Music Discovery – How Artists Can Beat The Hype And Create Value As Curators

jukeGuest post by Yannick Servant of The Digital Edge, a new blog by Official.fm on Music Industry 2.0 and the opportunities it holds for artists (@digitaledgeofm).

In the midst of Apple’s launch of “the absolute best way to discover new music”, you’d have to have been living under a rock over the past few months to not notice the massive hype built around the notion of music discovery. Case in point : 44 out of Spotify’s 74 “Top Apps” are labeled “discovery”. But dig a bit deeper, and it’s hard to equate share of voice with share of added value on this subject. Put more bluntly, in Kyle Bylin of Sidewinder.fm’s words : “a majority of listeners don’t care”. Technically brilliant data-focused algorithms are being welcomed by unenthusiastic shrugs because they crash into what Jed Carlson calls the “tension around music discovery”. On the one hand, music fans don’t want to be told what to like, on the other, they’re constantly looking for social cues to create context and put sense into the immense music catalogs now available to them. Music discovery has always been experienced and loved as something inherently social. Focusing on technology means you’re focusing on telling people what to like. Sites like the Hype Machine gained traction by shifting the focus to what’s actually being talked about, but it’s still a list of lists, outside of fans’ social circles.

What this blog post by Sidewinder reminds us is that music discovery bears most value in the eyes and ears of the music fan when it’s a real human he can feel close to curating the music. Hand-picking musical items and assorting them in a meaningful order (a playlist, a mixtape), with the promise of value added by the curator’s expertise. Making sense out of the informational and musical chaos. That was precisely radio’s role, and, in its prime, it did it well (think “The Boat That Rocked”). Now that the gates have fallen and that anyone can have his shot at being an influencer on the Web, curation is a powerful lever at the musician’s disposal.

Here are the top 4 reasons why you’d want to look into it :
1. It’s an incredible opportunity to engage your fans and bring them into your universe. If your fans are passionate about you and your art, they’ll want to know all about what influenced and inspired you to create the music they love. More than ever, they’re eager to feel a part of your social circles, and that’s something you should make the most of.
2. As an artist, you’re in the best place to produce meaningful curation. Music is your hobby, your job, your career, your passion. You’ve got the credentials, and the more quality curation you produce, the bigger the boost to your cred and following will be.
3. In the era of instantaneous information and short attention spans, it’s a way of continuing to exist on the top of your audience’s mind – that’s one of the big reasons a lot of electro & hip hop artists produce a steady stream of mixtapes in between releases.
4. In the hype of music discovery, you’re up against algorithms generating endless lists of “related artists”. You, on the other hand, have the opportunity to make it exciting, unique and memorable by giving real and personal context to what you’re sharing. Authenticity makes a real difference.

There’s one artist we love who does a good deal of this pretty neatly. The guy’s stage name is Pretty Lights, an electronic music artist with his own label, Pretty Lights Music. Every week, he curates “The HOT Sh*t” on Spotify, the playlists from his live radio sets that blend his tunes, tunes from artists on his label, and other musicians he appreciates in the same genre. This week is episode 82.
Sure, the guy’s got 700,000 Facebook fans and was playing Coachella this year, but the fundamentals are the same whatever your size : have a look at his Web presence… his commitment to his curation effort and his management of his artist/fan relationship really force respect.

Acing curation is no easy task, but here are three tips that should help before jumping in :
• It’s an investment (Pretty Lights is onto his EIGHTY-SECOND playlist) – make sure to connect with your audience along the way to feed your effort with their feedback.
• Know your audience: you can’t (and shouldn’t) please everyone – aim for what will really turn your fans on, and build it from there.
• This is your opportunity to deliver something truly unique… make sure you have an “editorial voice”.

We strongly feel curation and discovery really are buzzwords when you deal with automation and algorithms. There’s no lasting value, no experience in that. But, when you work on curation that shows you know your audience and provides them with a truly unique experience, the value should speak for itself, and it should really show in your fanbase, whether you started from 700 or 700,000 fans.

Agree, disagree, have experiences to share ? Let us know in the comments !

And next up on The Digital Edge, a hands-on look at the best tools to get cracking with curation. Stay tuned !