The traditional music industry is a good example of a flawed system of discovery: Artists have bodies of work, and perhaps very local, very small audiences (relatively speaking). A large record label selects an incredibly small percentage of these artists, whose body of work they promote and distribute to a much larger audience. This is how the majority of audiences currently discover new music – via the marketing efforts of a large organisation (directly or not) that has little to do with the artist-audience relationship, other than a profit motive.
When music had to be transferred using physical items, such as records or CDs, record labels made sense: they distributed these physical goods. This is now taken care of in much more efficient ways, and artists can distribute their work to whoever wants to hear it, instantly and almost free, via the internet. The problem of dscovery – making the connection between artists and listeners – still exists, however, and although there are some attempts at a solution, I think we’ll look back on these as rudimentary and largely ineffective.
When a large record label, or radio station, takes on the role of the link between artist and listener, there’s a huge conflict of interests: profit versus people. If profit is the driving factor, an organisation is forced to select artists that are more efficient at generating profit – those that can sell the same piece of music to lots of people. This is how we end up with a glut of work deliberately aimed at the lowest-common-denominator. Thus, these organisations harm the artfulness that is meant to be at the very core of the industry.
So, we’re left with the problem of discovery: how do we find the music that makes the hair stand up on the backs of our necks, but that we haven’t even heard of yet, within an impossibly large body of work? I don’t have the answer, but I’m fairly certain that it hinges upon better networks of people with real passion for the music they listen to. In the future, we’ll hear about new music through the people we know and trust, they’ll have heard about it via someone they know and trust, and at some point in this chain, the artist themselves will be part of the network, rather than a product on the other end of a marketing machine.
The music industry makes a good example, but the problem of discovery is increasingly pertinent in numerous other areas. Right now, we should be preparing – and pushing – for this future, and thinking about how we can use existing technologies to improve the network. Ultimately, as with almost anything, people are the key factor here, and technology can now facilitate levels of human networking activity that have not previously been possible.
The ways in which we discover new music, literature, art, and various other creative produce, are changing quickly. There are many more questions regarding this space than there are answers, and this makes for exciting times, full of opportunities to create change and help shape a better – more genuinely and personally connected – future. This isn’t about definitive answers, or predicting the future, though; it’s about the inspiration and facility to experiment with changes to old models, and the possibility of restructuring these connections so that we’re much less dependent upon organisations whose only motive is profit.
A starting point for experimentation on the technology front might be to combine use of the Soundcloud API with existing networking tools like Twitter and Facebook.