How People Discover Music

I missed it in July, but today The Listenerd drew my attention to a survey conducted by mp3 blog aggregator, the Hype Machine which asked people: How Do You Discover Music?

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in social sciences (I hope!) to spot some immediate reasons to question the survey’s validity — it was conducted at an mp3 blog aggregator, which ought to skew it toward mp3 blog readers in a big way, and it was not open-ended (apparently they didn’t include “radio,” as was noted in the comments — 7.6% said they used the radio in the ‘other’ category, but would more have said so had it been asked?).

At any rate, though, here are the results of the 1,430 answers they got (people could check all that applied):

Total Responses: 1430


These findings have some interesting implications, though I think we have to discount the fact that “online editorials” (i.e. mostly blogs), came out as the first given the nature of the sample.

(1) Friends rule. Still. In their own interpretations, they go right to, but I am not convinced — especially after seeing the role of music in friending on in my survey data (still working on that stuff) — that it’s really online friend connections where most meaningful recommendation is happening. If it is online friends, I think most of those friends, or at least a very substantial proportion of them, are friends offline with whom one also connects online rather than friends formed online for purposes of sharing musical taste.

(2) Algorithms such as and Pandora’s (“Online Mechanical”) have a long way to go. This may be on account of people not using them, but I suspect it also has to do with the difficulty of capturing just what it is that makes Band A appeal to someone when Band B doesn’t. has spent the last 2 years recommending me people I know I don’t like, to the point where I quit checking my recommendations. Lately though it seems to have gotten somewhat better (except for that it now recommends bands I already listen to!).

This really suggests the tremendous potential of things like iLike and applications on Facebook for spreading the word. If you get the music recommendations where the offline friendship networks are already mirrored, word spreads. This has been happening on MySpace already for a long time, but people have acted as though it’s a straight band to fan phenomenon when it’s always been friend to friend, with the band as a social commodity exchanged between them.

It also means that the more ways that labels and bands can make their music portable so that friends can ship it around easily to one another, the more they’re going to thrive.

It was funny to run across this because just yesterday I was thinking that someone really ought to do a study where they ask a large random sample of people how they heard about the last artist whose music they got into and whether or not they had purchased the music. That’s what you’d really need to do if you wanted to know how people are getting turned on to new music. Unless someone wants to hire me to do that study on their behalf, I doubt I’ll ever do it myself, so please steal this idea (or hire me!) because I want to know the results.

Assessing the Internet’s Credibility

An article in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend had some very interesting points to make about how shifts toward the internet in the music industry are impacting non-American bands’ ability to get visas to tour in the US. They spend much of the article on Lily Allen, whose visa was denied on account of some scuffle that got her on a bad-criminal-type list of some sort. But they also talk at length, particularly in regard to the Klaxons and New Model Army, about how the need to demonstrate reputation in the US is affected by the rise of blogs and online coverage. Bands have to show that they have been “internationally recognized” for a “sustained and substantial” time in order to get a visa.

Problem #1 is that the net has sped up the process of nothing to everything so much for some bands that what counts as “substantial” time in pop music may fall far short of the Immigration Service’s standard.

Problem #2 is that the net has become one of the main ways to document a band’s international recognition over time, yet the folks assessing visa applications can’t tell Pitchfork from

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, says that the Internet has changed the kind of evidence that bands present — posts from blogs and online magazines now appear in application packages. But the agency says it will only consider these sources if the band can prove that they are well-read and influential. The burden of proof falls on the band.

The WSJ points out that this comes even as live music revenues are up, despite CD sales being down, and they imply that canceling international tours takes a toll on the US economy. They also suggest, obliquely, that it’s in conflict with international diplomacy:

All this comes as some foreign governments are ramping up efforts to export pop music. New Zealand, for instance, has formed a music commission with a $400,000 budget to support the country’s music acts on tours abroad. At least three bands will play New Zealand’s first showcase concert at the CMJ festival next month.

“We’ve seen a much more aggressive effort from the cultural export agencies. I see it as the globalization of the music marketplace,” says CMJ founder Robert Haber. This year, bands from 50 countries are slated to perform at the event, up from about 30 countries three years ago.

In some ways I am sympathetic with the visa-grantor’s problem. It is not hard to imagine a band that wants to come to the States relying on lame blogs no one reads to say “look! we’re internationally recognized!” On the other hand, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. I think the country has much more pressing threats than bad pop bands.

But it points to a far deeper issue, which is the general credibility of online sources, and the fact that, in the absence of proof that an online site is “well-read and influential,” the assumption is that it’s all a bunch of garbage. Do they demand that bands demonstrate that a print source (zine articles for instance) is “well-read and influential?” I kind of doubt it. Paper = Legitimate. Pixels = Suspect. I run across this in academia in trying to justify online publication (to say nothing of, horror of horrors, blogging!) all the time.

There are many reasons bloggers might not want to publicize their numbers, and there is still no really good way to count site visitors, so it’s not clear how a band would go about proving the worth of the sites that cover them. This would be a great little service for someone to provide: before you apply for your visa, submit your internet coverage to us and we’ll document the popularity of the sites it mentions. No reason for every band to have to make this up themselves.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve heard rumors of bands trying to visit the US on tourist (vs. work) visas and being turned away because a google search revealed to the would-be visa granter that they were members of bands with US tour dates scheduled. Can’t win for losing on this one!

I’m becoming my own reality

Ever have the feeling you’re becoming the butt of a joke you started?

Like when you start posting about Facebook fakesters and come home from a camping weekend to find a friends request from a fictional creation? You fanfic fandom people are going to have to clue me in to the backstory on this one, because I have to confess total cluelessness. I know only what I google.

On the other hand, I’ve been watching the Swedes rush to Facebook for weeks and patiently waiting for my new(ish) musical crush to get on there so I could send him a friend request, because that’s just the kind of tramp I am. And he did! Ooh! Ah! And he accepted my friend request! Ooh! Ah!

But… now that I’ve been doing the fakester rant, I’m paranoid! Is it really him? Ok, I lie, this one I’m pretty sure is the real thing, though maybe it’s his sweetie who handles his web stuff, which is just fine too so long as she tells him some dorky professor in Kansas thinks he’s the bee’s knees.

And I have to say that even though I think the Vampires and Zombies trends on FB are very annoying, when a guy with a voice like that (free mp3 — listen to the first 17 second of that song. swoon swoon total swoon) gives me a vampire bite, it’s kind of hot. Though not hot enough to add the application.

Here’s another free ‘n’ legal mp3 of his new single, Modern Love.

[does anyone know why I can't embed radio or youtube videos in my posts? is it a wordpress thing or am i doing something wrong?]

Football and Politics Mix about as well as Rock and Politics

Evidently there is controversy in Seattle, where 2 members of the Seattle Seahawks went to a Republican fundraiser where they met President Bush, presented him with a Seahawks jersey and declared him “an honorary Seahawk.” As the Seattle Post Intelligence reports:

The Seahawks quarterback and fullback gave the 43rd president a No. 43 jersey with his name on it at a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Rep. Dave Reichert at the Hyatt.At the time, Hasselbeck called it a thrill and said it was a win-win, this opportunity to meet the president and get out of a team meeting.

But as soon as he saw the picture of the two players with Bush, Gary Wright, the team’s vice president of administration, said he was concerned about negative reaction.

Maybe in really red Republican states, it would not have been a big deal. But Washington is a blue state, and deep, deep Democratic blue in King County. So objections were raised, and Hasselbeck heard them and read them. He got nasty voice mails, e-mails and text messages.

[...]As a quarterback, he’s used to getting booed. “But this was a whole new level,” he said. “I was very surprised how mean (they were).”

As evidence were these responses to Angelo Bruscas’ blog posting on

“How dare Hasselbeck declare Bush an honorary Seahawk,” wrote one. “Who is Matt speaking for? Bush is no Seahawk. He is the worst president of my lifetime, and I’m almost 60. Shame on you, Matt.”

“To learn that two of the most popular Seahawks are strong (Bush) supporters ruins the season for me and my family,” wrote another.

And Timothy P. wrote: “Just goes to show you that being a great athlete doesn’t make you smart.”

Among the right-wing rebuttals: “Amen! It’s about time that someone broke through the liberal haze in this state. I don’t know about anyone else, but the Seahawks gained another fan and ticket buyer.”

And this: “He’s the president of the United States. You liberals are the nastiest, most hateful people I know. I’m ashamed of Seattle.”

This strongly echoes the discussion I wrote about here regarding AT&T censoring Pearl Jam’s anti-Bush lyrics. It is also, as liberal blog The Carpetbagger Report notes, an odd counter-story to the conservative tirade against the Dixie Chicks (he notes that the conservative blogs who strongly urged burning of Dixie Chicks cds when they said mean things about Bush are now strongly urging liberals to allow conservatives freedom of speech).

At the core of the problem here is that people IDENTIFY with bands and teams, and that identification — that sense of having their very selfhood tied up in this other thing — is central to what makes them fans. So when the singer, the quarterback, the … whatever, says something that goes against something else they strongly identify with (politics being a great example, but not the only one) it creates a lot of dissonance.

For example, I love love love the band The Wrens. They have an odd number of songs that mention guns. They’ve got one song in which their singer seems to be seeking “a faster gun.” I think guns are bad bad things. I’d like to see them off the U.S. streets. When I met them, one of the things I asked was “are you guys like really pro-gun cuz, if you are, I think I have to re-evaluate my affection.” Luckily for me, they said “NO!” But now I guess they’ve lost the NRA lobby.

Bottom line: Of course public figures have the right to express their political attitudes. But they should not be surprised when there is backlash from fans. Shared taste in sports teams, pop music, tv shows, literature, you name it, does not guarantee shared attitudes toward anything else, and if you’re making your living in part by relying on other people’s identification with you and what you do, that is at risk every time you express an opinion. That’s just the way it is.

Who knew Dylan was so much fun?

When they make lists of iconic music videos, if they do that (how could they not?), it would be remiss not to include Bob Dylan’s classic Subterranean Homesick Blues – you know, the one where he holds us the words on the signs and tosses them into the street?

To promote his upcoming greatest hits record, they’ve put up this site where you, yes you, can put your own words on the signs and send it as a little movie to your friends (they tack a plug for the cd at the end). Irresistable!


I could play with this thing for hours! And I don’t really like Dylan (can I admit that on the internet? guess I just did — I did see him this summer! He was good, though he didn’t say one word to the audience. I went with my mom, stepdad, and kids and thought the fact that this was a three-generational family rock concert was the best part.)

Update: Also available as a Facebook Application. Smart marketing gets even smarter.