Monday, March 4, 2013

Crowdsourcing and the Music Service

Working out of the house has its advantages; one of those is the opportunity to put on some great music while I'm working (shhh, don't tell my bosses).

Introducing The Foals
I happen to prefer listening to Rhapsody's music service, which offers a carte blanche plan that allows me to select (upload? click on? connect with? call it what you will in our digital age) any music in any genre. It's a music store for the mind, which is more poignant considering that real, physical music stores are about as plentiful these days as candy cigarettes are for kids.

Maybe it's a topic for another day, but I like the fact that Rhapsody has professionally selected playlists culled by its music experts; it features such academic playlist featurettes as Swedish house goth, Black Power music, the greatest hits of the "Night Slugs" music label, the best of the Boy Bands (featuring a nod to Aventura and Mindless Behavior, whomever they are) and the "Harlem Shakes" world takeover singles. OK, maybe the last one isn't so thrilling.

Even its offbeat nature beats the fandom-based and record-label-based playlists on some other music services, like the emerging competitors at Spotify and Rdio. They offer a musical form of crowdsourcing, where your friends and neighbors worldwide determine the best songs that you, dear listener, should be tuning in to right now to stay hip, cool and in with the in crowd. The playlists they advertise prominently come from the favs of other, you-know "real people," not the music intelligentsia. Sure, they also offer apps from Rolling Stone, various English music rags, and others. Yet, a vast majority of its staying power is the music that the masses has selected. And, more horrifying to me, many of these apps on Spotify come from big music labels trying to sell their band brands.

There's nothing wrong with that, and some of my friends have good taste in music that I'm happy to check out. But I'm still a bit of a snob in that regard. I'd rather hear what's new this month in Indie on Rhapsody, featuring good bands I've forgotten about, such as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, or good bands I haven't heard of before, like Foals and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I don't care that my friends want me to listen to Muse for the umpteenth time or think that the peak of classic rock was the needle-scratching-oeuvre of Steve Perry and Journey.

But maybe I'm in the minority here. Now that we're all social on our networks, connected to the world 24/7 and think of privacy as a notion as outdated as wearing untucked flannel, the future of music lies in listening to what the world wants us to. And some good music has vaulted upward based on that digital buzz -- see Monsters and Men and Akron's own Black Keys for examples. But I still prefer my music filtered through the rarified air of the music expert who can tell me what I should be listening to for my own good, not just what my friends in digital nation may think.

Maybe I think of it as a glass of hot chocolate from a parent before bed -- warm and comforting to my musical curiosity.

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