Sometime earlier this year, as Napster began to get more attention, I decided that it was important for me to find and support musical artists I like who are making their work freely available on the internet now.
I know very well that there are an incredible number of very talented musicians in the world, and that who happens to be well-known is a function of marketing and media hype more than anything else.
It was then that I first went to the one site I knew had the most freely-available mp3s in one place on the internet, mp3.com. I was shocked and disgusted to find the same sort of marketing and hype there, and no tools to help me actually locate music that I wanted.
The mass-market music industry depends on the econimics of mass production, in which costs are brought down by producing more copies. In this world, a CD that sells more copies is, from a business standpoint, a better CD. It is worth every penny of advertising that it takes to make certain artists (and, by extension, certain styles of music) popular, to take advantage of the economics of mass production.
The pressures on mp3.com are just the opposite. There is no advantage in trying to pressure potential consumers to like a particular sort of music, because the product is produced on demand. The optimal business strategy instead lies in trying to help each potential customer find music that s/he likes. Because they have failed miserably at this, I am not, and will probably never be, an mp3.com customer, despite the fact that there is probably a lot of music there I would like if I could only find it!!!!
Despite these market realities, every tool for finding music on mp3.com is based on a "popularity contest" model.
Yeah, you have a gazillion categories, and they like to brag about that, but in reality the categories are mostly meaningless. Artists, forced to try to "win" the popularty contest by hook or by crook, try and spread their offerings over as many categories as they can possibly get away with. You will find
ambient electronica in the Spoken Word>Self-Help section. Abuse of the system? Nahh ... practically required by it.
Then they have payola, a system by which the poor artists (perhaps helped by deluded fans) can try to make their works noticed by paying money to mp3.com. I pity the poor artists who (literally!) buy into this, because they must not realize that they're paying the designers of a system to work around a fundamental flaw in their design. It's as nauseating as the illegal practice it's named after. (Payola historically referred to record companies paying radio stations to play certain songs.)
(I could go on ... that's just the tip of the iceberg, really ... but I kinda want to get done with this article.)
So what should mp3.com be doing?
They could have a database of objective facts about the mp3s they have, searchable in as many ways as possible. Some suggested categories of information:
As it is, there are no objective facts, only artists' self assessments, and no way to do a search that's even remotely sophisticated. For example, I would be very interested to find mp3s that with Chinese lyrics (because I'm studying that langauge) and with mp3.com's incredible collection of mp3s I find it hard to believe there are none. I do think I would never find any in a million years of searching the present system, though.
- Does the song have lyrics? If so, in what language?
- What instruments are used on the recording?
- Accoustic or Electric? Computer-generated?
- How many musicians?
- How long is it?
- What's the Dynamic Range (ratio of loudest/quietest part)?
- What's the average tempo? Standard deviation of the tempo?
If they were really forward looking, they'd consider investing in research into AI systems of music catagorization.
Instead, they want to scream about how cool they are, and choose for me the latest music I don't want to hear, hoping that if they can shove it in my face hard enough, I've got to like it.
Mp3.com, reap your justly deserved obscurity.