Panel: “Online Tastemakers: Death or Rebirth of Music Curation?”
Participants: Anya Grundmann (NPR Music), Chris MacDonald (IndieFeed), John Hammond (The MuseBox), Christopher Weingarten (Rolling Stone)

Music critics’ inability to find a platform in the Internet was on display at the “Online Tastemakers” panel and their comments echoed the problems of record labels. Music criticism is like a full-length CD release: the creator may think it’s important, but fewer and fewer people will be interested in it as other alternatives appear.

Why You Should Care:
Online tastemakers are replacing traditional means of music discovery and are leading the conversation on new artists.

The Takeaways:
The Conversation Is Only Positive
Pitchfork just got rid of its track reviews, said Weingarten, because it wants to highlight only tracks it likes. Similarly, playlist culture highlights the positive because people don’t want to share negative. The value of criticism, said Hammond, is that people are exposed to both positive and negative reviews. Blogs are more about sharing than discourse, argued Weingarten.

Volume Overload
There’s too much stuff, argued MacDonald. “The problem is everyone thinks they’re an artist,” argued Weingarten. People look to labels, he said, because they are curators and gatekeepers.

Critics and Curators Are Having a Tough Time Competing With Bloggers and Online Critics
Critics are responding to online conversation spurred by the leak, Weingarten said, rather than commenting on the music and lead opinion making. In addition, barriers to entry for both creators and critics have changed the role of traditional music critics and writers. “This is why guys like me are having a hard time finding work,” bemoaned Weingarten.

Curators Are Finding Ways To Stay Relevant
NPR Music helps people discover music, provides context for listeners and tells stories about the music and artists. It frequently has album streams and interviews. “What we actually are is a hub of music curation and conversation that’s happening across public radio. So we’re generating stories for the news shows. They’re coming to us and asking for advice. It’s an amazing fusion of what we’re doing on the radio and what people are doing at stations.”

Humans May Make Better Recommendations Than Machines
Hammond said person-to-person recommendations are incredibly powerful and far better than anything a computer can generate. And he took issue with Pandora’s style of recommendation. If Pandora knows he likes A Tribe Called Quest, he said, it should know people who like A Tribe Called Quest also like Digable Planets. Instead, songs are recommended based on song structure, key and music elements that miss the context behind most recommendations. MacDonald took it a step further by saying technology can’t help a band that doesn’t get people talking. “I haven’t seen the nut cracked yet,” he said.

Billboard.biz Panel Rating?
Three out of four. Watching the old way of doing things meet with changing times is always fascinating. The panel had a good – if often academic – discourse with excellent input and questions from the audience.


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