Can The Wild West Of Music Discovery Be Tamed By One Startup?

Twenty years ago, you discovered music on the FM dial. End of story. Now there’s an uncharted frontier of outlaw torrents, renegade bloggers, on-demand gold miners, and fur-trapping radios. The zeitgeist has splintered, and there’s no piecing it back together. And I think we’re doing just fine without the robber barons of old.

Just ask rock band The Silversun Pickups. I did (below). Best known for the low-fi, garage blur and piercing crescendo of their first hit single “Lazy Eye”, The Silversun Pickups say right now they have to be best friends with the music tech companies. And while they did perform that night at the Slacker party, they truly believe there’s no clear front-runner yet worth tying their horse to.

Until recently, the three pillars of music discovery — on-demand, automated radio, and human curation —  were fragmented across different services. There was Napster and then iTunes and then Spotify. There was Pandora. There were blogs. But now we’re seeing companies like Slacker and Spotify attempting to unify these into a single service.

Slacker’s recent redesign highlighted this convergence, making it easy to swap between searching for specific songs, radio that evolves to your preferences, and hand-picked music selections from actual DJs. Spotify went from being strictly on-demand to adding radio, and now is starting to roll out a new Twitter-esque following system to help you get recommendations from real people. Slacker’s far behind in traction, leaving Spotify the most likely company to bring order to the music discovery space and make us comfortable settling down.

In some ways that might not be a good thing. Without a single company in control, competition forces innovation and low prices. Decentralized and self-determined music discovery liberates us. We can chase what uniquely resonates with us rather than surrender our tastes to mass media. It may not be civilized and easy, but true music fans like life with a little edge.