Are music startups killing online music fandom?

Turntable.fm dubstep room

It’s the end of the year and time for one of my favorite annual book purchases, the DeCapo Best Music Writing series. It’s a great time to catch up with all the music writing I have generally ignored for the past year. (Not on purpose!)  It’s also an excellent opportunity to go back in time and discover some of the releases that may have slipped under my radar in the past 10 or so months.

But I haven’t been ignoring music, it’s just that my attention has been more focused on music streaming platforms like Spotify and Rdio to get my music, or (very) occasionally poking my head into Turntable.fm. The popularity of music discovery startups has been one of the hotter tech stories of the past year , with Spotify’s celebrated arrival in the U.S. and controversial integration with Facebook, not to mention this summer’s love affair with Turntable.fm among music bloggers and social media folks.

But even with the popularity of these services, I can’t honestly say that I discovered more new music this year, or made more informed music buying choices because of them. Honestly, I think I discovered more new music when MySpace was the only game in town for burgeoning bands to share tunes. Thanks to Facebook, I know how little most of my social circle and I have in common when it comes to music preference. More broadly, I think the music startup explosion hasn’t really done much to promote new music discovery at all, but mostly encourages an echo chamber of musical tastes where friends and acquaintances share the same small pool of artists, bands, and songs with each other.

My other big problem with algorithmic-based music discovery platforms like Pandora is that musical taste (like food, and romance/dating) is often too complicated for an algorithm. Music communities are a huge arbiter of  musical tastes; the shared, collective sense of identity, emotion and memory that comes from music fandom is just as important as musical, style, production, and genre when determining listening preferences.

A couple of music startups do address this. Turntable.fm opens up that closed network of music sharing a bit more, with its real time, chat-room like element that allows for moments of serendipity, and more importantly, real time conversation and opinion sharing. One of the elements that stands out about Soundcloud’s approach (I SWEAR I don’t work for Soundcloud, even though I talk about it all the time) is the company’s use of community managers to act as music/sound curators while also encouraging in-person and local community building in the form of meetups.

And of course, music blogs remain a major player in online music fandom. I’ve written about my take on the future of music criticism before.  Music blogs like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan don’t appear to have the same level of  cultural authority  as tastemakers that they did several years ago but still remain well-read. And it seems odd in the age of social everything, that Pitchfork still doesn’t allow reader comments. But do blogs compare with the ability to sample, rate and share music almost instantly? Will music blogging and long-form writing be disrupted by music startups the way food/restaurant criticism was disrupted by Yelp?

I can’t see Rdio or Soundcloud ever replacing the experience of music fandom or reading writing music criticism for me personally, but I have seen it impact how I consume music on a daily basis. I’m curious to hear from other music junkies:  has Spotify/Pandora/Rdio/Soundcloud replaced music blogging or personal recs for you in finding new music?

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One thought on “Are music startups killing online music fandom?

  1. I feel you totally on this one. Sometimes I wonder if my tastes are too damn all over the place for something like Pandora to really quantify.

    But I weirdly feel out of the loop with music now. Mainstream is just not doing it for me.

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