It used to be easier to find music. You went to the record store, you had several thousand choices, and you picked something. With no recommendation, how did you decide what to buy?
- There was a section for your kind of music.
- Each album had album art designed to help you understand whether this was a party band or wanna-be metal gods.
- And magazines. But, how did you decide which magazine?
- There was a section for each kind of music
- Each magazine had cover art designed to help you understand whether this was about smoking doobies or rocking out.
The world changed, and that is good. Now, I can choose almost anything ever recorded, in genres that are evolving faster than Darwin could ever imagine (“That’s deathcore? Yesterday, it was deathgrind?”). But I need more help. Enter the music recommendation services.
iTunes store: with near infinite choices, I could browse but that’s so hard! The iTunes genius usually tells me, “If you own band XXX, you might like be interested in the more bland version played by band XX,” possibly because people often own albums by both. Do buyers of the blander alternative get recommendations to buy something blander yet? It can’t be that dumb, unless, of course, Kenny G is the programmer in question.
Pandora: there’s fewer choices here, but, practically speaking, I’d hardly notice. The algorithm is different. Rather than assuming I am like everyone else, Pandora painstakingly (OK, no pain, no stakes) identifies several dozen traits that, taken together, define the music fairly narrowly. If you provide it a starting band or song, it looks for other music that’s similar on most/many characteristics and says, “Here ya go. How about this?” Better. But, what if I don’t have a starting place and I just want something new and interesting. No luck.
iTunes player: Why bother buying new music when I already have a constipated buttload (i.e. more than an ordinary buttload) of music already? So, I pick a song and let the software build a playlist. Not bad, but no matter where I start, the list inevitably includes at least one song by either No Age or HEALTH. Not everything goes with No Age or HEALTH. Almost … but not quite. When both are absent, it usually includes Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype.” Spooky!
Alright, so I can’t stick to what I have, then.
AllMusic iPhone app: If I rate several/many of my aforementioned buttload of music, AllMusic will be happy to recommend a dozen or more other choices. At least half the choices are just wrong, but the other half? Nothing I would have considered. That’s what I need. The choices come from a view of all my music at once rather than a few choices, one at a time. Likely, the algorithm is the like the iTunes store, but it gives several answers, not just one. There is a cost: long periods of poorly coordinated finger-poking on my iPhone.
eMusic’s infinite explorer: If I choose a starting point, I get a long list of artists related to the starting choice. Of course, “related” probably means the same as with iTunes: one or more people with artist A, also have albums by artist B, C, D, etc.. Unfortunately, at least 1 in every 5 options are things I already own. Why? Not because I’m consistent, but probably because I’m one of the few who purchased albums by artist A. Whatever the starting point I choose, I almost always see one or more of three choices: Django Django, METZ, and Dinosaur Jr. Since I own the first two, the other similar musical oddballs must also be Dino Jr fans. But, the further I scroll down, the further I get from my own collection.
In the end … I’m just going back to bed. This is too hard