Music Discovery – Where are we?

I have always cared deeply about finding new music.

At some point fairly early on I realised how deeply emotional music could be and it’s an excitement that I’ve been searching for and discovering over and over again ever since.

The problem is; discovering that music is tough. It requires investment, it requires listening to 20-odd tracks that really aren’t that great just to find that one that blows your mind, and that’s an investment a lot of people aren’t willing to make when they could be doing 1m other things. And that’s why filters for music discovery are so important.

I often set myself the challenge –  if I were to sit down and design a new music recommendation service how would I do it?

Here’s how I’d try;

1a) I’d tap in to all the crate-digging music discovery heads who find new music for fun (like me)
1b) and all those people who do it because they also believe other people will like what they find and will pay for it in some way in the future (promoters, agents, indie record labels, a&r scouts) and find out which artists they are excited by.

2)  I’d then take all these artist recommendations and try to work out what their influences are, what’s going on in their local scene and generally understand what makes the artist make that kind of music. In short give it some more context.

3) Then I’d wrap this all up in a way that helps the casual listener, (who doesn’t want to do the hard work of finding music to listen to), easily sample the best song from each of these new artists and provide some of that contextual information alongside.

And then I realise – that’s Radio.

Or more correctly, that’s curators using the platform of radio.

That’s Gilles Peterson, that’s Tim Westwood, that’s Zane Lowe, that’s  shows on NTS radio, that’s Jo Wiley (yes, BBC Radio 2!), that’s MaryAnn Hobbs introducing a wider world to dubstep in 2006, that’s DJ Semtex… that’s all the stations and presenters who have a passion for new music and a big enough sense of self to build a community around them, but also crucially have the ear of the 70% of people who just don’t care enough to fire up a web browser or go in to a record shop, as well as the ones who do.

And when done right it is the alchemy music discovery.

There is one final very important feature I would add in to my new theoretical music service. It is somewhat counter-intuitive in the streaming word although we are seeing it more and more: there’s no skip button.

The reason for this is that liking a piece of music can take time. There are many tracks who on first-listen I wasn’t sure about, only to find that on next listen or even by the end of the song I was digging it. From also observing that in others I’ve learned that we are much more willing to give songs a chance when the effort it would take to not listen is more than just pressing skip.

So that’s why I love radio, and yet at the same time I’m excited about someone finally cracking the next radio.

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