No Kyle, music discovery isn’t a lie

This week, the usually excellent Hypebot published a post by Kyle Bylin called  Music Discovery: The Path to Digital Failure. In this post, Kyle takes issue with a recent Billboard article about how music discovery is one of the key areas in the new music business.  Kyle pulls no punches. He says “Music Discovery is a lie that is never going to come true”.  His argument is threefold:

(1) “Music discovery is a dead pool of music startups, where zero successes exist

I’m not sure which world Kyle lives in, but it is not my world. I see music discovery success everywhere I look, from emerging startups like Discovr, Songza,,  SpotOn, The Sixty One,  We Are Hunted, and many more, to more established companies such as The Hype Machine,  Shazam, Soundhound, and Pandora.  There are companies like The Echo Nest (where I work), Rovi and Gracenote that supply data and tools for music discovery.   The biggest tech companies in the world: Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, are all investing heavily in music discovery technology such as music recommendation and playlisting. Likewise, the growing music subscription services like Spotify, Rhapsody and Rdio are working hard to provide tools to make it easier for their listeners to explore and discover new music, recognizing that this is essential for subscriber retention.  Even the traditional music tastemakers – such as the music labels, MTV and broadcast radio increasingly rely on discovery technology to surface new, interesting music. Oh, and by the way, three of the largest exits in the digital music space are discovery-related: ($280m), Gracenote ($260m) and Pandora (with a current market cap of 1.5bn).  I wouldn’t mind going for a swim in that dead pool.

There are hundreds of companies, big and small,  all around the world successfully improving the music discovery experience.   The success is quantifiable and real: more music sales, longer listening time, improved subscriber retention, more satisfied listeners.  Asserting that there are zero successes is just plain wrong.

(2) “Music discovery isn’t a problem, and it’s not a solution either. Music listeners don’t have trouble figuring out what to listen to; they simply don’t know what to listen to next. They have more than enough music, but not enough time to explore it.”

This is crazy time. First, Kyle says ‘Music discovery isn’t  a problem’ and then in the very next sentence he says that listeners ‘simply don’t know what to listen to  next’. The only way that this can make sense is for Kyle to have a very narrow understanding of what  music discovery is. I suspect that when Kyle says ‘music discovery’ he means ‘artist recommendation’, which is a very small part of the music discovery world.  Music discovery is so much more than just artist recommendation and a big part of music discovery is helping that listener decide what to listen to next.

(3) “Music discovery requires a lot of work; no service can do that work for you.”

So we went from “Music discovery isn’t a problem” to “Music discovery requires a lot of work“. Which is it? Certainly if it isn’t a problem then it shouldn’t require a lot of work. If I really don’t have trouble figuring out what to listen to why must I “set aside a few hours to sift through and listen to a lot of “bad” music“. Yes, music discovery can be hard. That is why so many people are trying to build tools to help you explore for and discover new music. That’s why Billboard suggests that  music discovery is one of the key areas in the new music business.   Today’s music listener is totally overwhelmed by the amount of music available.  Helping that listener sort through the 20 million songs that they have in their pocket to find something that they’d enjoy listening to next, perhaps something new, or perhaps an old favorite, will indeed be a key part of the new music business.  Music discovery is not “a lie” – it is real, it is a big part of today’s listening experience and will be an even bigger part of tomorrow’s listening experience.

  1. #1 by Tim on December 4, 2012 - 2:45 pm

    Very well said, I totally agree.



  2. #2 by noahpeterson on December 5, 2012 - 6:08 pm

    As an artist “Music Discovery” is about the biggest pile of crap I think I’ve ever seen us buy into. From obsessive SEO to social networking to Pandora to whatever…it’s the myth of fortune and fame for nothing. The truth is, as an artist, there is only one thing that drives web traffic, fan creation, sales, downloads, streams, radio play, media attention, etc… and that’s YOU. YOU need to busy your ass every day: playing gigs, postering telephone poles, passing out flyers, sending out emails and press releases and hounding all your friends to come to your gigs. This never changes. Those who have success have it because they are always working on their music chops, their business chops and their networking chops. Always. You want new fans? Play in venues and towns you’ve never played before. And rock their faces off. That’ll get you new fans. You want sales? Play a bunch of gigs and push your CDs, stickers, and merch. And rock their faces off. That’ll sell all your stuff. Want to attract attention on the web? Tour and promote. That’ll push your web traffic. Want to not make a dime and have no one listen to your music? Put it on some crappy website that pays you $.001 per stream and sit on your hands.

    You want attention? make some noise. Selling a bunch of records doesn’t make you successful in in the biz; you could sell a million CDs and still owe your record company money. You have to know what you’re doing. That takes work. And effort. And talking to people who have been doing what you do a lot longer than you.

    The problem with articles like these it that they aren’t real. Nobody cares. And for the occasional download you MIGHT sell to a “discover”…think about the amount of time invested to capture accidental traffic/listeners. Is that really what you want? Don’t you want music fans? Go play some gigs where music fans already are and rock their faces off. That will sell more music in a night that you’ll sell all year online via “discovery.” Screw that… Play and make music for your fans. And make more fans. If it’s any good, your fans will find you. Because they heard you and you rocked their faces off. Not because they “stumbled” across you.

    If you disagree fine. Go ahead. I spent 6 months on the road selling CDs, getting airplay, promoting as best I could and rocking peoples faces off. You don’t make a living in music by paying attention to articles like these, you do it by working your ass off. Every day.

  3. #3 by Kyle on December 7, 2012 - 5:45 pm


    I’m of the opinion that if you want to discover music, you have to go look for it – like hidden treasure. Unless, of course, you know of a particular type of treasure that just “happens” to be where YOU happen to be; or goes out of its way to be discovered by YOU. On the other hand, it does seem that there’s people out there who WANT to discover music, but are unwilling to do the legwork. Spotify, Pandora, and the likes of them, are basically the middlemen doing the “discovering” for the lead-bottoms.

    As for the TRUE artists, they’re probably not looking – I repeat – NOT looking to be discovered. Why you ask? Well, first, they KNOW that what they have is good; and they’re too busy creating the stuff you should be discovering. Though, if it were the other way around, they would be equally as diligent in seeking out those artists and their artistic creations.

    Second, they’re all too aware that some “creative team” at a major label will start messing up what they would be willing to give their lives just to create. And it’s never just “creative suggestion or input”; it’s usually called creative control. In many cases, it’s a bunch of parasites who come in and try to make a name for themselves by attaching their “talents” to an already finished work. Otherwise, why not go and do something about that “talent”? Like gigging! Imagine, then, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting at some major record label – fearsome thought is it not? One can imagine that it won’t be long before Mona Lisa will be defrocked – and wearing nothing but a bikini. Third, there’s the issue of integrity. I know it’s a word that seems old-fashioned, but some people on really do have it. And there ARE people on both sides of the equation: artists and label execs – that really do want to discovered great music. But not by any means.

    Take, for example, the case of Justin Beiber. And I’ve got nieces that do “believe” he’s talentless. But the industry would have us believe that all pre-pubiscent girls (and their mothers) are convicned that this young man exudes talent. And they believe he’s on the SAME ARTISTIC LEVEL as Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and – I’ll even go so far as to say – Frankie Avalon! Sorry about the Grammy snub biebs – but, one thing IS apparentl, that there are some talented judges at the Grammys! We’re asked to believe that Scooter Braun and LA Reid became so enamored with the young man that they just HAD to sign him on. But, there are those who are in on the joke: Justin Beiber wasn’t discovered , he was shoved into our collective faces by those who are behind him. Don’t get me wrong, the kid’s not to blame – his label is. We know the real issue isn’t about music discovery – never was, never will be. It’s about “show me the money!” Geffen may have spoken for all of us when he encouraged Braun to stay away from the “music” business; that’s probably why Justin also sells lipsticks. Think, General Motors selling Tacos instead of cars that run properly.

    The labels ask you to believe they are the proponets of talent – yet that’s the BEST they can come up with; and can you really find talent on American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor? Seems they DO NOT BELIEVE music exists to be discovered. No matter – years from now, we’ll all look back on their fiasco and – like Rowe at Decca when he declined to sign The Beatles – say, “you had your chance to make a decent contribution to history, now all you’ll have is regret and infamy.” We’ll all tell our children – “yeah, there was a time when the music industry was turning out *@#*#(!

    Kyle (NO, not THAT Kyle)

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