For as long as I can remember, discovering new talent has always brought me so much pride. Like learning to ride a bike, you always feel a sense of accomplishment when you do.
Whenever someone tries to introduce me to that same artist, it takes so much out of me to resist the humble brag that lets them know that this land has my flag in it already. This usually happens most with my little sister as my experience always keeps me ahead in terms of taste.
I’ve only recently noticed that my so called “discoveries” weren’t really made by me. Most of my favourite artists were recommendations from friends and this makes perfect sense. My friends and I have similar palettes when it comes to music tastes.
In some cases, the similar palette was what sparked the friendship to start off with. Artists like Lianne La Havas, Ab Soul, Bas and Sohn were all recommendations and if you look at my music library, you’ll notice that they dominate the most played section. I’ve never really been one to admit to enjoying mainstream music. This is probably most evident in how quickly my love for Drake’s music disappeared when he jumped on the mainstream gravy train.
Now because I’m not too fond of what I consider mainstream music, I always take pride in dropping the name of an obscure artist or two. Music streaming sites have made this so much easier for us by essentially giving us their own renditions of Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” button. A lot of these services are built around the same concept that brick and mortar radio stations have been perfecting for years.
Radio stations were once the gatekeepers of consumer content. They played the songs they felt brought in and kept the most people across their target market and this meant creating a weird new model for the curation of content.
Some stations used patterns to keep their viewer base and any other listener that stumble onto their frequency. The closest to interactive we got back then was when we called in and requested our favorite song and dedicated it to someone we would forget when we had children (unless we had the children with them).
The problem with this was that the radio stations didn’t really have that much feedback to make informed decisions on how to structure their programs. This meant there would be a large disconnect between listeners and those giving the tour.
So unless they went out of their way to do some in-depth market research, these radio stations would continue so sow discontent amongst its most loyal of followers as the ability to control your listening environment was just an AUX cable away. Aux cables soon turned to Bluetooth and this marked the end for radio.
Other streaming services have realized that the best way to retain customers is to tailor their experiences for them. This can be particularly difficult as no one really has the resources to individually curate every user’s content that best interests them.
With that in mind, they have created algorithms that tailor each user’s experience based on a lot of different variables. The biggest problem with this model is how people view it. There is always a reluctance to hand over responsibility to technology. Whether it’s because they might take our jobs or go all Schwarzenegger on us and chase our children down in trucks.
Technology has done it again though. It has given us a better way to get lazy. A lot of streaming services still prefer to use hand curation to provide you and I with better content. This mixes the old radio model with the benefits of market data.
You see, with streaming services you have to keep the user data and this allows for a better customer understanding which benefits the consumers in the end. The problem with these is that they tend to neglect the individual for the general populous. This is often coupled with an algorithmic system that tries to personalize the content a little more.
Algorithms, on the other hand, are a godsend. They tailor each experience to you with the help of a combination of variable information that they receive. Systems like this can cause people to consume more content than they had initially anticipated.
I remember spending a lot of my mobile data watching videos on YouTube. The suggestion panel just kept getting more and more interesting and the longer I stayed on the site, the better the content got.
Spotify is a pioneer in the algorithm game with its “Discover Weekly” service. This service works on a number of factors. Some of which include the playlists that you and I make in our Spotify environment with the help of your library and listening patterns. This helps pair up some songs that you might be interested in.
The more we use the service, the more accurate it gets in predicting our tastes. Essentially what is happening here is that Spotify has found a way for us to curate each other’s content. With all this in place, we are set to find at least one cool new artist a week.
Other streaming services try to emphasize hand curation from some of the most decorated people in the industry and this can be a real draw for a lot of people. Pandora is one of those services that pride itself on the hand curation. Their curators go through every song on their catalogue before allowing them in.
This has led to a very low catalogue for the grandfathers of the music industry. Their competitors boast and average of 30 million songs but they sit carefully at 2 million.
Algorithms are probably where I’d put my money. The flexibility of these models means that everyone gets a unique experience with the streaming service.
We get our music from our friends anyway but the subtlety in this form allows us to walk around proudly knowing that our friends and family are unfamiliar with a lot of our new favorite songs.
This poses a larger problem for me though. Now that this is open to the public, my little sister can start resisting the humble brag as we battle it out to see who is the most obscure. With the rise in the quantity of people joining and using these streaming sites, we now have a larger pool of people to create a story with a playlist that will influence you.
If you would like to switch from one service to the next because you would like to enjoy life on the other side of the fence then you should probably check out the MusConv tool that allow you to do just that. It lets you transfer all your tracks and playlists and allows you to save CSV files if you need them.