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Can Streaming Playlists Actually Replace Music Blogs?

Major streaming platforms are irrevocably changing the ways people create, discover and consume music. As with any emerging, disruptive technology, there are winners and losers. Though musicians, labels, and publishers initially despised streaming giants like Spotify, the industry has now been forced to lovingly embrace them, along with the focus on singles and playlists they’ve brought to the music business.

But while 2017 was largely viewed as the year of the music industry’s long-awaited comeback, some segments of the industry might not fare as well as others in a world increasingly turning to streaming platforms for music discovery.

Human tastemakers at blogs large and small have been setting trends and shedding light on undiscovered musical talent since the dawn of the internet. Music fans rely on these outlets for everything from thoughtful long-form analyses of music trends to witty, well-researched, and personally-crafted album reviews and video premieres, all with the altruistic goal of ushering compelling new music into the popular consciousness.

The tasteful vetting of the blogosphere has launched and sustained the careers of so many independent artists and bands, it’s impossible to keep count. But streaming services are now building algorithms and tools to help music fans connect with new music more quickly and efficiently, in an effort to maximize the time users listen. The shift has put the humble music blog at risk of going extinct, and of losing the influence they’ve enjoyed for so long.

Some music fans will always prefer the experience of discovering new music “the hard way” — reading blogs, going to record stores, or going to shows — but most will opt for the quickest, most convenient methods of music discovery available. And for listeners, that may not be a bad thing — platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play are making the process of finding new music we’re likely to legitimately love easier by the day.

Spotify’s most influential and impressive tool for connecting its subscribers with new music is their “Discover Weekly” feature. Over 40 million listeners tune in every week to their own personalized playlist that’s been carefully curated via a combination of algorithmic magic and human insight. With over 70% of listeners saving one or more tracks from the playlist every week to their personal music library, stats show that the feature is remarkably adept when it comes to helping music fans find new music with which they’ll resonate.

Blogs and outside playlists are a real part of the equation for how Spotify and other major streaming platforms determine what music to feature on their personalized and popular playlists. But discovery playlists can also highlight the work of unknown artists whose music bears some aesthetic resemblance to artists a listener already likes. And the more often a song does well in discovery playlists, the more broadly it’s likely to show up. In other words, in 2018, artists don’t need to be written up in reputable blogs to find fans and gain traction anymore.

That’s massively significant.

Yes, influential blogs can and do create playlists, but if more music fans begin to view streaming platforms as one-stop shops for everything from places for listening to reliable music discovery, blogs run the risk of being reduced to nothing more than just another place to have to check in. And blogs aren’t the only music industry segment at risk of being upended by music streaming technology. Traditional radio formats, as well as music promotion companies, will ultimately have to rethink their business models in light of these changes.

Yet while technology is capable of altering music composition, discovery, and consumption in some remarkable ways, I don’t ever see it being able to match the ability of a thoughtful person to dissect, understand, and write about music from their own history of listening, their own perspective on the work or the artist, and their own unique discovery experiences. Blogs allow us to share our thoughts with the world in long format, unencumbered by character limits, and over time, they become a personal library of one’s criticism and critique. For writers covering music, blogs will always have value.

Technological innovation will inevitably drive music discovery increasingly towards convenience and speed. But there will always be some sort of demand for thoughtful music analysis. The only question is how much.

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Patrick McGuire
Patrick McGuire

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.