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Listening To You, I Get the Music –Part II

Posted by David Polakoff on May 19, 2009

The Windmills of My Immediate Mind

Media Business Strategies – David Polakoff

Listening To You, I Get the Music –Part II

“Part I,” the initial installment of this column, included a retrospective journey of consumers’ options for music discovery and concluded with a search request for the prime means of 21st Century music sourcing.  There used to be a funnel that caught volumes of music produced across many genres and it was fed to us via finite listening opportunities.  The music funnel’s narrow stem is now as wide as its mouth.

My goal was (and is) to find the source that again narrowed the stem.  I am grateful for the responses received and the conversations I’ve engaged with many of you.  There’s no need for a Hammond B3 underscored, soap opera dramatic build up to the “answer,” because in musical terms, the answer is Blowin’ in the Wind.  The magical mystery source that would minimize the time sponge of music search to maximize the pleasures of music enjoyment remains elusive.

Similar to any product, service, or information search, internet or traditional, for any need (news, shoes, place for booze, movie reviews, a bed to snooze; cures for a bruise), not one source can do it all.  Even a query for a weather forecast prompts reviewing beyond one, single website, newspaper, radio or television channel.  The effort in searching multiple sources stems from issues of both website form and limitations on content.

Whether the music source is niche or “department store” focused, not every store or site presents every recorded single or long-play of every band.  Not every site satisfies complete needs of audiophiles – band histories; album details; band photos; professional video; concert information; frequent, daily updates; set lists; professionally and user-generated produced reviews; and community commentary.  Many websites post their users’ ratings, which inherently must be compared to other sources since you don’t know the bases of each sites’ ultimate rating.  Sales data can also be a good indicator of popularity and appeal, but that too should be gauged amongst several sources.

The layout of the website (or store) and the form in which it presents its merchandise and data is also a major factor in the ease of use, comfort factor, and adequacy as a vehicle for discovery.  Of major note, per your feedback to me, is the disenchantment with website algorithms for musical discovery, taste, and sampling.  Of the websites that are supposed to suggest music, based upon either your selected preferences or initial selection (“If you like, Phish, you’ll like….”), not one of you claimed significant satisfaction with any of the sites that offer this feature.

Here’s a bit of sampling of sources you’ve mentioned for music discovery (not purchase):  Rolling Stone magazine, the instrument (e.g., guitar) focused magazines, and the independent music (brick and mortar) store.  iTunes was mentioned with high frequency, as were a variety of websites (Pollstar, Brookylnvegan, BreakThru Radio, Pitchfork, Pandora, Uncensored Interview, and emusic). Not so ironically, these days, no one mentioned MTV (or VH1).

I source new music from a cornucopia of vehicles:  attending music festivals (New Orleans Jazz and Heritage; Austin City Limits); Rolling Stone magazine; friends’ word of mouth; free, weekly samples from iTunes and Amazon; commercial and public radio (accessed terrestrially and internet streamed); late night talk show band appearances; television and movie soundtracks, various music and video websites.

Music distribution platforms change daily.  Yahoo! music is vibrant, but shuttered its subscription music service and its radio service.  The UMG-Sony music joint venture shut down.  Warner Music wrote down its investments in Lala and iMeem, with iMeem up for sale and currently getting by on life support.  Spiralfrog shut-down this spring.  And as I write, the Virgin Mega stores are closing their last New York City store on Union Square (the last of the standalone record chain stores in Manhattan).  As brick and mortar stores diminish and web and mobile options abound, the marketplace is still the force that dictates the survivors.  The transition of music delivery and music discovery is dynamic, but still in its infancy. Narrowcasting can be a smarter approach.

The digital age hit music first and hard.  Television, film, print, and gaming took note but still didn’t escape the challenges to the great opportunity we call digital.  While music stumbles, it has never been more universal and global.  Garage bands’ stairway to stardom have been facilitated by the digital changes.  As Tom Petty sang, …the future is wide open.  Let’s keep this conversation going; keep sending your music source discoveries.

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