Music Discovery and Organization

I miss record stores. And I’m feeling nostalgic today.

As a kid I remember taking the bus to the three story Tower Records in Westwood, flipping through albums, searching for things I’d heard on the radio. As a teen I’d drive to the mammoth Tower on Sunset, discovering new artists via Tower’s small, but quickly growing, CD bins. In my twenties I discovered specialized stores — Aaron’s on Highland had the most amazing selection, and their staff picks were almost always obscure, imported, and amazing.

At home my collection went through a variety of organizational schemes. There were periodic alphabetization of everything, but it was the scattered piles of the “recently played,” or “heavy rotation” that really defined what I listened to. Periodically I’d comb through the larger collection and pulling out stuff as a reminder to listen to it.

As an iTunes user (or prisoner?) I’ve been struggling with the fact that my music collection is entirely digital. I don’t go to record stores any more. And I don’t have stacks of music around the stereo. Instead it’s all in a single interface — missing so much of what helped make music an important part of my life. Specifically music discovery and music organization.

Paul Lamere, of Music Machinery, gave a talk at SXSW entitled “Finding Music with Pictures: Data Visualization for Discovery.” The slideshare he posted is full of great examples of information design and UI. (There’s a Storify version, too.) It gives an overview of the complexity of communicating the relationships between artists.

Towards the end, he looks at some interactive tools for helping people discover new music. They’re all interesting — but, to me, they feel too technical. They show relationships, categorizations and taxonomies — but lack the human editorial component that brings them to life. Plus – where’s the sound? These interfaces don’t feel musical.

Years ago, while working on a music search project, I learned that much of what makes people like music is based on peer-influences. (The other big factor was hearing something multiple times.) Those influencers may be friends, people we look up to, or even a store or label we respect.

There are tools and sites that aim to bring the social to music discovery, but they’re lacking. People need better ways to embrace digital music — to discover, search, organize, and collect.

We need something else.

Maybe this makes me sound like an old curmudgeon, looking for a long passed era. But instead I think it’s a reminder that there’s missing opportunity out there. People need better ways to embrace digital music. And it would be to the benefit of artists, record labels, and users, for this topic to move from a niche category into the mainstream.

(Everything I just said applies to video, too.)


The Muffin Player


Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music