New Music Discovery - July 20, 2011

"We have seen the record store become near extinct as it is replaced by online stores and recommendation methodologies such as forums, blogs, industry publications, etc"

There has been an incredible surge in the development of the future music business since last month when I started this blog. The launch of iCloud, the Pandora IPO, Spotify arriving in the U.S., the MySpace firesale to a coalition including Justin Timberlake, etc.  are but a sampling of critical events. I can’t begin to explain the significance of this near critical mass of ongoing activity, but let us look at how these and like phenomena affect how we will find new music in the days to come.

The introduction of new music to an individual person’s field of awareness is a well studied area of social behavior, mostly by those trying to gain a foothold in music marketing techniques. Irrespective of genre, there have been some consistencies in the way people have discovered new music in the past, just as those consistencies are being altered by the current environment in the music business.

When Forbes publishes statistics like time on social network sites represents 16% of all Internet use and Facebook has 73% penetration among Internet users in the U.S. (link here), one can only wonder how the new communication technologies developed over the past score of years are impacting such a historically social activity like the discovery of new music. We have seen the record store become near extinct as it is replaced by online stores and recommendation methodologies such as forums, blogs, industry publications, etc.  The social aspect of the corner record store is being replaced (however weakly) by playlist sharing. I have had Pandora channels for years now, and thought them excellent for the new music that was introduced by comparing the ‘music genome’ to music that the user selects. This is similar to the way the iTunes genius works, though in full disclosure I have only sniffed the vapors of the Apple KoolAid, regarding this and other music matters.

I have discovered new artists that I love with music channels received as part of a cable/satellite media subscription, which have the distinct advantage over terrestrial radio of tag information regarding artist, track and album being available immediately. As far as old school radio goes, most of my listening is while travelling in a vehicle where, if I do happen to hear a new song that I like, it is usually not very convenient to jot it down to look up later on the station website. The excellent exception is National Public Radio. A subscription to All Songs Considered and NPR Song of the Day provides messages to your electronic inbox with reviews and links to a wide variety of new music.  In the past few years, this path has resulted in the largest amount of new music I have discovered. 

Deserving a mention is the effect social media has on the discovery of new music, along with the DIY methods of independent music marketing. I have discovered wonderful new artists and songs by clicking on widgets that get posted with "likes" from friends in my social network, as I in turn post links to music that I like. Free downloads in exchange for joining an artist’s mailing list is a good way to build up a collection for no cash outlay, while discovering artists that may earn your fandom. Subscriptions to marketing platforms like NoiseTrade and the Topspin blog provide a direct connection to the artists that use their services. Finding an artist that you enjoy and joining the mailing list results in regular updates telling you of any new releases or performances.

I would be remiss not to mention genre-related charts. I myself subscribe to the Alternate Root Top 66, since the roots /Americana genre is the most compatible with my personal musical tastes and is usually not very well represented in general pop/urban/top40 charts. A bit of research into specific genres outside of the mainstream will reveal charts and lists that can guide you to new selections.

As a nod to my previous posting regarding subscription versus the cloud, I must say that my Amazon cloud account has seen little use in the past couple of months since I opened it by purchasing the Civil Wars Barton Hallow album download, while my Google cloud account has been equally visited a paltry few times. Both of these services offer the storage of your personal collection online, though I find Google significantly more user friendly.  These free services present options for listening to new music, mostly limited to selections with sales potential, history, reviews, promotion and other traditional marketing devices. Amazon also uses a customer’s previous purchases as a launch point for new music suggestions. I have yet to evaluate the recently launched iCloud, though there is little reason to expect significant change in the iTunes genius model.

As a final thought, the U.S. launch of Spotify is a great boon to music fans. Since loading the application, it has immediately become my favorite search vehicle to find music that I enjoy. The ability to access favorite songs from my younger years along with the newest releases available from artists across the musical spectrum is awe inspiring. I expect Spotify will leave all contenders in the dust, and I highly recommend installing it at your earliest convenience from here.

The content for this blog was stimulated by Jonathan Knees article and subsequent commentary Why Content Isn’t King , as it appeared in the business section of The Atlantic.

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