In a couple of weeks, on 3rd October, I'll be taking part in a panel discussion organised by MusicTank here in London, about the role of experts and filters in helping us sift the massive quantities of music being produced. Here's an extract from the blurb:
Most people would agree that choice is a good thing, but there is a flipside to this vision of a musical consumerist's paradise. While aficionados and geeks might relish the challenge of judging vast swathes of music for themselves (choosing, aggregating and selecting between an array of filters, e.g. Pandora, Pitchfork, online communities), would more casual consumers (and thus the public majority) not prefer a bit of guidance, not just in terms of the music itself but also in terms of which filters are to be trusted?
I'm looking forward to meeting several of my fellow participants. First and foremost, Tom Robinson is giving the keynote. Tom is probably still best known as a songwriter and performer, though in the last decade he's become a well-respected DJ and radio presenter. In that respect, you might expect him to back the role of 'gatekeepers'. However, he has also been critical of the mainstream music business and has praised MySpace.
(Actually I hope I get the chance to thank Tom for introducing me to Philip Jeays and his music. This wasn't via his radio show — Jeays seems not to fit into any of the BBC's formats — but via one of his annual 'Castaway' live shows where he invites guest performers. There's still no more thrilling way of discovering a new artist than in live performance, and I've become a devoted fan of Jeays since first seeing him play at Tom's 2004 Castaway gig. A classic case of 'old school' programming and tastemaking.)
I've mentioned Emap's Project Phoenix before, and how useful the research in that project is to understanding how different strata of fans discover new music. I draw on it quite extensively in my book. I've spoken to and emailed Richard Fero from Emap before about Project Phoenix, but the MusicTank event will be the first time we get to discuss it face-to-face.
I'm also looking forward to hearing what the Managing Director of Pandora's international arm, Paul Brown, will have to say. Pandora is an excellent example of the harnessing of old-fashioned expertise to Web 2.0 techniques. They have staff trained in musicology who listen to each music track for 20 minutes to code its features and then the service uses these features to match tracks to listeners. But this labour-intensive approach means that, according to their FAQ, Pandora adds only 15,000 tracks a month to its systems, which means it is not keeping up with the volume of new releases, let alone the full back catalogue of recorded music.
I've already met Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, as we share the same publisher in the UK, and Andrew was kind enough to provide an endorsement for the cover of my book. Notwithstanding Andrew's generosity, we don't agree on everything… I'll be holding to my line that there is no need to pit amateur bloggers against expert gatekeepers when there is room for both, and different kinds of value in their contributions. The smart thing is to work out how to marry the best bits of both.
Finally the one participant I didn't know of beforehand is Charlie Rapino, but he has experience from many sides of the music business, including promoting gigs, A&R, artist management and broadcast production.
Needless to say, both my book and Andrew Keen's will be available to buy on the night, at a discount. Please come along, and say hello, if you're in London — MusicTank events are always lively and informed discussions.