Thursday, March 22, 2007

Washington Post - Developing Selective Hearing

The public consciousness is quickly coming to the realization that all of us writing (and reading this) have known for some time... there's got to more to digital music than the simple pick & buy model of iTunes. The latest to ponder this question, my local read... The Washington Post.

Mike Musgrove - Developing Selective Hearing -

My buddy (and former partner in crime at Music Now) Dave Hall shared his thoughts eloquently...

Dear Mr. Musgrove,

You raise some very valid and interesting points about the state of digital music services. You also make a great case for music services that let you and your friends share music, try before you buy, buy what you like, and take it with you.

The most popular services like iTunes offer a straight forward find-and-download approach that satisfies your needs if you know what you are looking for - like a record store.

Though, as you have discovered with your iPod, owning your music (at 20GB you have about 5,000 songs, or $5,000 worth of music) doesn't necessarily mean you have anything to listen to at the moment.

One of the joys of music is that sounds and styles constantly change. People need variety, freshness, a sense of discovery and new things to listen to. Otherwise, no matter how many songs you have, your collection will grow stale.

As I read your article, I couldn't help but think that you were essentially asking for a service like AOL Music Now. Had you tried it, you would have found one of the most addictive and advanced music services available. Sadly, AOL recently shut down this online subscription music service and sold the subscribers to Napster.

At the heart of Music Now was a concept called "taste networking". Taste Networking is similar to a social network, but rather than finding friends through music, Music Now let you find music through friends. By tracking your listening habits - your just played songs, your top artists, your top songs, your top friends (i.e., friends who's music you lisen to most), etc. - and making this information available on a clean, easy to navigate web site, Music Now made it possible to discover great new music.

It also had a great recommendation engine that generated a 2 hour "Daily Mix" of music, specifically tailored to each user, artist and genre.

Using RSS, Music Now would download any portion or all of these charts or playlists and sync them to my portable media player. Whenever a user or Music Now updated a list, the new songs would automatically show up in a the online, PC and device libraries of friends who asked to be updated.

The subscription music element made this all possible. True, the cost was $14.95/mo, the songs were leased, and the music was only available in Windows Media Audio format, thus not available on the iPod. However, in the two years that I used the service I discovered and loved more music than I had in my entire life.

Though I never purchased any songs, I didn't really need to, because I had my own collection of personal radio stations (i.e, the downloaded charts and lists) with me on my portable wherever I went. I was constantly surprised to hear what my buddies were listening to, and many times added those artists and tracks to my own library.

To me, the joy of music is all about hearing what I want to hear when I want to hear it, and finding that new, rare gem that makes me want to listen over and over. Taste networking, subscription music, and Music Now let me do that. My fingers are crossed that some day I will be able to again.

Dave Hall
[Disclosure: I was an employee of AOL and worked on the AOL Music Now service]

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