One of the venture capitalists at this week’s Leadership Music Digital Summit brought back some of the overheated first-tech-bubble rhetoric when he proclaimed that “the next big thing is going to be music discovery” as far as business models go, a declaration that caused a few raised eyebrows, including one of those attached to the face of your correspondent. Do people really want to be told what to listen to by anyone–even people that some algorithm has decided they have supposed musical affinities with? I have my doubts, and so does Marc Cohen at Ad-Supported Music Central:
[People] don’t seek to discover new music – it just happens. They don’t listen to the radio, watch TV or talk to friends for the purpose of discovering new music. This is a byproduct of the intended object of the interaction. The Internet music discovery sites, even with their social networking skins, assume the primary object of interaction to be music discovery. This misunderstanding of consumer behavior will be fatal.
Speaking as the proprietor of a music blog whose traffic numbers are laid bare for all the world to see, I think Marc is spot-on here; look at the pageviews for the intermittent posts we do on new MP3s and videos, and compare their traffic to that of, say, our American Idol posts. Some may say that putting new bands side-by-side with one of the biggest TV juggernauts of the decade is a sorta-fair comparison–but is it really? After all, Idol is about “new music” at the very least in terms of the artists who are fronting the performances, although that of course takes a back seat to the televised competition.
As “pop music” becomes more of a shattered concept and music gets further relegated to background noise, discovery for most people is going to happen more and more by accident, or via already-existing social frameworks. (Look at the decreasing sales/profile returns of bands featured on MTV’s “52 Bands/52 Weeks” series; you can plaster Beth Ditto all over ads for The Hills, but you can’t necessarily get those Heidi Montag fans to listen further.) But putting sites that have music discovery as their primary goal in social-networking drag is ultimately a losing game, unless you’re trying to recreate a dot-com version of The Producers.
Cohen then goes on to talk a little bit about radio:
The second conclusion I draw is that historically the number one source for music discovery – terrestrial radio – is a type of ad-supported music. The extent to which music discovery becomes a successful Internet business is wholly dependent on the success of streaming ad-supported music, as it is the on-line equivalent of terrestrial radio.
Since downloaded music provides a superior user experience to streaming radio, I will argue that downloaded ad-supported music will be the superior vehicle for music discovery.
If that downloaded ad-supported music is easy to acquire, that is. But the radio analogy made me also want to note that more and more stations are moving to formats where finding out about genuinely new music is nigh impossible–you’ve got your stations devoted to music from the ’80s and back, not to mention the glacial movement of music on the adult contemporary and country charts. If “the number one source for music discovery” isn’t so interested in helping its listeners, y’know, discover music, what does that mean for the medium as a whole? Is this another sign that this era of popular music is agonizingly grinding to a halt?
The Myth of Music Discovery [Ad-Supported Music Central]