Once upon a time a musical genre was born of a journalist coining a phrase, now we can tag our music with anything we want to, creating genres and sub-genres of our own in our music collections. Julie Cheung writes about how this affects our listening and love of music.
The talk of a ‘digital revolution’ when the compact disc was usurped by the mp3 seems almost quaint when compared with the rapid proliferation of music streaming services such as Spotify and Last.fm over the past few years. Shazam, a music recognition app which provides users with information about the song they are currently hearing, recently released an infographic which reveals it has 300 million users who are tagging 10 million times a day. The technology in itself is startling, but even more so is its rapid uptake. Although much has been made of the impact new media is having on the music industry, less often discussed is the impact it is having on listeners.
The graphic above displays the top last.fm ‘tags’ users have applied to their music since the services inception. Sat beside popular genres like ‘Rock’ and ‘Electronic’ are more subjective, personal terms such as ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Love’. Dig a little deeper into Last.fm’s tagging system and we begin to see more abstract terms such as like ‘dreamy’ and ‘memories’ appear, along with places (‘Berlin’), events (‘party’) and times (‘Summer’).
Rather than having genres handed down from on high, many would seem to prefer to categorise their music on their own terms. This seems more natural in many ways; we are more likely to hear Bob Marley at a barbecue than at a winter fair because, on the whole, we want the music we hear to be tailored to our mood and environment.
This phenomenon is a classic example of the net’s famed ability to give the Average Joe a chance to have their say, which, in the Arts, has led some to proclaim the death of the professional critic. The idea is that now that anyone can review or express an opinion of a work on the internet, we have little need for trained experts to tell us what’s going on in the cultural sphere. Whether this is true remains to be seen (most major newspapers still employ resident art critics), but Last.fm certainly provides an interesting case-study.
Once upon a time a musical genre was born of a journalist coining a phrase, but now the opposite is the case and traditional outlets are struggling to keep up with the never-ending stream of new buzzwords, many of which may even have been coined ironically, but have nevertheless gone on to have a life of their own. The ability to tag a song with the term of our choosing has led to an explosion in genre, which can be seen as just another facet of the internet’s capacity for linguistic invention.
It is not surprising then that Last.fm promotes a sort of cult of the new – part of its mission statement is to ‘help you discover more music’ and it will recommend you new artists based on your listening history. It is also possible to use Last.fm radio to listen to anything from Free Jazz to Chillwave, with the software procedurally generating a playlist based on what other listeners have applied those tags to; a service similar to that operated by Spotify, Pandora and Hype Machine. There is evidence to suggest that novelty in a music playlist increases the amount of dopamine released in the brain, leading to greater feelings of euphoria. Perhaps this new way of listening to music is tapping into a hardwired desire.
Despite all this, the graphic above shows us artists who built much of their reputation offline. It is as telling of Last.fm’s demographic as anything else, but does seem to suggest that there will always be a significant number of people who stick to what they know and love when it comes to music. This is no surprise, music we enjoy gives us a recognisable buzz likely produced by an increase in dopamine, which keeps us coming back again and again.
All words by Julie Cheung. This piece was supplied by the Clickitticket blog.