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Dear Kyle, Music Discovery Is Neither A Lie Nor A Path To Failure

image from Paul Lamere, the Director of Developer Platform at The Echo Nest. He blogs at Music Machinery.

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 “Music Discovery is a lie that is never going to come true”. His argument is threefold:

(1) “Music discovery is a dead pool of music startups, where zero successes exist“

I’m 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,, SpotOn, The Sixty One, We Are Hunted, and many more, to more established companies such as The Hype Machine, Shazam, Soundhound, 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 – 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: ($280m), Gracenote ($260m) and Pandora (with a current market cap of 1.5bn). I wouldn’t 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) “Music discovery isn’t a problem, and it’s not a solution either. Music listeners don’t have trouble figuring out what to listen to; they simply don’t know what to listen to next. They have more than enough music, but not enough time to explore it.”

This is crazy time. First, Kyle says ‘Music discovery isn’t a problem’ and then in the very next sentence he says that listeners ‘simply don’t know what to listen to next’. 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 ‘music discovery’ he means ‘artist recommendation’, 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) “Music discovery requires a lot of work; no service can do that work for you.”

So we went from “Music discovery isn’t a problem” to “Music discovery requires a lot of work“. Which is it? Certainly if it isn’t a problem then it shouldn’t require a lot of work. If I really don’t have trouble figuring out what to listen to why must I “set aside a few hours to sift through and listen to a lot of “bad” music“. 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. That’s why Billboard suggests that music discovery is one of the key areas in the new music business. Today’s 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 they’d 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 “a lie” – it is real, it is a big part of today’s listening experience and will be an even bigger part of tomorrow’s listening experience.