Whether you like it or not, you’re going to be hearing a lot about social networking this year. For a supposedly lonely place, the Web has a lot of ways to bring humans together. With very little effort, you can find a like-minded soul. . .or at least someone who shares your feelings and took the time to create a playlist to reflect them.
As noted in the Washington Post, song-sharing (not to be confused with file sharing) is poised to change the music industry:
IMixes — as well as playlists on other services such as Rhapsody, Musicstrands and Soundflavor — are the online cousins of amateur cassette-tape and CD mixes created over the years by countless music collectors as soundtracks for parties and road trips. Many of the playlists focus on a theme — and many of those on a personal one, whether the subject is a lost love, a class reunion, a nasty breakup, duty in Iraq or a new romance.
Consumers don’t trust radio programmers. Not enough variety, not enough information. Station playlists are too limited and decisions about what gets played and what doesn’t get played is subjected to a pseudo-science that seems almost random (for a great example of this, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink for a story about an artist named Kenna).
“Instead of primarily disc jockeys and music videos shaping how we view music, we have a greater opportunity to hear from each other,” he and Gartner researcher Mike McGuire wrote in their December study. “These tools allow people to play a greater role in shaping culture, which, in turn, shapes themselves. In this way, recommendation tools encourage music fans to engage in expressive acts, becoming creators.
IMix, basically the playlist functionality of the iTunes store, is the ultimate blend of social networking and commercial integration. You not only view mixes and commentary, but you can then, wait for it, buy the songs right then and there. Seamless intergration without undue label pressure. The convenience is almost breathtaking.
Though evidence suggests that shared playlist users are a relatively small percentage of the actual iTunes customer base, other services are betting on explosive growth:
What is clear though, McGuire said, is that personal playlists are having an impact. “I don’t think they’d keep it up if they weren’t,” said McGuire, citing as further evidence Yahoo’s purchase in recent weeks of the music playlist service Webjay and the hiring of its creator, Lucas Gonze.
Though the natural urge will be to find ways to monetize these mixes, the real value the lists have is their open approach to music. We might be seeing the resurrection of the single as listeners decide to take chances on new and different music. In a way, this levels the playing field for artists — listeners who follow a trail through iMix lists might find something they’d never hear on the radio. And as long as the price is reasonable, taking a chance on a song has never been easier.
“The [music] industry needs to take a look at playlists and really rethink its approach to distribution. Turning individuals into tastemakers can be a good thing,” said Slater, who sees a day when playlist creators become licensed distributors. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but I do think it’s necessary and beneficial for the industry to pursue.”