Music Recommendations

John Siracusa is on this week’s Unprofessional talking about music and recommendations.

Him and the hosts discuss the ugly truth about music recommendations from friends: They don’t really work. They’ve stopped recommending music to their friends because almost all the time they aren’t followed up on. “You gotta check this out” is code for “I like this a lot and you probably won’t like it as much as I do so just ignore what I’m telling you.”

My friends’ tastes vary widely and recommendations from them that hit are rare. Even in 2013 I don’t really know where most of the music recommendations I enjoy come from. I hear new music on music podcasts, or in movies, or I read about it on a blog, or it was recommended through iTunes Genius and Last.fm. In some cases I’m still hearing new music I like on the radio.

This is the problem with social music services. They’ve banked on this idea of “listen with your friends” and it doesn’t work. My friends aren’t good at knowing what I like. They’re good at knowing what they like. Sharing tracks is my least used feature on Spotify. When someone shares a track with me it’s because they’re playing games. The last track someone sent me on Spotify was Holding Out For A Hero. I can’t let that slide, so I have to respond with something equally silly – like Let’s Hear It For The Boy.

The ultimate music recommendation service would be like if Last.fm became more Twitterized.1 I want there to be a site where I can post music to a wall, and follow other people with similar tastes (who probably aren’t my friends) and check out what they like. That’s what This is my jam is trying to be. I haven’t checked it out in a bit. I wish I could skip the player and have music from people I follow go directly into the Spotify inbox.2

Once in a great while music recommendations from friends work. This morning Joel told me I should check out Disasterpeace’s Atebite and the Warring Nations. At just a $1 I couldn’t resist. I probably wouldn’t have heard about it any other way.


  1. It’s boggling to me why Last.fm doesn’t send me an email each week saying “here’s what people are listening to” or “here’s what your friends and neighbors are listening to.” Last.fm should be this glue between every single music service (iTunes, Spotify, Rdio…even Winamp can be set up to scrobble) and recommendations from friends or whoever else you choose to follow. But the site’s functions have gone largely unchanged since 2005 or earlier. Following someone still requires they follow you back

  2. There is a This is My Jam app for Spotify, but it doesn’t work like that. It shows me my jams. I just want a feed of jams from people I follow. TIMJ doesn’t do that in fear of “duplicating” the TIMJ website experience. But I don’t want the website experience. I want something better. 

The Slow Death of MP3 Blogging

I used to follow a lot of those kinds of blogs that would post music recommendations to Megaupload or whatever site, but Spotify and Rdio put a stop to that.

The main problem with social music is that it’s mostly just scrobbling. Nobody takes the time, at least from what I’ve seen, to write a paragraph or so about the music they like. All we get is a stream of scrobbles.

That’s actually why I like things like Ping, This Is My Jam, and Rdio posts compared with just scrobbles to last.fm and Facebook music. When someone posts about music on these services it’s usually mindful, not just a scrobble. They picked one thing out of hundred or so things they might have listened to recently. They said “Hey, you—don’t miss this.”

What we’re missing is an independent platform which would make it easy to follow people who recommend music and add it to your Rdio, Spotify, or whatever service you’re using. Last.fm could be that. They should steal borrow the idea of the Facebook wall and Rdio dashboard.