Music In The Age Of Discovery (So Why Do Our Choices Seem To Be Narrowing?)

How are you discovering music? Radio used to be the main way music spread. Now it’s YouTube videos, and, increasingly, streaming channels that figure out playlists algorithmically. But the promise of all music anywhere courtesy of the internet hasn’t really worked out. Increasingly our musical worlds are defined in narrower terms and we have to work to get out of them.

The promise of the internet and the opportunity for democratization in music just haven’t gone the way I’d hoped, so these soundtracks and pointed multimedia releases have been welcome. As music discovery becomes more concentrated and consolidated (goodbye, Vine) thanks to Spotify recs and Tidal-only exclusives (my New Year’s resolution: cancel Tidal) and Beats 1 premieres that one feels obligated to indulge for the sake of relevancy, the free-for-all that once was a deep-dive internet search for a weird track has dissipated a bit, in lieu of streaming services handing you what you want on a platter. “Discovery” features feel like an exercise in marketed groupthink, even when they occasionally do yield new music.

Now we more and more live in musical bubbles defined for us by behavioral formulae. It might feel like we’re being adventurous because we’re encountering music new to us. But that “new” is selected to fit familiar characteristics of music and artists we already know.

Perhaps nothing wrong with that. We like what we like and why not have more of it. But as we increasingly live inside our niches while fooling ourselves that we’re still encountering new experiences, our ability to have common culture and shared cultural experiences erodes.