Music Discovery – Pt.2 …and where are we going?

Where are we going? and who’s listening anyway?

Firstly we should remember who we are pointing at here.
There has already been some great work identifying the kind of fans who are already spending a lot of time and money on music as summarised in a nice blog post by Paul Lamere, Director of Developer Community at The Echo Nest.
The studies note that music listeners can be split in to 4 groups;

Savants – for whom everything in life is tied up with music and on average they spend $1000+ a year on it.
Enthusiasts – Music is a key part of life but is balanced with other interests they spend about $100 a year on average.
Casuals – Music plays a welcoming role, but other things are far more important, their average spend is a quite a lot lower at $10.
Indifferents – Would not lose much sleep if music ceased to exist, these guys are paying close to jack-all a year.

Although these personas are very useful when we are segmenting the market it’s important to remember, as Paul notes,  that personas are fixed states that individuals move between depending on anything from age to employment situation, “listener categories change as life circumstances change”.
I think it’s also important to note that the savants and enthusiasts only made up 30% of the market together.
That’s important because even in the world I live in it’s easy to imagine that number is a lot bigger. From that we can see two challenges, one that concentrates on the 30% who are already fully engaged with music and then other is looking at engaging the 70%, beacause a lot of ‘nearly jack-all’ is worth a lot more than a large portion from 30%.

I see the challenge here sits across all of the Savants, Enthusiasts, Casuals and Indifferents.
 We need to help the savants and enthusiasts find even more artists to get excited about (I’m sure they are willing to do the leg-work but a little extra won’t hurt), while at the same time reeling in some time from the casuals and indifferents away from whatever else they were doing.

Paul also has some thoughts on this that he gave in a presentation at SXSW titled ‘Beyond the Play Button‘.
Here he notes the challenge for the web and online music services is to make something ‘better than radio’ by which he means  something that engages casual and indifferent listeners by understanding the listener’s “demographics, music taste and the context [in which they are listening]”.

To think about this from a different angle, I really like a slide Benedict Evans used in a his InContext keynote as a model of how discovery currently happens.
In his talk Benedict was discussing how discovery doesn’t work very well for mobile just yet. He mapped out the services we use on the internet for different states of requirement like this:

Benedict Evans InContext2014 keynote slide

It’s a fairly simple observation. It describes looking for the thing “I didn’t know that I wanted but having known that it existed I’m really glad I did” and it makes a lot of sense.
What I also like is if we take this slide and point it at recorded music things get a little easier:

Benedict Evans discovery slide for music

For the music discovery heads I’ve added some the crazy things they do in the middle slide, but for the most part the people listening are using the radio and in the US quite possibly Pandora for the final two states.

Why Radio? Well one simple explanation could be the same reason that 58% of Americans still have a VCR in their home, physical technology has a much, much longer half-life than wed-based services. But I’d like to think not.

I’m sure it’s because radio is still the best way for all 4 of the music listening segments to discover new music at the same time with the least amount of effort, while also being entertained.

So how are people discovering new music and why do I think that radio is the still the best form to do so?

The landscape

Well we are currently seeing the rise of predominantly ‘listener-focused’ recommendation services alongside streaming services, a good example is Beats which uses human recommendations as well as algorithms to work out what to play you.  I would label this as the more automated approach to music discovery because even if Beats are using humans, if I as the end-user aren’t able to identify that human than the recommendation may as well have been a computer. There is a lot of interesting activities here including seeding playlists with a few of a listener’s favourite artists and working out the similarities, or assessing whether a fan will like a song based on their previous listening history.

This approach of concentrating on ‘the listener’ and their data is both personalised and scalable. But it also has the potential to introducing a filter bubble to music listening. Because we’ve already seen that left to our own devices and  algorithm-based recommendations we become a bit insulated in things we currently agree with. And although part of the job of providing a music discovery service is to make sure the fan likes what they hear, it is also to challenge them to listen to something they might not like and leave it up to them to decide.

Another form of music discovery currently being digitised is word-of-mouth recommendations. We’ve already seen this in some great services including This Is My Jam and the late Plumspotter all the way back to’s ‘musical neighbour’ opportunities. Despite their promise these services are yet to start turning on the casual and indifferent listener to new music for a number of reasons, partly because it could be too early, partly because they rely on you bringing in your own offline friends whom you get recommendations from anyway, but also because for the casual listener, signing up to these services is already too much work.

So what is this thing that is better than radio? and why do I find all of this exciting?

Well because right now you have Spotify and Beats building smart recommendation services based on your listening habits and human recommendations, Shazam partnering with the record industry to help understand what music the general public are discovering, while This is My Jam holds a pool of digitised peeer-to-peer recommendations, and guys like TastemakerX having a crack at co-opting the part-time music discovery heads into sharing the new gems they are uncovering.
All of this together feels like we are tantalisingly close to what I’m sure will be dubbed ‘Radio 2.0’.
But we’re not yet, and it’s very exciting to watch.






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