1. Music choice is more about personal identity than it is about anything else.
Personal identity is spread through human interaction — that means what your friends listen too, or what your diaspora listens to — you probably listen to as well. Humans look to other humans for the social clues that help them decide what their identity should be, and in that way, that is how music discovery is spread as well.
That’s a long way of saying this: Yes, we are overwhelmed by all the music choices available to us, but we find new music the way new music has always been found — word of mouth.
How do you think Bach got his gigs? Word of mouth. How did Kanye blow up? Word of mouth.
What the music industries needs more of is streaming services with these social cues. Spotify should tell me that 30% of my Facebook friends (or, now, Google+ connections) are listening to the Black Eyed Peas. Or that 70% of listeners from my (hyper-local) area have started listening to Justin Beiber’s new album. I’m much more likely to listen to it is my friends (or merely people near me) are also listening.
Because music creates self-identity — which, in turn, creates something much more valuable: community.
If the music industry decided to start selling “community” instead of “music”, they’d be better off.
.2. Most music discovery platforms are in the wrong place.
Do you know the story of Joshua Bell playing violin in the Washington subway? He, one of the best violin virtuosos in the world, played piece-after-piece of classical repertoire. He played for 45 minutes and made $32.
To me, this was a ridiculous exercise. It proves two things to me:
1) The venue is much more important than the music or the musician
2) Never mistake a busy street for a venue
People are walking by. They left their houses because they had somewhere to go. Some middle aged guy with a fancy violin doesn’t change the fact that they need to catch a train to get to work.
How arrogant do you have to be to expect people to stop their lives to listen to your music? Give me a break.
Here is the important part: Facebook, Twitter, and most of the internet is a street. It is not a venue. People are on their way somewhere. They are doing things. They are busy. The internet is, then, not necessarily the best place for people to discover, and fall in love with, a song or an artist.
So if it seems that listeners are overwhelmed, that they are not finding the music they want, or nobody cares about “my” music — it’s because listeners are not in a venue that makes the music matter.