Entertainment Media Research weren't the only people publishing results of a survey of digital music listeners yesterday (see yesterday's post). On a slightly smaller scale, The Hype Machine — an aggregator of music blogs that many consider a prime indicator of "buzz" in new music — produced their figures for how their users like to discover music.
I took part in this survey a few weeks ago. I can't remember exactly how the question was phrased or whether the options were expressed as in this chart — I thought there were more of them, and neither radio or TV are mentioned here. But I do remember that I ticked all of the options that were available.
Judging from the Hype Machine chart (reproduced here), most people ticked several options. Which is obvious when you think about it. Only the most avid fans actually spend time setting out to discover new music. The rest of the music listening world is going about their lives, trying to keep themselves amused with some music on in the background, or just killing time on the web, when they happen to come across something that takes their fancy and is worth exploring more. That could come about from talking to friends, reading a magazine or a blog, or just walking the street. Anyone would be daft to rule out any of these sources as paths to discovery.
If you accept that reasoning, then the thing that needs explaining is why some sources of discovery don't score very highly, particularly the "Online Mechanical" category, which included Pandora, Last.fm's automatic recommendations, MyStrands and other automatic and personalised recommendations. Taylor McKnight of the Hype Machine writes,
My theory is because this is the newest way of music discovery only really coming to fruition in the last 5 years:
A) people are still getting used to trusting computer algorithms for recommendations on something so emotional/personal (something that blogs/friends obviously have)
B) algorithms for recommendations haven't hit the tipping point of getting more rights than wrongs.
I only partly buy that theory. Firstly I think it's a rose-tinted view to suggest that every blog reader makes an emotional/personal connection with the blogs they read (a proportion of them are just scavenging the blogs for free MP3s). And people seem to have taken quite quickly to trusting the "shuffle" computer algorithm, which is the exact opposite of emotional and personal. Secondly, my experience of Pandora's and Last.fm's recommendations is that they are pretty damn good (if you put in the time to 'train' them by listening to a few hundred of their recommendations and responding with a 'love' or 'hate') — as good or better than my favourite specialist radio programmes, and I'm a big fan of good ('emotional/personal') radio.
But I think Taylor is right that it's mainly a question of people getting used to automated recommendation systems. Hence nothing is hindering their growth as aids to discovery except habit, and the fact that people can get by perfectly well by relying on friends and other more traditional sources. I expect the use and influence of these systems to grow year-on-year in the same way that yesterday's survey shows social networks to be growing.
Taking into account the group of people who completed to the Hype Machine survey, it's no surprise that "Online Editorials" was mentioned most often — by 89% of respondents. This category includes music blogs, which is what the Hype Machine deals in. So in fact, it's a bit strange that it didn't get mentioned by 100%: since the survey was aimed at Hype Machine users, at least 11% of these users appear to be using it for something other that discovering new music. What?