wonderful.

The problem with Pandora is that it may replace the radio for some, or a lot of people, but there is no spark the same way when a friend says "Hey, you should check out this band, they're great." A computer can't replace that, yet. There will be an app or site or service that does fix and solve discovery because I believe in technology's ability to replace almost anything that came before, to improve or outdate things from existence. But that isn't now or even this year.

Music discovery should be a verb or an accident, through active looking or serendipitous stumbling, but it shouldn't be paraded around only as a marketing term. A lot of people caught on quick to the over use of 'social networking' to describe everything a few years ago. If your new start up or revamp of an existing product didn't have a social aspect to it, forget it, pack it in because it fell on deaf ears. I dread the same thing happening to music discovery, yet it's already starting. Every music service seems to actively or subtly imply it's their service that will actually help you find new music. So when you're drawn in with the promise of discovery take a second and evaluate whether it's true or just a misused buzz word placement.

[Thumbnail image courtesy Dan Taylor.]