The equivalent of radio for the Internet generation is none other than Web music services, Spotify, Last.fm, Pandora and Slacker Radio. Over the last several years, innovation, particularly in the music industry, has offered a particularly effective and convenient technological solution for the consumption of music. Consequently our our music discovery habits have become less dependent on professional DJs, and the latest music technology has been an evangelist for relying on our peers and algorithms. But will Spotify or Pandora crowd out DJ curated radio? Not during our lifetime.
For digital music enthusiasts, “curation” is synonymous with “recommendation engine.” Our previous listening habits, the bands we’ve liked on Facebook, and our friend’s musical inclinations are among some of the markers that help justify a machine’s music recommendation. On one hand we can’t deny the value of Pandora. The platform spoon feeds the music that an algorithm has dictated its users would be inclined to enjoy. But with a machine, something is inherently missing. While the service is an efficient discovery tool, the user is enclosed a “music bubble.” In this bubble, music discovery is limited (for the most part) to those record labels that Pandora has secured a deal with. Many indie musicians without a deal or an “in” with Pandora are out of luck.
So what does that mean for the growing underground, label-less Chicago band that garnered an audience of 100 fans on a Friday night? Unless they’ve been cataloged in the first place, the band isn’t going to be finding an audience through Pandora any time soon.
The number of avenues for music discovery is multiplying, but there is an inherent value in radio. Music fans are more likely to listen to their local professional DJ than to their Facebook friend’s Spotify playlist, which merely showcases that friend’s terrible taste in music. “Music discovery is fragmented,” Matthew Bates, Senior Radio Program Manager at Slacker Radio told Pop ‘Stache. Today, we’re discovering new music from our friends, streaming services, blogs and radio. “But radio and all of its forms are still a powerful means of music discovery,” Bates assured us.
Terrestrial radio stations have been reluctant to innovate its age old business model, which is where the criticisms against radio has taken root during this Internet-reliant era. But there’s an understanding by the industry as a whole that the future of music is in its digital and Internet form. Some radio networks, like Clear Channel, have ventured as far as to acquire iHeartRadio, which is admittedly a step in the right direction, but other technological services like Slacker Radio have been equally successful under the limelight. In fact, the service is the second largest in the personal radio space with 35 million users and boasts 200 DJ-curated genre stations. Other Web-based stations that hybridize radio and technology include BreakThruRadio and TheFuture.fm.
At the core, Slacker can be best described as radio infused with technology. “We are fundamentally radio. We are more technologically advanced radio, but a lot of what we do stems from radio best practices.” Bates said. “We help people discover new music and new artists, and in doing so, assist in the development of an emerging artist’s career by introducing listeners to music in the context of the music they already know and love.”
In competing with Pandora, the service boasts a catalogue ten times the size of Pandora’s own, but more importantly Slacker is constantly perusing channels with the hopes of finding new, quality music. Its own avenue for music discovery includes scouring blogs, local gigs, terrestrial radio, friend recommendations and other rather archaic methods. In fact Bates revealed that Pop ‘stache is among the list of blogs that Slacker Radio turns to for discovering new artists.
One reason for radio’s success in its many forms, as Bates explained, is best epitomized by curator and music executive, John Reis. He is a, “perfect example of a human being doing something that an algorithm alone could not do, which is identifying all of these different kinds of genres, disparate styles and all these songs, which many of which are hopelessly obscured or out of print, and putting them together in a way that makes sense,” Bates told Pop ‘stache. “But more importantly it gives you a real charge, emotionally.”
For consumers, there’s curatorial value in radio, which cannot be usurped by technology any time soon, and isn’t restricted to a vehicle anymore. “I think there’s always going to be value for busy people who are truly passionate about music, that don’t have the time for constant self direct music discovery,” Bates said. “What radio does, in all of its forms especially on the digital side, it fulfills that promise of feeding users and helping them discover music that’s exciting to you and based on what you already like. “