Kyle Bylin (sidewinder.fm) recently raised the question of music discovery again on Hypebot.
I agree with his summary and a lot of the subsequent comments, and for me they all boil down to the fact that it’s never going to be automated.
You can automate music suggestions but not personal discovery.
When I think about the music that has stayed with me, either temporarily on heavy rotation or as a long term must-have, the original discovery was never predictable.
A friend at college lent me loads of his records: Gentle Giant, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, and Yes were among them. Yes clicked in a big way and I would never be without their first half dozen or so albums. Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath were part of the soundtrack to my blues rock period but didn’t last among my favourites. These days I have enormous respect for what Tony Iommi did in Sabbath but it’s no longer something I’d go out of my way to hear. Gentle Giant never really clicked.
Pink Floyd I loved during Umma Gumma. I have a deep attachment to the album cover and still love the album itself. Outside of that I must have the Syd Barrett classics (See Emily Play and Arnold Layne) and some of the other early psychedelia but later albums left me cold until The Wall. Following that I can live without the rest (and Roger Waters’ solo work until Amused To Death). So there’s a body of 20 or so albums of which I really only need 3 or 4.
Umma Gumma came to me through a friend at the time and The Wall re-ignited my interest through the late-night documentary about the making of the film. Then Amused To Death was a random cassette copy borrowed from a passing acquaintance. The whole sequence of likes and dislikes is so complex it defies analysis.
I recognise two consistent themes running through my music collection. The strong influence of people I knew, events I happened upon, and a complete absence of any other pattern whatsoever.
Bevis Frond (Nick Saloman) popped into and out of my life ever since his first DIY album. While I tried his music many times and never got into it, his music business style and projects always interested me. Until Valedictory Songs hit me like a ton of bricks. The lyrics astonished me, his persistent fuzz guitar solos seemed to finally come to life and the songs! How did I miss that songwriting before? I now have all his albums apart from the first four and one or two others, and they will be fixtures with me as long as I have ears. There is simply no way to automate that experience. Software could suggest the music of Bevis Frond to me for years but without the context and whatever it was made me listen to Sugar Voids one day 12 years ago I would never have made the discovery.
I think I have said before that discovery is something we do, not something software does to us.
(Where have I been recently? The short answer is learning Japanese. The long answer is probably not very interesting so I’ll spare you that, but I am reading more books and finding it very satisfying.)