Clearing the Air: Great digital music is everywhere, we just need to find it.

By Mark Johnson

What do you think of when you hear the word “curator”? A stuffy museum employee who ushers people behind the velvet rope of an exhibit – or perhaps a noble defender of ancient antiquities?

The word “curator” can actually refer to any person who acts as a filter, usually of subjective and artistic content, in an effort to highlight and present what they deem “good” and noteworthy. The digital age has created an unprecedented need for “filters” – as anyone doing online research has probably realized. It’s simple. There’s a lot of stuff to filter. Music, with the past decade’s explosion in digital distribution is no different.

Today’s technological innovations and attitudes encourage people to become artists and share their work in ways past generations couldn’t conceive. The exposure of artists in the past was limited by the resources of their benefactors and geography.

Who Can We Trust When Finding Music?

The affordability and resulting proliferation of computers and recording software and equipment means almost anyone has a ready-made audience of millions – if they can break through the clutter. The problem is not finding music, but finding the music we like in a world where anyone can easily distribute music across the internet. We know what we like when we hear it, but where do we look? Who can we trust?

Some are trusting in the collective wisdom of that same Internet. I’m sure you’ve heard the old maxim about “strength in numbers.” In the same way Google taps into the collective actions of millions of web-users to generate useful search results or Rotten Tomatoes aggregates movie reviews, some are using such “crowd sourcing” to sift through the silt for musical gold.

Chinquapin Records in New Orleans

Chinquapin Records & Building A Collective Label

Chinquapin Records, a New Orleans-based record label founded and run by members of multiple local bands, has taken this path. The label is a collective effort for all of the bands to support one another and to build a brand that will come to be a trusted haven of good music.

But what if Chinquapin Records was viewed as “one” curator rather than a collective? Artists could come together to form labels, and then the labels could also come together to form a curating body.

This is exactly what Bill Armstrong of Los Angeles indie label Side One Dummy just did with thenewrecord.com, a website where 30 top indie music labels come together to offer free previews of new music that is about to be released. Other organizations lean toward quality over quantity of curators – they trade the brute force of the whole web for the opinions of a few select friends. After all, they reason, who are we more likely to trust for discovering new music? The hundreds or thousands of possible curators associated with the 30 labels of thenewrecord.com, or our 20 closest friends?

Spotify logo

Spotify, the wildly popular European music sharing site, is betting on your social circle. In a bold move, Spotify requires all new accounts be accessed through a Facebook login, solidifying the music streaming service’s ties with the world’s most popular social networking site. Through this connection friends (real or of the Facebook variety) can share and recommend songs/artists with one another.

Spotify’s tact is a more personal take on iTunes and Pandora methods, which recommend songs based on comparing your tastes to others. Like the eclectic groove of Radiohead? Maybe you’ll like the mellow tones of the latest Coldplay album. Whether a Radiohead fan loves or abhors Coldplay, your decisions feed into their soulless (but at times, uncanny) recommendation algorithms.

Whatever the solution, the world’s over 10 billion indexed web pages (insert the obligatory but accurate “and counting” here) reveal the stunning need for programs, experts, and armchair aficionados to sort through and discover the truly useful, beautiful, and unique musical treasures that litter cyberspace.

 

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