SXSW Panel: Music Discovery – Man vs. Machine

Hal, please cue up the Stevie Wonder playlist

Does the popularity of algorithmic aggregators like Pandora, Beats Music, Spotify, etc. democratize the search for music and dismiss the need for rock critics and music rags? Or have they simply thrown everything against the wall all at once, making it nearly impossible to discover things in the morass and thus necessitating a guide of some sort?

The answer, according to this panel of folks from Beats Music, Pandora, Rdio, Google Play, and TastemakerX, is neither. Streaming service algorithms aim to help listeners find the playlists most suited to the user. Those lists are still assembled by human beings.

Photo by Gary Miller

“Trusted sources” was the phrase that came up repeatedly. Every panelist had a background of finding music through magazines or friends, and wanted their services to recreate that experience. Where the algorithms come in is in helping listeners parse the thicket to find the playlists suited to them.

The trick is how best to do that, and each service had its own variation on delivering the right playlists to potential users’ ears. Of course, the panel didn’t address the needs of listeners who still prefer to stream albums rather than playlists or aggregations of curated songs – not surprising since Beats Music’s Ian Rogers admitted a preference for his personally curated Stevie Wonder list over any of Wonder's actual albums.

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Man vs. Machine, Pandora, Beats Music, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, TastemakerX, Ian Rogers, Stevie Wonder

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