How do I discover music online that's relevant to me when most sites have 15 to 30 million tracks? That's the challenge most consumers face today as they search for new music.
For this reason, I hope the discussion at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show among music providers will revolve around the issue of "personalized discovery."
Music collectors, who once spent an entire Saturday digging through crates in a record store, flea market or yard sale, flipping through stacks upon stacks of vinyl to discover the unearthed gems, are left uninspired by most of today's online equivalents. The miracle of surprise, the thrill of the hunt, and those serendipitous moments of unexpectedly stumbling across something precious are all missing from most online music discovery algorithms -- as is the impassioned record store clerk who was always so quick to offer his opinion on what treasures might be hidden in the store.
Online music providers have been hyping their new social networking share functions and celebrity-curated music playlists in recent weeks, and I'm sure they'll continue touting them at CES.
But many complain that new online music platforms strip them of their musical free will and inundate them with email and social media updates about "what so-and-so is listening to." And most of them don't care one iota what fill-in-the-blank celebrity, politician or Facebook acquaintance is listening to because they don't want to "follow" others -- they want to embark on their own musical journey.
The issue with most discovery algorithms is that they're inherently self-reflexive: they introduce you to a finite list of new things based on things you already like -- or that people like you already like. So they tend to create a closed loop of repetitive suggestions and regurgitated songs that aren't ultimately conducive to serendipitous, personalized or idiosyncratic discovery.
So how do you discover emerging artists like Best Coast, Cold Specks, Parquet Courts, or Cloud Nothings without a clerk or tapped-in editorial team to guide you there and advocate for new or overlooked music you might love?
Technology alone can't solve this, and people alone can't solve this -- it requires a true combination. That's why this is an issue no one has really been able to resolve, and why another, more human element needs to be added to the equation -- to introduce more organic chance into the ones and zeroes.
Everyone is talking about "intelligent curation" and "personalized" discovery, but almost no one has really cracked the code on how to infuse the three-dimensional, gritty and engaging record store experience into an online discovery algorithm.
At the end of the day, there is a lot of math and a lot of noise, but not a lot of magic. And it works just fine for some things, but not when it comes to identifying a person's unique musical fingerprint in a way that draws upon that individual's current collection and leads them down a never-ending, adventurous path of personalized music discovery. And not in a way that allows an individual's music collection to be the ever-evolving reflection of its collector.
A deeply knowledgeable editorial team with its finger on the pulse of emerging artists, which looks way beyond the mainstream charts to uncover the best music in the world, from Gypsy Funk to Saharan Desert Blues -- and also contextualizes the importance of these artists' sounds -- is one way to provide online music collectors with that virtual record store clerk experience.
What if an online store could not only curate independent music reviews and editorial content, but also incorporate the insights of culturally independent tastemakers into future-forward algorithms? Then perhaps it could help digital music collectors hunt for their next favorite (or nearly forgotten) record in a meaningful way that truly opens doors to new worlds of endless music exploration.
This blog is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post on the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2013), the behemoth consumer-electronics trade show held annually in Las Vegas. To read other pieces in the series, click here. What are your thoughts on CES? We invite you to submit pieces of 500-850 words -- for possible publication in The Huffington Post -- to firstname.lastname@example.org.