Marketing

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.]

 

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5 Comments

  1. Two things: first, i didn’t know i was going to like Jimi Hendrix, or Bob Marley, or house music, till i heard it. How do you write a computer program for that?
    ‘You like Miles Davis, DJ Optical and Joni Mitchell? Here’s Japandroids, should be right up your street.’
    Am i just too eclectic? Do most people really only listen to one or two similar genres all the time, even kids and classical fans?
    If not..
    I’ll bet all ‘discovery algorithms’ are based on what i input to search or just ‘these are my current faves.’ That’s where plain old real-world radio will always win (for me, xfm – indie/ alternative etc.) Get in the car or go to work, stick the radio on – what’s this?
    Music discovery on an individual level (for yourself) will always be spontaneous and accidental, the very opposite of what lines of code aim to achieve. Don’t know, maybe it might work (i don’t know anything about the tech side,) but nothing will replace one person saying to their friend, whose music tastes they know, ‘Check this out.’
    The only difference (and this is my second point,) is we now have more ways of doing this than ‘coming round your house to play records.’
    Alot more. and other people can see those recommendations too, though from personal experience i haven’t really been grabbed often by a third-party recommendation (a couple so far, i may just be picky.)
    Few people ‘actively’ seek out new music, despite there being a wealth of it out there and a doddle to access. I am one of the few. Sometimes though I just want to sit back and be surprised..

  2. Actually, the problem with Pandora isn’t that it doesn’t create a spark or that the discovery it could provide isn’t interesting to people, it’s that they’re not doing a very good job of it. The reason is simple: adding emerging or obscure music to their library comes at a great operational cost, and provides less value than adding the latest Bieber track.
    Pandora is effectively a search engine, but the “results” they generate are limited to what’s in the genome. If 1 million people search for the new Rihanna track, they are highly incentivized to make sure it’s in the system. With each album taking incredible time to classify by a well-trained music expert, every album they add has to be important enough to justify the cost. Simply put, adding less-known music for the sake of being great at discovery isn’t a strong enough business interest for them. Their biggest priority isn’t introducing people to new stuff, it’s giving people what they want, which are the things they already know.
    Unless Pandora aligns their business model with discovery, they’ll never be much better at it than they are now. To say that people don’t want it because one company isn’t good at it has been a proven bad bet, if you look at items like MP3 players.
    Music discovery might be a burned out buzzword, or getting close to it, but that’s because a million people claim to be doing it, and they’re all doing a shitty job, because they’re not in the business of music discovery, they’re just trying to make it a side-goal of another business.

  3. This is such a great article! When I was 13 years of age I met my very first girlfriend by asking her to dance on a ballad called “Babe” by Styx. Every time I now hear the song, I’m immediately thrown back into the incredible feeling of bliss I experienced back then. That is what music discovery is all about, human contact, feelings, experiences… Who cares about sitting in front of a computer screen having a clever bot suggesting what you should listen too? That’s BS! A song has to be of course… great! But also be filled with your own story for it to reach it’s ultimate power! Which is more powerful? “The first time I heard that song I was 13 years of age and met my very first girlfriend by asking her to dance with me.” Or “First time I heard that song I was sitting in front of my computer screen.” You tell me!

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