Apps, Mobile & SMS

Why The Internet Is A Bad Place To Discover Music

Joshua_bell_toppick_cropBy David Hahn (@davidjhahn), founder and editor of the blog Musician Wages.

Recording music was a stupid idea. I sometimes daydream about what would need to happen in order for all recorded music playback devices to all stop functioning at once. And then, if people wanted to hear music, someone would have to actually play it.

But I'm not a luddite. While I often look to the music industry's past — it's only so that I might get a glimpse of what might happen in the future. I'm much more interested in what will happen to music in my lifetime than what Gustav Mahler did during his.

So, first: yes. There is far to much recorded music in the world. I wish that I could go at least one day without hearing any music at all. But I'd have to lock myself in a cave. There is no escape from the constant barrage of music in our modern world.

But I think a deeper point to address is discovery. How to listener's inundated with music find the music that is valuable to them?

I think two things.

1. Music choice is more about personal identity than it is about anything else.

Personal identity is spread through human interaction — that means what your friends listen too, or what your diaspora listens to — you probably listen to as well. Humans look to other humans for the social clues that help them decide what their identity should be, and in that way, that is how music discovery is spread as well.

That's a long way of saying this: Yes, we are overwhelmed by all the music choices available to us, but we find new music the way new music has always been found — word of mouth.

How do you think Bach got his gigs? Word of mouth. How did Kanye blow up? Word of mouth.

What the music industries needs more of is streaming services with these social cues. Spotify should tell me that 30% of my Facebook friends (or, now, Google+ connections) are listening to the Black Eyed Peas. Or that 70% of listeners from my (hyper-local) area have started listening to Justin Beiber's new album. I'm much more likely to listen to it is my friends (or merely people near me) are also listening.

Because music creates self-identity — which, in turn, creates something much more valuable: community.

If the music industry decided to start selling "community" instead of "music", they'd be better off.

2. Most music discovery platforms are in the wrong place.

Do you know the story of Joshua Bell playing violin in the Washington subway? He, one of the best violin virtuosos in the world, played piece-after-piece of classical repertoire. He played for 45 minutes and made $32.

To me, this was a ridiculous exercise. It proves two things to me:

1) The venue is much more important than the music or the musician

2) Never mistake a busy street for a venue

People are walking by. They left their houses because they had somewhere to go. Some middle aged guy with a fancy violin doesn't change the fact that they need to catch a train to get to work.

How arrogant do you have to be to expect people to stop their lives to listen to your music? Give me a break.

Here is the important part: Facebook, Twitter, and most of the internet is a street. It is not a venue. People are on their way somewhere. They are doing things. They are busy. The internet is, then, not necessarily the best place for people to discover, and fall in love with, a song or an artist.

So if it seems that listeners are overwhelmed, that they are not finding the music they want, or nobody cares about "my" music — it's because listeners are not in a venue that makes the music matter.

This is David Hahn's response to the question:

How do you believe the paradox of choice in music culture is playing out? Is there really too much music and listeners are overwhelmed? Have shrinking shelves and stations lessened the burden? is founded and edited by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs. If you would like to contribute a post to be featured on the site, please reach out.


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  1. This might hands down be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. I occasionally turn to Hypebot in between reading real news bits from real music news outlets, but this is on par with an Onion article. This reads like exactly who it was written by – some 35+ year old dude who uses the Internet for email and is completely out of touch with how young people actually use the internet and interact with each other on social media.
    The reason everybody in the industry thinks Hypebot is a joke is because you post half-baked drivel like this.

  2. Really tired of these type of posts on Hypebot…
    the writer is basically just screaming “im a loser”. without any inquiry into his background, i assume he’s tried to do music in a creative capacity and wasn’t able to cut it, and now has defined himself as a sideline critic and commentator. and an ill-informed pessimistic one at that.
    yes, there is more recorded music now then there ever has been. getting songs recorded used to be a rite of passage (music had to be validated by a label, production company, or financier of some sort in order to be cut). now its within reach of anyone. and the amateurs who are self-recording expect the same notoriety as real recording artists, and when they don’t get it, they become cynics (like this guy).
    the real talk: it takes enormous amounts of time, sacrifice, and tenacity to distinguish your music. most don’t make it through this period. you’ll fail many, many times before anybody starts to give a shit. but only after you go through that process will you actually get somewhere.
    you can’t be a dilletante (“Artist/Producer/CEO/Web Strategist/foodie). just doesn’t work.
    Hypebot: stop allowing posts from amateurs. its misleading and a complete vibe killer for those of us actually hustling

  3. Okay, I wouldn’t go so far to ever say that Hypebot is a joke. In fact, I’ve recommended it several times to musicians and friends. Not every article is for everyone, but they do post a fair share of reverent and helpful articles every week.
    This article makes some interesting points. Comparing the Internet to playing in the subway or street is not a great analogy though. Totally bread & butter. I know, I made a meager living playing in the subway for years. I can safely say that in all of the bars, restaurants, tours, and Internet sales and streams I made more money playing in the subway than the rest combined. I’ve found it takes a LOT to break through to another level of success that most musicians wish they had. You have to start somewhere.
    I can equate this to the Beatles success. In the book, Outliers, the author talks about what was so special about The Beatles that set them apart from any other band. Basically the author noticed that in any profession it normally took around 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at whatever you were focusing on. This is the magic number of experience that set people like Bill Gates apart from others because that’s how much more knowledge and experience he had that most others did not (when it came to computers) in the 70’s. That’s how much time The Beatles spent playing to bars and clubs in Germany before they set foot on the Ed Sullivan Show and blew up. No other musician at the time had that much experience under their belts. By the time they became famous, they were completely ready for it. So don’t ever diss putting yourself up in front of a crowd to perform because the risk is totally worth the reward.

  4. Hypebot publishes good articles, but sadly also does publish a lot of objectionable trash articles as well (IE: musicians should give up all their rights, musicians should love piracy, musicians should accept bullying from Hypebot writers, etc).
    But this article has merit. The author is right in his assessment of the Joshua Bell article. People where not in a venue, they where in a hurry to get from one place to another, It is not reasonable for them to treat it as such, but I think the author misses that the point of the Joshua Bell experiment was to see if people would recognize art when “It is take out of context”. In other words: Could people still recognize that a Renoir painting as art if it wasn’t hanging in a museum?
    For the most part, Joshua Bell was ignored, because America is a musically illiterate nation.
    One of my favorite memories of traveling in France was seeing a 12 piece orchestra performing inside of a busy subway station. People where in a hurry to get somewhere there as well and the subway station is not a venue, but because they are a more musically literate nation, there was a measurably greater show of appreciation (both in tips and in reactions of support) from the busy subway travelers.
    The LA Times experiment proved that most Americans are musically illiterate and don’t know how to appreciate art unless someone in a place of media authority tells them so.
    I think that the author is correct in saying that the internet is not a venue. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t turn it into one. Some artists have.
    PS: While there is a lot of drivel on Hypebot written by people who sound like they’ve never worked professionally in music. Musicians Wages is run by working professionals and the author is a working professional and their blog is worth your time.

  5. What a load of rubbish.
    First off, the implication that only live performed music is of real merit is pure snobbery. Much electronic music is by necessity recorded, in fact the art of making a good recording is every bit as much a skill as that of a talented performer.
    Second, basing your listening choices primarily upon that of others within your geographical location does not make for much of a self-identity. I would say a Scotsman listening to African music has a much greater individual identity than the ridiculous Justin Bieber example given.
    Third, the only way I can fit the Joshua Bell story into a workable internet analogy would be to equate the subway with Google and Mr Bell himself as a sponsored ad. Clearly nobody uses that as a music discovery method.
    With so many websites/blogs/forums dedicated to sharing and promoting music of many different genres i think its fair to say there is a wealth of suitable venues for discovering music online. Certainly far more than my local town centre.

  6. Can we first of all retire this foolish sentiment that’s been floating around online since the turn of the century that recorded music is somehow illegitimate? For crying out loud, both live music and recorded music have their merits and their delights. I don’t think many people would argue that TV shouldn’t exist because there’s live theater.
    Neither would many people argue that video in general shouldn’t exist simply because there are millions of pointless and uninteresting video posts on YouTube.
    As for the article’s two main points of “proof,” both seem without substance or rigor on the one hand and seem to have no direct connection to the premise on the other. Music is not “more about personal identity than anything else” just because one says it’s so. Some pre-teens may go through a phase in which music has no more meaning that what kind of t-shirt they want to wear. But for most music fans, music is about what moves them and delights them. Likewise this idea that we are nothing but eager sheep needing to know what are friends are listening to is a shallow point based on little but assumption and misplaced marketing theory.
    As for the idea that the internet is for people “on their way somewhere” — well, what about the people who are “on their way” online to listen to music? This whole section seems a disconnected way for the writer to air his unaccountable displeasure with that Joshua Bell story. “How arrogant do you have to be to expect people to stop their lives to listen to your music?”: this is such an odd and angry reaction to an engaging human interest story.
    And as for Hypebot itself, yes their stories are completely mixed. But it’s a page view world, not a quality-based world. Like many other web sites, I don’t think they give a flying f– here about whether their articles are “good” or “bad.” What old-fashioned concepts! They just want to stir the hornet’s nest and get us all showing up to be outraged. (I am guilty as charged.) The poor writer gets his head chewed off– no fun there– but the web site gets visits, page views, links, etc. When we finally collectively come around to valuing quality again, this place will be a forgotten relic of our misbegotten internet adolescence.

  7. you just suck at finding music on the internet. Im completely not overwhelmed even though I use at least 10 different sources. Also venue does not matter as much as artist. If you have shitty music at the best venue then who the fuck cares the music sucks there’s no point in staying at the venue. Also we dont need the music industry selling jack, all about buying from the artist directly these days grampa.
    This article is trash

  8. hmm, well we’re ” inundated with music” at Starbucks maybe or a department store during Christmas time, but usually I don’t think we are. The Internet isn’t forcing music into our earholes. The only time I feel inundated is when a pop up banner opens an ad on my browser. That’s nothing to write an article about, because people have proven that this style of ad delivery isn’t effective.
    I do get to chose what link I click on, and if I fall down a rabbit hole of music discovery on YouTube, I don’t feel mad at the artists who made it.
    This post seems like a straw man for the Invasive quality of advertising and marketing? Are we just being told to shut up?
    I don’t get it, and I’m not judging the writer–In fact I’m inviting him (or her) to please comment on his post and explain his opinions, isn’t that kind of a better way to do things?

  9. Man, so many haters. Give me a break, guys.
    I’m the author of the above text. But this blog post is a little out of context. This was part of a much larger series of questions that I answered in long form, which were then chopped up and set as blog posts. In my defense I would say that I worked my way up to this polarizing discussion during the interview, and the way it’s framed here is a little jarring even to me.
    I’ve spent 18 years as a working musician, starting when I was 13. I primarily worked in an now archaic part of the music industry – the for-hire musician. I played for movie soundtracks, I was a conductor for Broadway shows, I was Harry Connick, Jr’s pianist in his last b’way show. I’m no grandpa, I’m 32. I carved out a very nice career in a tumultuous industry by an early age.
    But look – I’m not like a lot of you here, so I can understand why you disagree. After so many years in the musician business, this is the perspective I’m left with. The internet has not created the musician middle class that we thought it would. The “10,000 True Fans” theory, the long-tail theory and even Derek Sivers “1% of the population” theories sounded great, but they haven’t panned out. The internet is not a panacea for the revival of the musician industry.
    But I will agree with this: the internet is the best thing we’ve got right now. No doubt about that. So have at it – best of luck to everyone. But it’s not perfect, it’s not as great as everyone thinks it is, and I hope someday we make something better.
    Here’s another lovely thing about the internet – I’m entitled to my opinion, you’re entitled to yours. This stuff is worth a discussion. If you want Hypebot to publish something better – then YOU write it.

  10. I didn’t know this would be published on Hypebot. This is totally the wrong venue. (Similar to my point above, ahem.)
    But, that said, if you don’t like it, write something better yourself.

  11. You don’t know me, James. I’ve spent 18 years in the music business. I have recordings in movies, TV and I spent years as a conductor of Broadway shows and national tours. I have three albums, an iPhone app, and over 1 million downloads of my original songs. I’ve had a lot of success and I know the amount of time, sacrifice and tenacity that it takes to make a career in music.
    When you get to that point yourself, maybe I’ll care what you have to say about all this.

  12. Thanks for the respect, Chancius. I’m not saying we all shouldn’t busk. I’m just saying that Joshua Bell shouldn’t think he’s so superior to all other busking musicians that he might make the world stop just because he decided to spend a few hours at a DC subway stop.

  13. You make some good points. I think you’re a little harsh about the “sheep” idea – that’s not at all what I mean. But I hear your point of view and I get it.

  14. A very interesting article and comments. Someone said it best when they they said that you can be in the best club in the world, but if the music doesn’t appeal to you, it doesn’t matter. I’m in my early 40s and have been collecting records since I was a kid. The one thing I am finding that there is a plethora of new music to chhose from in my collection that I already have. One of the biggest things I’m finding is mixes that I passed on the first time around. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still buy new music, but do yourself a favor, and go back into your collection. You and your adience will appreciate it, and you’ll educate some of the younger ones in the process. Just my 2 cents worth. Cheers, Matt

  15. Hi David,
    thanks for writing about music.
    I believe the article on Mr.Bell was more about the fact that children by and large, were mesmerized by and appreciated the music, then dragged away by their hurried parents?
    Anyways I agree with Jeremy’s paragraph 3 first 2 sentences.
    Best wishes,

  16. $42.67 an hour in cash to play music in a subway station comes out to about $90K a year in cash an amount 99.9% of working musicians would kill to make. I am sure Mr. Bell makes well in excess of $90K but a hardworking musician with a reasonable skill set and perseverance could easily make enough money in the subway to fund their career development. Golly Gee I wish I could play an instrument!!

  17. I should like a piece simply because my friends and peers like it?? That my friend is not how music lovers operate. Walk by Joshua Bell playing in a subway because I don’t recognize him as a celebrity? No. I may not listen long (because I left my house with some place to go…) but the music lover in me would COMPEL me to listen – I would reluctantly tear myself away. As an ex-New Yorker I’ve spent many hours in subways getting from one destination to another. It was rare not to linger for a moment or two at one of the many daily underground performances…some good, some entertaining, some, well…let’s just say my peers wouldn’t approve!

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