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July 2014

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The Friction Is In the Discovery

I don't buy a lot of music anymore, and in thinking back, I suspect that I stopped buying when I stopped listening to the radio. (I stopped listening to the radio because the stations play the same sixteen stupid songs every twenty minutes...forever. But that's a separate rant.) The tough part in selling anything is discovery—basically, getting the prospective customers to know that you exist—and it becomes a lot tougher when you slide from machine screws to wine, and incomparably tougher yet when you move from wine into the realm of art. Absent radio, I discover new music a lot less often. Here's a recent discovery tale that did lead to a purchase, and if I were the artist I'd be maybe a little annoyed:

Carol and I don't watch a lot of TV, but we turn on the Weather Channel before we go to bed to catch Local on the 8s, and then again in the morning over breakfast. The Weather Channel plays "smooth jazz" during its canned local forecasts. My affection for smooth jazz is sparse, albeit less sparse than my affection for what I call club jazz. No sax please; we're contrarians—I think I dislike sax music because almost everybody else worships it. A few mornings ago, I looked up over my Cheerios to watch Local on the 8s, and realized that there were no saxophones playing. Better still, it was not the usual mournful, shapeless noodling, but a purposeful, upbeat (nay, near-manic) piano piece. Two minutes later, the forecast over and the music cut short by yet another Mucinex mucus man commercial, I ran out of the kitchen to the machine here, muttering, "I gotta have that!"

Alas, the Weather Channel does not announce the artists on its forecast music, so I hammered out a quick email to them, after spending several minutes digging through their site looking for a contact link: Please, folks, what was the title/artist of the bouncy piano piece playing during today's 6:58 AM Local on the 8s?

I only half expected an answer, and was working on memorizing the piece so that I could whistle it to whomever I might know in smooth jazz fandom. But yay wow, by late afternoon, I got a nice note from a Weather Channel junior staffer who confessed that she didn't know precisely, but the February AM playlist was attached. And so it was: The email carried an Excel spreadsheet containing the titles and artists for 15 songs, one of which was by implication the bouncy piano piece. I just didn't know which one.

I had done this kind of detective work a time or two before. I first looked up the artists, separating the pianists from the sax maniacs. It came down to either Leo Tizer or Bradley Joseph. I went over to Amazon, looked up the artists, and started playing the samples for the album tracks named in the playlist spreadsheet. On the third try, I got it: Brandley Joseph's "Rose-Colored Glasses" (and Bradley himself) had been discovered. Ninety seconds later, I had purchased the track through One Click for 89c, and had a DRM-free MP3 in my music directory. Ninety seconds after that, I had his CD album (Hear the Masses) on its way. The friction was all in the discovery.

Amazon supposedly sells two million music tracks as unencumbered MP3s. I shop for music so rarely that I didn't even know this. I did know that Amazon has been selling PDF-formatted short stories (and other short textual works, including nonfiction) for a couple of years now, for 49c a pop. Alas, by the time I decided to apply to the program, they had closed it to new submissions, but the delivery mechanism is the same as for MP3s: If you have One Click enabled, you get the item in a few seconds.

I think Amazon Shorts may have been doomed because Big Name Writers would not sell unencumbered PDFs, and Small Name (or No Name) writers do not sell enough of anything to justify the effort it takes Amazon to vet them and post them. Or perhaps Amazon is simply migrating the program to Kindle. We'll find out eventually. The point to be taken away here is that we have digital delivery down cold. Discovery is fluky and always will be, especially for things like fiction, which (with vanishingly rare exceptions) you do not hear on the radio. Amazon can make the gumballs drop into your hands. We're still not sure how they'll make you want the gumballs, but tougher problems have been solved.

In the meantime, Bradley Joseph has another fan, and might have more if the Weather Channel would just put his name in the corner of the screen while they're playing his music over their forecasts. I hope he got some cash for the license, because not everybody is going to dig as hard as I did!

Comments

Pandora is better than radio

Allow me to recommend Pandora Internet Radio. It contains a fairly huge music library that has been analysed in accordance with the Music Genome Project. In use, it's fairly simple: you pick one song to start with. It plays the song, then goes on to a similar song. You can give the ensuing songs a thumbs up or thumbs down, and add more suggestions of your own. After a half-dozen or so actions on your part, it's got a personalized radio station for you that plays what you like.

If you have wildly eclectic tastes like I do, you get better results by creating three or four stations, each focusing on facets you like. I've got a country/folk station, a r&b, and so on.

One reason I love it is that nearly 50% of their selections are artists I never heard of, or at least never heard. Asked to describe why it picked a particular song for my playlist, it says "Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features folk roots, country influences, acoustic sonority, extensive vamping and major key tonality." Yow. Yeah, that's a pretty good description of my "Singer/Songwriters" station.

Recommended.
I have a similar problem, which is why I was so delighted to read Kevin Kelly's post recently on this topic. He is far more elegant than I, but essentially writes of discovering David Byrne's internet radio site, which leads listeners to new sources of interesting music that they might not otherwise find. A great idea, and a great service.

See: http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/002642.php

David Byrne Radio: http://www.davidbyrne.com/radio/index.php

Hope this meets some of your musical needs (including some that you didn't know you had...) ~A

(Anonymous)

music listening

I found that I stopped listening to music at some point. An odd discovery, having always been one of those for whom the stereo is the first item to set up on moving to a new place. But I realized, as I searched for the reason, that I have reached a point in life where I listen, when I listen, so intently that I can't write code, or even prose. Conversely, when I am writing -- either prose or code -- I don't hear the music. So on those occasions when I try to listen, and try to write, one or the other loses. Most often it seems to be the music that loses, no matter what the form, artist, or how passionate I may be about either.

Usually, I realize the music has stopped with an hour or two ;)

Bill Meyer

Re: music listening

That's how it worked for me, more or less. When I was in college I would write my silly SF novels with rock'n'roll going full blast. I can't do that now--focus seems to require more of the grey matter. I never could code except in silence, regardless of what language or platform--perhaps because I learned programming by writing COSMAC binary in my head!

(Anonymous)

Re: music listening

COSMAC binary... I don't know whether the resultant damage to the grey cells is as irreversible as for those whose first efforts are essayed in BASIC, but I have to wonder ;)

My first was the Godbout Assembler in ROM on an S-100 card. With an ASR-33 for offline storage (not very successful, but a helluva distraction!)

Some years ago -- maybe 15 by now -- I did write TP code in the middle of a video control room during a Blue Jays home game. The general chaos was such that I tuned it out about as easily as I might have tuned out white noise. No, make that pink noise, white is too annoying to tune out for long.

Bill Meyer
One of the interesting areas of constructive churning on the web is the attempts to social-network musical tastes, or music collections.
There are a couple of different angles on finding what people who like the same music as you like that you don't know yet.