On Music Discovery

What is music discovery? #

At its most basic level music discovery is as simple as turning on the radio or sitting in Starbucks. Music is all around us, all the time. It doesn’t take much effort to hear a song you’ve never heard before. It takes a little more work, however, to find a song you’ve never heard before that you love.

I think music discovery can be broken down into two categories: active and passive. Sitting in Starbucks and hearing a song you like is passive discovery. It’s the same for watching TV and hearing a song you like in a commercial. In this way, music is coming to you and you’re accepting it.

Active music discovery takes some effort on the part of the listener. You click on the curated playlist section in Spotify. You ask someone what the last new song they liked was. Active music discovery doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to be intentional. You are seeking out music in some way.

The term “discovery” is a bit loose on the passive side. But I think as long you are aware of a new song, you have discovered it. If you’re watching a movie and you’re engrossed in a climatic scene, the music probably has a lot to do with it, but without cognition of the music specifically, it isn’t discovery.

Once you become aware of music and take action on it, you begin to move into active music discovery. The extreme of active music discovery is that you set out, in some manner, to specifically discover new music. This would include things like downloading a music networking app or digging through curated playlists looking for songs and artists you didn’t know about previously.

Discovering music is a spectrum. It ranges from the simple and easy to the involved and complicated. The further you get away from the easy side, moving toward the complicated side, the less people that are willing to spend the time.

Why is music discovery important? #

At the heart of music discovery is that, I believe, people should be listening to more music, more often. That is, if we accept a premise that music is a net positive for humans and their emotions. I think this form of art is powerful and should be experienced constantly, in lots of different contexts and forms. It provides additional color to our lives. Each new song is an additional shade of a growing color spectrum.

On the commercial side of this, Apple, Spotify, Tidal, and Pandora, among others have a vested interest in getting people to discover more music than the handful of artists they were listening to in high school.

A streaming music service subscription that provides access to millions of songs is less valuable to someone who is aware they only listen to a few hundred songs, ever. But someone constantly finding new music to listen to is more likely to continue to find value in paying each month for access.

Dedicated music listening takes time #

My hypothesis is that active music discovery is just too cumbersome for most people. More than 50 percent of people would rather spend time doing something else, even consuming other forms of media, than seeking out new music. And even if people think they value music, I would also guess that most people’s time does not represent that.

An ice breaker question I like to ask is: what would you rather do with two free hours? Watch a movie, play a video game, or listen to music.

While all media is not exclusive, for example there’s both music and video in a video game, asking the question provides insight into someone’s awareness of their media consumption.

I rarely hear: sit and listen to music. The answers typically fall towards the newest form of media. It is the most attractive and engrossing.

Dedicated listening time seems to have decreased as time has gone on which makes sense. If we look at a timeline of recorded music being one of the oldest forms of media and something virtual reality or mobile apps being the newest, then it makes sense that as time progresses media gets more consuming in nature.

Of course, music shouldn’t ever go away. It’s a glue that fits in the cracks of commuting and work. Music soundtracks our lives in real-time so it won’t ever go away, but dedicated listening time just becomes rarer as it has to compete with other forms of media in our finite days.

Where it happens currently #

Question: How many times do you have to casually hear a song in the course of a day before you take action on it? Either adding it to your music library, looking it up on YouTube, or searching for its lyrics.

How much causal, passive listening does it take to make an impact? This is really an auditory advertising question so I’m sure there’s a formula that could be adapted to music. The difference, however, is that I think a song has the potential to attract more attention than a print or banner ad.

Can a perfectly placed song, one that marries visual and sonic emotion instantly grab more people’s attention than one that isn’t?

How people can be encouraged to discover more music. #

The crux of music discovery is taking a passive and non-invasive opportunity and turning it into an active one. The more people that take action on their passive listening would be a benefit for artists and for music companies.

Context #

I think active music discovery is still too hard and not contextual enough. In fact, to change this, I think music discovery, at some point, may be able to quantified into a formula that can then be used to increase the action taken on new music being promoted to the general public.

This would mostly be about grading a song’s topic, tone, and tempo and giving it an emotional score and trying to place it in the right context across digital platforms to, first, get people to notice, and then, take action on it.

For example, one opportunity I see still see lacking after years is Pinterest integrating a streaming music partner. At first glance, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but if the right songs were embedded alongside pin searches it could increase browsing time and songs streamed.

This follows the premise that all activities can and probably sound be soundtracked better. Looking for deck chairs and summer ways to update your backyard, it would be nicely paired with a light and breezy jazzy song.

Video #

For other contexts, the way to incorporate music is visual. Music videos are still very good at eliciting emotion by marrying visual and audio to convey emotion. But also in a fast-paced social media world, it often takes a visual to catch the attention of a person before it scrolls by.

This works for podcasts too. How do you get people to discover an auditory piece of content? Give it a visual element. It doesn’t have to be an actual produced video, but even looping words or some moving graphics are able to draw attention.

Often when I share a song, I share the YouTube link. Even if it’s just a lyric video it contains the lowest friction (Youtube displays and embeds everywhere), and the video preview attracts the most attention.

Constant attention #

It’s also critical to continually incorporate music and be known for it. For a while, every commercial Apple was releasing was featuring an artist on the brink of national notoriety and the combination of fun visuals with the good song really propelled them into the limelight.

Whatever method you choose to try and expose more people to music, be aware of the high barrier to entry and that you need to be constant with your attempts.


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