Over the last eight months I’ve conducted a multi-tiered experiment to develop a complete system of music discovery on the web.
The first stage of the experiment analyzed the top aggregate metadata websites to see which yielded the most productive media recommendations.
The test began with one of the longest-established contenders -
STAGE ONE – LAST.FM
I provided 25,367 scrobbled tracks between March 20th and November 22nd, (an average of 102 tracks per day) to build a viable sample set of my listening preferences.
The case study -
LastFm breaks your recommendations into genre tabs, which is a plus-3 for organization.
The resulting artists, however are far from enlightening. Nearly every result was either an artist already in my play history, or a token “poster-boy” artist for their genre.
For electronica (a terrible term we’re still trying to bury,) the top suggested artists were Faithless and Orbital.
For jazz, it suggested Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy, Lee Morgan, Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor (appealing to the free and avant-garde jazz trends of my listening)
And for modern classical avant-garde, Pierre Schaeffer, Terry Riley, Kronos Quartet, Pierre Boulez, Michael Nyman and Arvo Pärt.
There were no surprises among them, which I suppose is to be expected from a popularity-contest recommendation system. I don’t fault LastFm for using this method; it’s simply not a resource I would utilize to find anything new.
STAGE TWO - STREAMING SERVICES
RDIO – http://www.rdio.com
SPOTIFY – https://www.spotify.com
RHAPSODY – http://www.rhapsody.com/start
SOUNDCLOUD – https://soundcloud.com
GROOVESHARK – http://grooveshark.com
8TRACKS – http://8tracks.com
After repeatedly giving these sites a try over this past year, I’ve been disappointed every time by the lack of user control, the low bitrate of their streams, the advertisements, and most of all the universally abysmal selection of available tracks. The fundamental flaw with these services is that if the rightsholder(s) of any particular record haven’t worked out a deal with these services, you won’t likely find their content any time soon.
And furthermore, there’s an excellent editorial from this user who gave up on Spotify after 400 days of compounding problems.
STAGE THREE – MUSIC BLOGS
A few years ago, I subscribed to a handful of absolutely exceptional music blogs. But one after another, these sites were taken off the web for claims of copyright violation. Most were sharing massively obscure content not available for purchase anywhere on the web, but by the end of the last year all of my favorite blogs had been taken down.
Still, new blogs are born every day, and sites like Hypemachine and NPR track the most active and best-ranked blogs at the links below.
Hypemachine’s searchable index of 800 blogs – http://hypem.com/blogs
NPR’s most-recommended blogs – http://www.npr.org/music/blogs
And the ever-popular http://www.gorillavsbear.net/
But if you’re more interested in a daily, up-to-the-minute feed of new and interesting tracks, perhaps this guide is more your style.
STAGE FOUR – A GUIDE TO GENRE SUBREDDITS
This list organizes the most active and most popular subreddits for every genre you can think of. It also includes composite lists grouping related subreddits together into a single stream.
One of the better subs is r/vintageobscura which has strict policies for its users -
- Under 30K Views on Youtube video and related videos by the same artist.
- Under 50K listeners on Last.fm.
- Recording dates ranging between 1930 and 1980
They’re looking for space age bachelor pad music, early electronic, proto-punk, library music, jazz, chamber pop, exotica, krautrock, ambient, and space rock – all of my favorite things.
Vintage Obscura also has a web radio station on radd.it – http://radd.it/r/vintageobscura
STAGE FIVE – RATEYOURMUSIC
But if you want simple, hands-down, best-of-the-year/decade/genre/artist/etc lists – rateyourmusic.com is the answer.
The rateyourmusic site is an online collaborative metadata database cataloging 961,618 artists and 2,851,611 releases as of 2014.
Search their index here – http://rateyourmusic.com/lists
(Or browse by category at the right of your screen at the link above)
Custom user-defined charts – http://rateyourmusic.com/customchart
Or start from scratch here – http://rateyourmusic.com/find/
And The GNOD Engine
Or if you prefer a down-and-dirty text-based artist cloud, mapping related artists by proximity, check out http://www.music-map.com/.
They also have a recommendation engine called http://www.gnoosic.com/.
These just scratch the surface, but will introduce you to more music than you could hear in several lifetimes.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
PUTTING ALL THIS DATA TO WORK
From pp35-46 of
The Innerspace Library Reboot Manual
2014 Ed. v2.75
All right, so you’ve found a new microgenre or an artist you really dig. What do you do with all this data?
Here is the official Innerspace Guide.
1. Discover something which would be of value to the archive.
2. Research the history of genre, historical/social context, etc.
3. Read the Wikipedia entry for the genre and log all relevant artists.
4. Read related literature (e.g. Mark Pendergast’s The Ambient Century in the case of ambient music, The Penguin Guide to Jazz, all related manifestos, the Rough Guides series, biographical texts, etc.)
5. Check for essentials Collages of the genre on the world’s largest private tracker. Download all as reference material.
6. Generate a Custom Chart at rateyourmusic.com with the following parameters:
TOP + ALBUMS + ALL-TIME + ONLY INCLUDE GENRES: + [GENRE] + SUB-GENRES + AS RATED BY RYM USERS
7. Log the top 20 entries / albums with a score of 3.5 or higher.
8. Cross-reference Collages, Wiki recommendations, literature highlights, and RYM Top 20 to find recordings named in 3 or more sources. These are the albums you should pursue first.
9. Obtain all box sets and compilations related to genre.
10. If there is a label directly associated with the genre, pick up a complete label archive (such as Ninja Tune, Warp, Ohr, Nonesuch, Deutsche Grammophon Avant Garde, Command, Chess, Philips Prospective 21e siecle, FAX +49-69450464, et al.
11. Pick up all albums, EPs and singles from the artists within the top 20 release map.
12. Structure %album% tags and folders chronologically by date of release: “[%year%] %album%” and uniformly tag the %genre% value to populate as a chronological autoplaylist of the genre as a whole in MediaMonkey or a similar player with dynamic playlist support.
13. Construct a tier of standard playlists:
A. ~60-100 disc map of albums best-representing the genre.
B. Record label playlists (if applicable.)
C. A top 10 essential albums set (as determined by metascore.)
D. Separate playlist for featured artists with 50 or more albums in their discography.
14. Listen to recordings, beginning with albums from step 6, followed by the top 10 essentials list, and then first 2 LPs from each artist, and so on.
15. As most of these recordings will likely be decades out of print or have never been produced in a digital format, you will not be able to purchase (or even preview) these albums from commercial sources like iTunes. Utilize other resources to acquire these albums, explore and discover the ones which resonate most with you, and purchase original issues via Discogs and your local shops specializing in rare and import vinyl.
While this methodical and systematic approach to musical discovery may appear somewhat “clinical,” it is an efficient and refined means of employing the rich systems of metadata available and the largest assembled music databases in the history of recorded sound. This should prove particularly advantageous for the music scholar faced with the daunting challenge of pouring over decades of rare recordings.
By no means do I intend to downplay the critical role your local used record shop owner plays in the search for new music – no amount of metadata can match his or her years of experience living the sounds you seek. But for the eager listeners who do not have access to such a shop, there are multiple resources like those described above which return a wealth of information you will never find on popular streaming services like Spotify, Rhapsody, or Rdio.
Through this system of discovery, you can combine the available information from blogs, literature, RYM, the Wikipedia, trackers, box sets, label archives and your local record gurus and organize the resulting data in an accessible fashion which will inspire many rewarding purchases for your library.