After quietly taking over music discovery engine We Are Hunted earlier this year, Twitter are readying a new music service which is expected to better integrate Soundcloud and iTunes to its platform. The power of such a service is obvious, as explained by the We Are Hunted founders when they announced the deal:
There’s no question that Twitter and music go well together. Artists turn to Twitter first to connect with fans, and people share and discover new songs and albums every day.
The term ‘music discovery’ has become something of a buzzword in the tech world recently, with social networks and music apps recognising the need to ‘help’ users find new music they might be interested in. Last.fm started it all years ago with their ‘scrobbling’ system, which aimed to match your previous listening habits with similar artists you may want to check out.
Now, as well as Twitter, Apple are also readying a music service – which is rumoured to be a streaming platform with an added social discovery layer (hopefully it will be better than the ill fated Ping!) Spotify have also recently made big moves into the world of ‘discovery’, enabling users to ‘follow’ the activity of friends, bands, artists, influencers and ‘tastemakers’.
So what’s the problem? Surely providing more opportunities for people to discover new music is good, right? Well, yes, when it is put that way it is a good thing. But remember, Twitter, Apple, Spotify et al are attempting to master ‘music discovery’ for one reason – money. Which again is not necessarily a bad thing, but the dangers are that music discovery will simply become a heavily manipulated system whereby only the biggest selling and most profitable music is suggested.
For these companies, this makes total sense. But to users who become more and more reliant on music discovery engines, the types of music we are exposed to will become increasingly narrow and more uniformed. For example, if you were to look at my Spotify playlists you would see a fairly eclectic taste that includes a range of rock, indie, electro and hip-hop. But away from that, I’ve also started to get into blues and a bit of Northern Soul. But would an algorithm be suggesting that kind of music to me? No. I’d be swamped with the most popular new rock and indie bands and maybe a few new hip-hop albums.
For artists, the dangers are even more significant. All the advancements of the internet age in terms of ending the tyranny of major labels and radio playlists will be overturned, with artists again forced to play the game if they want to feature highly in music discovery suggestions. Which will mean less invention and less risk-taking.
To me, the growing focus on music discovery is the biggest move the ‘Man’ has made to try and control and influence the online music world. Worryingly, it looks like it will also be the most successful.
I’d love to know what the rest of you think about music discovery, and my (probably highly cynical) view of it. Join the discussion in the comments below…