Does anyone even care about music discovery?

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What's the value of music discovery?

I have a couple friends that are obsessed with music discovery. For them it’s a 24/7 pursuit. All day, every day they’re listening to the latest releases and playlists, skipping over anything they’ve already heard. I asked one of these friends once when he was compiling his Year-End Best-Of list how many times he’d actually listened to his favorite album from the past 12 months. His answer was something like, “Oh, maybe two or three times at most. I just can’t go back and re-listen to things with so much more music to discover.”

Theoretically, I get it. He wants to be in-the-know, up on the latest trends, or to satisfy his inner collector. But emotionally, I don’t understand at all. I get obsessed with songs or albums that move me, not the process by which I discovered them or the promise that there’s more great music out beyond the horizon. When I fall in love with an artist, their CD stays in my car for weeks or months. Their songs are on repeat in my Spotify (and now Apple Music) player.

So for me, and I imagine for most people, the problem has never been music discovery. I’ve got plenty of music-geek friends who can make solid recommendations. I like a lot of different kinds of music. I have a few go-to sources I can check online when I need to try something new. And we can all dip back into the past to mine the classics we missed, too.

No, the problem has never been music discovery, it’s finding enough time to fully appreciate the music I’ve already come in contact with. Or to put it another way, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never — that NOBODY can ever — hear it all, so I try to concentrate on having a deeper experience with whatever good stuff happens to cross my path. Quality, not quantity.

Plus, given that my favorite music of all time is stuff that I had to listen to three or four or twelve times before I really saw the light, I’m wondering how much great material is being overlooked by people that treat an album as a single brick on the endless road of music discovery.  Or maybe these friends are so brilliant and in-tune that they can assess everything fairly upon first listen. I’m not that quick or smart.  

If those die-hard music discovery friends are outliers, as I suspect, then music discovery may be far less important than we’ve assumed over the past 10 years. What does “music discovery” even mean, anyway? Is it worth anything if the listener never follows up, buys a CD, or signs a mailing list? Are most people using Pandora to find new music, or do they just want to hear the stuff they already love?

An article call ‘The Fundamental “WHY” of music discovery’ by Cortney Harding on Medium takes a really interesting look at this topic, both in terms of listener behavior and how the assumed value of music discovery has driven countless business decisions (made by start-ups and existing tech giants).

What’s your take on music discovery? How do you define “music discovery?” And what’s its value for listeners and artists? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Christopher Hunter

    I almost wrote a response blog on Medium but it came out wrong.

    In my own personal experience, as time has gone by discovery has in fact become less important to me and yet I haven’t completely stopped. Technology and my lifestyle have made it so I just choose between making music and listening to it, so I often choose making it instead.

    Discovery is important to independent and amateur musicians who won’t be found or heard if people stop caring enough to come looking for them. It’s natural for people to do less discovering when they are older, so the older your audience demographic is, the harder time you will have growing them.

    The home pages of Spotify and iTunes have nothing to do with discovery. A customer who is only interested in that sort of thing has no chance of being led to an indie project.

  • Yeah, I agree about what’s featured on the homepage of iTunes or Spotify; that’s just the digital version of the paid endcap placements.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Music discovery is great when you encounter a band or producer that can take you to new heights, my last solid recommendation was in high school. A fellow high school mate pulled me a side ( after hearing many of my songs I recorded at that time on my Fostex x15 ) and said ” Listen to this ” I put on the Sony Walkman head phones and was hooked on Thomas Dolby from that day forward thru his ” Aliens ate my Buick ” release.

  • Blue Laser

    This observation could go beyond music and to almost everything else in our culture. It’s always “more, new, best, better, 5s, 6.0, 6.1, hurry hurry, rush rush, more more refresh, go”! We’re in such a hurry and we don’t savor things anymore. It’s like stuffing a whole piece of cheesecake in your mouth and just swallowing. It is meant to be savored and slowly enjoyed. Just like music. My favorite albums and songs get played over and over again. Sometimes I’ll come back to it to an album years later and hear things I’ve never heard before. I listened to “Magical Mystery Tour” the other day was blown away. I hear differently than I did 5 years ago. Things change. I change. I guess the music stays the same but since I’m changing it always seems different. That’s worth coming back to again and again.

    I remember struggling with this kind of attitude in music school. There was a mentality there that went straight for the most difficult music. They would breeze through things like blues, rock, funk…it’s just 1-4-5…”got it…on to the next thing…it’s too easy dude. Let’s play something in odd time. Check out this Jaco run man.” What I’ve learned since then is you can spend a lifetime playing one chord and it can mean everything. John Lee Hooker. Junior Kimbrough. Lightning Hopkins. You can figure out how to rock and never change. The Ramones. ACDC. Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Go backwards in time to an incredible era of music and mine it again. Amy Winehouse. Adele. The Daptone label. There’s depth and beauty and truth in repetition.

    New is not always better. Another birthday came and went this year and a few white hairs showed up. What has it taught me? I won’t be here forever. I value my time more than ever. I try to dig deeper into moments, listen more intently to friends, laugh, pick up the phone when my folks call, take a minute to stare at the moon at night, say thank you. I try my best to savor things. As the wise sage Slater from “Dazed and Confused” once said…”It’s quality not quantity, man”.

    • Carlos Navia

      I suppose it is all a matter of perspective. On my end, I do agree that people are way too focused in throwing everything away and replacing it even if it was good – tis the curse of the modern first world.
      That being said, I also dislike when things are constantly repackaged. But then again, like it happens in the punk or soul rebirths. Or maybe it is just my tastes.
      I do remember what you mean from music school, they were either like that or wanting to play old standards forever. I switched to business school and searched for a middle ground. But that’s just me.

    • Barbara Malteze

      Beautifully said!

    • Pål E Grebstad

      I think it’s important to remember that people are different, maybe the majority of the public are like this and then you have the minority who aren’t. When i find something new i take lots of time to really listen to it. And if there is something I’m not sure about i usually come back and listen to it multiple times. Like i didnt really like the doors before cos i never really managed to pay attention to it. But years later when I started listening to vinyl i bought their first record and sat down and really listened to it and it was great. So with vinyl your are way more focused. Its the best way to listen to records. And i think the next generation will be even fonder of vinyl cos it offers a unique listening and makes it something more than all the streaming and digital worthlessness

  • Kreigschwine

    Discovery is 50% of the whole process. I’m not a mucisian unlike Christopher below so my focus is discovery first then appreciation second. And as one builds up a library you’ve got great music to fall back on. But you can only hit well so many times before the magic fades, and you need that new fix. There is it in an nutshell: I don’t get the same high from hearing my favourites that once sent me into shivers of autonomous sensory meridian responses. I get that from hearing a great new group or tune in that magic moment when space and time allow you to focus. So you are constantly searching for that high.

    • Carlos Navia

      The rate of searching for a new high varies amongst people though. I also have a large library, mainly from my teens and young adulthood (many artists older than what millenials listen to, ironically). But, as time goes on I am not like you, and I feel a dichotomy – on one hand I enjoy great new artists, but on the other hand I don’t actively look for them like I used to, and fall back on the library. I probably am not like most millenials, who can get bored of artists so fast they don’t even finish listening to songs. And it doesn’t help that I’m through with high school and college, and barely have free time (labels love pushing new artists to teens for a reason after all).

      • Kreigschwine

        I was lucky; I was able to bridge the divide between what I grew up on and what excites me today.

        Also lucky that the thrill of music that captivated me in my youth is just as strong today.

  • Pål E Grebstad

    Totally disagree, without music discovery there is a Great deal of awesomeness that i would never have discovered. And obviously if not for your friends and others you as well. I mean if your waiting for major labels and boring radiostation and mainly others to do the discovering. You have never had a say in what you listen to. Its all been shoved down your throat and you have satt their with indifference and excepted what ever comes your way. And i love loads of music and i listen to loads. I have favourite albums and im constantly gaining new ones. How utterly boring it must be to only have dozen or so favourite albums. I mean listening to music is my favourite activity next to making my own music and i need more all the time.

    • Carlos Navia

      I do think music discovery will always be important. And with the digital age, it has become much easier. That being said, people who are only into discovering music and not really listening to it, that I disagree with too. In general, most people discover music in teens and early adulthood, but afterwards there is a decrease, up to the point where you’re elderly and only listening to stuff from when you were young. There’s the exceptions of those music lovers and/or hipsters who always want to discover more in varying degrees, or those who stick to few genres of a certain time when they were young. And again, as technologies advance, it is easier to both mine the classics of old and discover the latest trend. So yeah,in short, music discovery is still relevant, but not to very high degrees for most people.

  • Amen. Your last paragraph… that’s where I’m (trying to be) at these days.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Amen. Your last paragraph… that’s where I’m (trying to be) at these days.

    @ChrisRobley

  • musicSUBMIT

    Music discovery is not for the typical music fan. It takes a special breed of music fan to devote your life to music discovery. This special breed will most likely run their own music blog, host a show on free-form radio, or own a web-casted station. Typical music fans usually refer to this person, with affection, as a “music geek”. This geek sacrifices the usual pleasures of music for the greater good – to spread the word of their newest find so that others can appreciate an undiscovered art form and a new artist is entered into our collective consciousness.

  • Tom Hendricks

    Been playing for fifty years and I have yet to know of a single music discovery fan. If they are out there they are not going beyond their narrow ruts to find much that is new. Those that stick with bands, need to look for non bands and discover the other side. I kept thinking college students would be more open to innovative music – not so in my experience. Sadly you’d better sound alike before you get discovered. The one group that I have found open to new music is any kid under about 6. They just want good music and trendy doesn’t make sense.

  • This one is too funny. It is just a matter of taste. All you have done is described the difference between a homebody and someone with wanderlust. Between a foodie that is always looking for the new great restaurant and the “regular” who likes the same meal in the same restaurant every day of the week. There is nothing wrong with either the fanboy who breaks his stereo playing the same song (or 20 songs to death), and the person who is always looking to break that new artist. As an artist, I love both those type of people because at least they listen to music!!! I am pretty sure this community’s enemy is the person who doesn’t listen to music at all…

  • Tim Woosley

    As a young single man, I thrived on scouring the bargain bins of my local record stores for something that would challenge me musically. As I got older, got married and had children, those days of sitting on the floors rummaging through used cds are a memory.

    These days, I find it more difficult to find new music that moves me. I hope it’s not because I’m getting old, but because my searching isn’t as in depth as it used to be.

    That being said, I have found several new artists from Noisetrade.com that I have been happy to learn about. They list the artist featured with a “sounds like:” tag. If I listen to any of the artists in that tag, I give them a chance. It’s a lot easier than going to the record store.

  • There’s also the possibility that the more years of listening experience you have, the less stuff actually sounds… new. You’ve heard and responded to so many variations of melodies, chord patterns, lyrical styles, beats, production techniques, etc. So you’re harder to impress?

    @ChrisRobley

    • Tim Woosley

      Hmmm.. you may be on to something, Chris. Either that or I am getting to be a jaded old man. 🙂

  • We’re always at risk of that, I suppose ; )

    @ChrisRobley

  • I find myself a hybrid between music exploration and cherishing the music I already love.

    I still listen to albums I bought decades ago. I don’t believe that songs have expiration dates.

    There is part of me that periodically craves new music, and my burgeoning CD collection is evidence of that. Finding new music to appreciate and love is an ongoing journey. But I don’t jettison my old favorites when new music comes along. I don’t lose my emotional attachment to certain music as the years go by, nor do I find that its emotional impact wanes. Time always stands still when certain songs start to play: If anything, my love for these songs grows deeper.