#THISISDIY Discovery: The Curators

With music discovery in its most exciting, unpredictable age, DIY speaks to those in the middle of making things happen.

Ten years ago music discovery was in the initial stages of a new era. It still is. Heads are only just beginning to make sense of the endless choices the internet - faster by the day, more powerful by the second - offers up. Contrast today to the era of dodgy downloads and haphazard broadband connections and we’re in a very different world. A click of a button can grab an entire discography. On paper, there’s nothing standing in the way of a music fan discovering anything and everything - but is ‘infinity’ a mirage? Are we cocooned by choice?

Open up Spotify and try to find something completely new, something that challenges daily listening habits. It’s not as easy as it might sound. The home screen shows all kinds of genres, ‘moods’, radio stations for already-adored artists. Then there’s the new releases, free to stream on a whim. But the biggest temptation is to stick to what you already know. Familiarity rules the roost. This could be equated to “airplane fever”, where having taken a seat on a ten-hour flight with nothing to do but flick through films, a passenger ends up opting for something they’ve already seen. 

The question today boils down to whether we have more or less choice than we used to. If it’s the former, this is essentially the most exciting time to discover music - ever. Algorithms aren’t the be all and end all. Instead, other influences pour in. Surely, without question, discovery is an open playing field compared to ‘back in the day’. There’s radio, which in some respects remains a strong force. Anyone can make a playlist and send it to their friends. There’s no fiddling about with tape players and cheesy love notes to place within a mixtape. Above everything else, stories matter more than ever. The magic’s still there, but it’s not in the hands of the online streaming platforms - it’s up to press, listeners and the bands themselves to be discovered in a different light. 

“This is essentially the most exciting time to discover music - ever.”

In the first of an online series, we build on our June 2014 cover feature by looking at the factors at play in making 2014 the most exciting, unpredictable time to discover music. From oft-cited influencers to more unexpected individuals, we speak to those involved behind the scenes, the people making things tick and ensuring that in the digital age, all good music hits the surface eventually. 

The Influencer: Jacob Moore, Pigeons & Planes

Whereas five years ago blogs and other curators were in a golden age of recommendations and Hype Machine charts were gospel, their influence appears to have waned. Our experience with being on the internet and being exposed to new has shifted. “Blogs are just as important, but over the years, artists have learned how to manipulate them better,” says Jacob Moore of Complex and the new music site Pigeons & Planes.

There’s a limit to how ‘blog artists’ are then discovered by millions. “There is a new type of music consumer that spends hours every day on blogs and on Twitter and on SoundCloud keeping up with everything on the bleeding edge,” says Jacob. “So when an artist reaches these people, they aren’t building buzz off a live show, or off traditional albums, or off radio plays. They’re getting it off a SoundCloud stream and a few blog posts. Translating that into real success is very difficult.” 

What are the best music discovery tools for you, personally?

I am a firm believer that the best way to discover music is through human beings. I’ve tried to surround myself with people who love music as much as I do, and recommendations from friends always end up being better than all these automated music services that try to predict what you’ll like based on other stuff you like. There are way too many variables for that to ever work as well. And, it’s just a boring, robotic thing. When your friend comes to you with a new song she loves and you can hear the excitement in her voice when she’s talking about it, that’s so much more real and fun.

“The best way to discover music is through human beings.”

Jacob Moore, Pigeons & Planes

How have things changed in the last five years? Have blogs gained or decreased in influence?

Maybe I’m just more aware of it now, but it seems like a lot of the really influential blogs these days are all running in the same circles and relying on the same PR companies and press contacts. Like, some PR company will deal with 20 of the biggest, best indie artists, establish relationships and leverage with all the cool blogs, and then take on some new artist that nobody’s been covering. Now they can pitch that new artist to all their powerful music journalist friends, and the artist starts popping up on all the big “tastemaker” sites. Then you’ve got hundreds of other little follow-the-leader blogs who just regurgitate whatever they see “buzzing,” and it looks like this new act is suddenly blowing up out of nowhere. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot more to it than that

The Established Voice: Jarri Van der Haegen, disco naïveté

Jarri’s experience as a blogger has changed dramatically in the past few years. He’s remained at the forefront of new music, but the way in which he exposes artists has shifted. Major label newcomers often start out on disco naïveté, be it before they sign a deal, or even after, where their career is perfectly mapped out, making this site their first destination. “Blogs seem to have decreased in numbers but gained influence - or at least that what it seems like to me,” says Jarri. 

How have things changed in the last five years? Have blogs gained or decreased in influence?

People tend to rather read blogs that have shown their ability to highlight new talent these past few years: those are the blogs that really have their finger on the pulse of the music industry and will be able to tell you (or at least try to) who will become the next big thing. Many chart-topping acts nowadays that “started” their careers on blogs. Even for acts who have a big team and money behind them, getting the blogs’ approval before heading to radio and what else seems to be of some importance. A good recent example of this is Kiesza: blogs got behind her debut single, buzz builds up, and when the single is properly released thousands (if not millions) of people have heard the song, loved it, and then show their support chart-wise.

“Simply put, our soundtracks have changed the game.”

Steve Schnur, EA

Behind The Scenes: Steve Schnur, EA

Steve Schnur is the Worldwide Executive of Music and Music Marketing at EA as as well as the President of the Artwerk Music Group. His job, in simple terms, is to pick the music that you hear you game soundtracks as you transfer out a last-limbed defender on FIFA or learn the ropes of the new NFL. He lists off the figure that 15 million copies of FIFA 14 were released, localised in 18 language, available in more than 50 countries. “A FIFA soundtrack represents globalised music like it’s never been done before.” Not only is the means of exposure a fairly new thing when it comes to game soundtracks, the sheer breadth of the music introduced is greater than ever. “There is no radio single, music video or endorsement deal that can compare to the instantaneous/extended exposure our soundtracks provide,” boasts Steve.

Steven Schnur will be the keynote speaker at Game Music Connect 2014 on 24th September at the Southbank Centre, London.

When selecting music for soundtracks, what limits are in place?

When selecting music for EA soundtracks, there are no limits. In fact, we have the opportunity to re-write geographical and music genre borders each and every time. Consider that every game with a year in its title is compiled 12 months prior, yet needs to stay musically relevant for 12 months forward. Therefore the music we choose has to represent emerging sounds, has to anticipate trends, has to move the needle on first listen, and has to do it all on a global scale. And as long as artists – whether unknown acts or established stars – are making new music, the pool from which we can license is both worldwide and boundless. Simply put, our soundtracks have changed the game. And will continue to.

There’s a lot of anticipation for the unveiling of a soundtrack on EA - Has that always been the case?

Thirteen years ago, I came to EA from a successful career in the record industry because of the opportunities the videogame medium presented. I envisioned that EA’s soundtracks could become what radio and MTV used to be: The place where fans could discover great new music and established artists could find new audiences, all within the context of an interactive entertainment experience. The symbiosis, I’m proud to say, changed both gaming and music forever.

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