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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.