Everything Looks Like a Nail: The “Social Music” Fallacy

I was listening to an album on Spotify the other day when I heard an ad between tracks that was promoting Spotify itself, focused on how “social” the service is. Because after all, as the ad said: “Music is made to be shared.”

And there it is, folks, perhaps the single greatest misconception at the heart of the technologist view of music here in the 21st century. “Music is made to be shared”: that’s what Spotify is pushing, that’s what Facebook is pushing, that’s what all the buzz and activity around the music/social media nexus is about.

This idea of so-called “social music” is such a forceful technologist assumption at this point that articles are being written like “Has Apple Missed the Social-Music Train?“; and, “Is Pandora’s Wait-and-See Social Strategy a Big Mistake?

I contend that the mistake here is the idea of social music itself. Music is not made to be shared. It is made to be listened to. Music is inherently, and often movingly, a private experience. Even when being experienced in a communal setting, as in a concert—even, that is, when the internal experience is enhanced by the knowledge that other people are having similar experiences concurrently—music remains, at heart, an internal experience. An experience of the soul, if you will.

I think I understand why the technologists seem to need to insist that music somehow only matters when you share it. Here, to illustrate, is a technologist writing about why music is special—it’s a gentleman named Paul Lamere, a software developer who works at The Echo Nest, a “music intelligence company” in Massachusetts, and it comes from a recent blog post he wrote entitled, “What Is So Special About Music?”

“Music is social. People love to share music. They express their identity to others by the music they listen to. They give each other playlists and mixtapes. Music is a big part of who we are.”

Here is the sleight of hand and/or misunderstanding: “Music is a big part of who we are” does not automatically equate to “People love to share music.” Likewise, the fact that the music we most like feels part of our identity does not equate to the idea that we “express our identity to others by the music we listen to.”

Personally, I feel strongly attached to the music I love. And yet I do not use music to “express my identity” to others. I mostly use my words, my thoughts, and my relationships to do that. My music is pretty much kept out of it; there are few actual, real-life friends with whom I talk about music, and maybe only one or two whose musical taste I feel any connection to.

Yes, it is great and wonderful to bond with people over music. But such a bond when it happens is a rightfully unusual moment of connection, not something that can be generated through convenience and volume.

As Mark Zuckerberg has so flagrantly illustrated, guys who write code for a living are not, generally speaking, the best judges of how to interact socially in the real world. It’s not their fault, it’s just an occupational hazard.

The underlying issue is that guys who write code are—again, generally speaking—not all that attuned to those parts of life that involve emotional intelligence. This is not a criticism; as has been well described by now, different people have different kinds of intelligences. The technologist is not typically in his strength or comfort zone on matters of emotional intelligence.

And so the same guys who have been trying to turn friendship into a nuance-free accumulation of contacts are now aiming to turn music into something it likewise isn’t. The qualitative and compassionate and self-reflective act of listening to and appreciating a piece of music becomes a quantitative and competitive and surface-level act of spreading a file around the network most robustly.

So let us not be hoodwinked by technologist zealotry and venture-capital-fueled delusions. Despite the enthusiasm there may be for sharing music among an active coterie of web users, sharing music in the way Spotify and Facebook encourage is not a mainstream activity, by a long shot. It’s not what most people are doing, it’s not what most people will ever be doing, and companies that aren’t yet on the “social-music train” aren’t missing out on anything.

This is not to say that people don’t occasionally enjoy getting some music recommendations from friends. But the first key word here is “occasionally”; the second key word is “friends.”

The vision of “social music” bulldozes both of those factors into oblivion. Imagine, if you dare, a world in which everyone is sharing the music they are listening to with everyone. Say you have 300 Facebook friends (a modest number in Zuckerbergland) and say everyone is sharing a modest five songs a day. That’s 1,500 songs in your stream a day. That’s more than 95 hours of music being shared with you, daily. Do the math. Is this sharing, or is this spam? Does it have any meaning or is it a pointless flow of information?

Technologists tend to mistake technology for solutions and this seems to be happening here. In the past, people could not share music this easily, it is true. But the capacity for this kind of sharing is “solving” a problem we didn’t have in the first place. Most people were not trying to be inundated by more music than they can possibly ever listen to, were not hoping that more or less complete strangers should easily be able to start sending us endless music suggestions, and were not yearning to transform listening to music into some kind of externally focused game or popularity contest.

In the end, despite the breathless articles about the social-music train having left the station, this is going nowhere near where Spotify and Facebook are assuming it will go. Sharing music via the internet may be an engaging pleasure for a small segment of people. But “social music” is a buzzword and a fad, not the inexorable future of music, perhaps most of all for a reason I discussed in an essay I posted last year called Playlist Nation.

The reason is this: sharing music socially, whether in the form of a mixtape or a playlist or even just a random string of Spotify songs, is by and large an activity that’s more fun for the person on the giving end of the sharing than the person on the receiving end. That was always the dirty secret of the mixtape era, as I said in the essay. It remains the dirty secret of the social music era. It’s much more fun to tell people what you’re listening to than to slog through a stream of what someone else is listening to.

Some of this relates to the previously mentioned math problem: we just don’t have time in the day for absorbing shared music in the social-music future being foisted upon us.

But some of this also relates to the previously mentioned internal experience problem. Truly internal experiences can’t be foisted upon us from the outside willy-nilly. Merely adding unprecedented volume to the problem of music discovery helps few people except those who are seeking to profit financially from the public disclosure of previously private matters of taste.

Music is made to be shared? No, it isn’t. Unless you happen to run a large, international social media company. In which case, everything is made to be shared. As the old saying goes: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

36 thoughts on “Everything Looks Like a Nail: The “Social Music” Fallacy”

  1. I actually don’t even really like sharing the music I listen to with my friends. I feel really attached to the music I listen to, and letting someone see my iPod playlist (by request, I never offer) feels overly personal, like I’m letting them read my diary or something! Does that make sense at all?


  2. Brilliantly put. I am lucky enough to have some really good friends. Ones that I grew up with and still retain. Very strong friendships – we were best men at each others’ weddings, we’re godfathers to each others’ kids, all that stuff. I HATE their music taste and ignore their recommendations. They do the same with mine. We didn’t become friends through our music taste, so why should we pretend it defines us now?

    On an unrelated note. I HATE the way the technologists and freetards have debased the verb ‘share’. Part of the value of sharing was that it often involved some sort of sacrifice on the part of the sharer. Have half of my chocolate bar – I have less now, but it was worth it because I value you. It doesn’t apply to every example, but it does to many REAL sharing episodes. Simply setting up an effortless replication and redistribution tool doesn’t mean the same thing at all.


  3. Very interesting post! Quite thought-provoking.

    Although I’m excited about the current developments in ‘socialising’ music online, when it comes down to it the music which has meant the most to me over the years, the musical experiences which are deepest for me, have more often been solitary and personal than shared social experiences. So I agree that pretending the enjoyment of music is primarily a social phenomenon is somewhat disingenuous.

    That said, one can’t doubt the power of social+music. Certainly a few of my stand-out musical moments in life have been about relationships and connecting with other people. And I think some of the criticisms you level against the current approaches (the overload of meaningless recommendations etc.) are more a problem with the current (young!) state of the art, rather than the concept as a whole.

    I believe social sharing of music online has enormous potential. And as the curator of an MP3 blog I’m sure you wouldn’t disagree!

    I think it’s fair to say it’s still early days for seeing what the likes of Spotify and Facebook can do for our experience of music in a social setting online. And perhaps a bit too soon to judge them harshly for their first efforts.


    1. Christopher-
      I greatly appreciate your input here. And of course you’re right that we are at the very early stage of the “social music” phenomenon. My concern is that I do not see how things will get tempered into a direction more aligned with our actual human wants and needs if we don’t start pushing back a bit about what’s wrong with the first models. In our current stage of infatuation with all things digital, there’s hardly any criticism of what the technologists are up to, and when criticism does arise it is often belittled as being “against change.” I also think we are not trained, for whatever reason, to consider potentially negative side effects of our attractive new technologies, a trait that has proven over time to be a collective shortcoming. We wait until we are all but overwhelmed by serious consequences before we begin to think about what to do about it. (I’m thinking of the internal combustion engine, as an example.)

      As for my position as a blogger, I don’t think of what I’m doing as part of this social music idea because this is not an effort to recommend music to friends, it’s a public enterprise intended to curate music in the old model of a free-form FM disc jockey. I’m talking to a like-minded community of strangers who are here because they like music, not because they like *me*. And I should note that only a very small handful of my actual friends are paying any attention to me here. 🙂

      Lastly, if I judge Spotify and Facebook a bit harshly– guilty as charged, I’m afraid — it’s because I do not trust that they are motivated by the best interests of their human being end users; once tech companies get that big, the value-free pursuit of revenue kind of trumps all previous efforts to be sensitive to other matters.

      Excellent additional point about sharing. I kind of got towards that in the old “Playlist” essay but it’s a point worth remembering and repeating. The other way “sharing” is debased in this setting is by how unilateral it is. In my mind, someone is sharing something that the other person has either actively or implicitly expressed interest in. The person being shared with is actively interested in the item being shared, and the person doing the sharing understands the other person is actively interested. This idea of “frictionless sharing,” you’re right, is not sharing at all. It’s spam. Or — we need a new term, maybe. Put your thinking cap on, if we come up with the right one, it could help the general conversation.

      I agree, and that’s a great point, and shows how hollow the underlying claim of the “social music” boosters is, in my mind. Of course, not everyone espousing it is aware of the underlying cynicism of their position. I’m sure many are actively convinced that their ideas are legitimate.

      Makes perfect sense to me!


  4. The reason the technologists have specifically attached to music is the file size. If tv shows or movies or books were conveniently sized I’m sure they would be pushing each as an expression of your inner self or some such nonsense.


  5. Excellent points by all. The truth is Spotify wants their name to be advertised for free by their users, and what better way than encouraging “social music”? But hasn’t the mantra for social media been: Twitter is for interests and Facebook is for people? Music is an interest, and just is not a good fit for Facebook. I actually used to very occasionally share a YouTube video of an artist I liked who happened to have a free song on Amazon — I got close to zero response, so I stopped. People don’t care about that sort of thing on Facebook. Putting up a family picture is more what you’re supposed to do. Beyond that and it begins to resemble how e-mail was in the ’90s — lots of jokes and urban legend chain e-mails you’re stuck deleting. We really don’t want to add music to that list.


    1. Lynn-
      I think what you’re talking about here is part of a larger issue that my essay falls within, which has to do with the fits and starts and growing pains and odd steps we go through when collectively adapting new technology. The people who invent the stuff don’t necessarily know what the things they invent will be best suited for, and certainly the companies attempting to make money from new technology have no idea, even as they do their best to foster behaviors that they believe will be most profitable. I think it’s up to us as end users to be as mindful as possible, and not to fall into behavior simply because those who might profit from your behavior tell us it’s a great idea. Pondering consequences is a great first step– even just, for instance, doing the math I bring up in the essay, which takes the theoretically “great” idea (in this case, frictionless sharing of music) and points out a concrete problem if this really starts happening. Waking up from this trance-like state we get into with our new gadgets and applications would be a very good thing in general.


  6. Some very good points – but music isn’t inherently meant to be listened to any more than it’s inherently meant to be shared. The idea of listening to music – rather than (say) singing to it, dancing to it, helping make it, heckling it – was a minority idea for a long time (the preserve of ‘high culture’ music) and only really became the dominant mode of consumption with the rise of privately owned record players.

    So I think emphasising the social elements of music is fair enough. But – and this is why we don’t disagree – that’s very different from saying that the only social element of music that matters is its status as a kind of cultural poker chip, a shareable commodity, which is the narrow lens social media people see it through.

    Music isn’t made to be listened to, shared, or anything so specific. Music is made to be used. Developments which narrow that range of use – whether that’s a narrow focus on its shareability value, its commercial value or its artistic value – should be resisted.


    1. Tom-
      I see what you’re saying and appreciate the larger perspective. I did not necessarily mean to be quite so restrictive when I say that music is made to be listened to. After all, if you are dancing to it, you are listening; if you are singing along, you are listening. To me it inescapably starts with listening. It doesn’t have to end there, however! But, sure, I can go along with the larger idea of music being made to be “used”; I just personally prefer the idea of listening first and foremost because music is obviously sound, and sound enters our awareness primarily (but not, obviously, exclusively) through our ears. That’s all I really meant when I said music is made to be listened to, but thanks for the close reading and the further explication. I also have a bit of an aversion to saying it’s made to be “used,” as this mirrors the rather awful impersonality of the ubiquitous computer-era term “end user,” and seems inherently to reduce a soulful experience to an impersonal one. But that’s just me! I hear what you’re saying and it’s a good point.

      Clearly one of the problems is social media co-opting the word “share,” as Sean has spoken about in another comment. People who love music do rightly, and under the right circumstances, love to share music. Musicians such as yourself quite obviously are interested in sharing music– their own. All that is natural and wonderful. The problem, as you realize (I’m just backing you up here!), is that the “sharing” that social media companies would like us to be constantly doing is first of all not genuine sharing and second of all is serving their needs far more clearly than ours.


  7. The only truly social aspects of my musical experiences have all been as part of groups creating music together. The music I share, when I share music outside a couple very specific situations, tends to be the music I create myself. I think these sorts of music-oriented social interactions are pretty standard for most people….but they don’t make anyone any money, which is the real problem solved by “social music.”

    I think the nails you’re talking about with regard to the social media hammer are pretty much anything that the powers that be think can be converted into a commodity and traded for profit: social media gaming, public “liking” of businesses/websites/artists/whatever, Google’s real names issue, etc. Music is just another thing on that list.


  8. What you totally miss here (but then again, how would you know) is that Spotify is originally a Swedish site originally aimed at winning over youths from The Pirate Bay (that at it’s previous still legal hight hade 20 % of all Swedes and almost 90 % of all Swedish teens as active users/downloaders) to the legal site, they (Spotify) originally even recieved governmental and ministeral verbal support when they were still a fumbling start-up totally dissed by the pirate movement, hence still the “mandatory” we’re-about-sharing-too to pop up everywhere.


    1. Peter-
      Thank you for the cultural/historical perspective. I was generally aware of Spotify’s origins but hadn’t realized that the “we’re all about sharing” talk was a sort of code. Interesting indeed. And of course few people who weren’t on the scene would realize that, so we’re stuck taking Spotify’s words at face value, and at face value I still find everything wrong with it that I’ve written about here.

      On top of that, though, you bring up an interesting side issue. I can’t of course get inside the head of those who would illegally download and/or distribute large amounts of music as a matter of course, but I can be pretty sure that there’s something going on there that has little if anything to do with the warm and soulful emotions that come into play when genuine, one-to-one sharing is happen. Taking a brand-new album and making it instantly and illegally available to millions of strangers online is an activity that by rights does not merit the name “sharing.” So it’s amusing (and also sad) at almost a meta level that Spotify would feel compelled to use that particular word as a sort of catnip aimed at luring pirates away from their outlaw ways.


  9. I’ve been writing code for a living for a long time, and I think the points you make in this essay about “social music” are 100% correct.

    Your essays are insightful and well-written, but please dispense with the simplistic stereotypes.


    1. Jon-
      I appreciate the feedback. I was hoping I had covered my bases in terms of making so-called simplistic stereotypes (I prefer to think of them as generalizations) by using the words “generally speaking” both times. By which I sincerely meant to communicate the idea that I understand I am making a generalization and that there are obviously going to be exceptions to the rule. Forgive me if this wasn’t clear. I am very aware that my comments on the matter were not accurate to 100 percent of the programming population and in the future I will attempt to do a better job at doing without unnecessary generalizations. That said, I have myself interacted with programmers both directly and indirectly and I will say that I wish more of the ones I’ve dealt with were like you.


  10. Interesting point of view. This morning before reading your article, I logged on to Facebook and noticed that the last 15 Live Feed entries – all from the same person – were all music tracks heard on Spotify. First I thought “Who cares?” and then I thought that it looked and felt very spammish…

    So i agree with your idea when you say °°Do the math. Is this sharing, or is this spam? Does it have any meaning or is it a pointless flow of information?°°.


  11. I was going to just ignore this thinly argued bit of technological denialism. Then I noticed you publish playlists as a key part of your blog. Can you spell CONTRADICTION? What are you doing with that if not “sharing music” on the internet? I guess nobody must ever listen to the stuff you “curate” if your blog post is right. But your argument is unsupportable. Yes, we ultimately listen at some level alone. But our tastes are formed through dialogue with others, generally friends. Social media has enabled and cut the transaction costs of traditional word of mouth, and it seems to be just beginning to take off. Now perhaps social music is the final nail in the coffin of revenue for recorded music, and that’s a real issue. But that’s not your case. You say almost nobody wants to share music or have it shared with them and that “social music” is a corporate construct – a supply without demand. Not among my peeps.


    1. Chavighurst-
      Thank you for visiting, taking the time to read, and for commenting. While I will mostly let your words and general tone speak for themselves, I would like to address two things. First, you’re veering in the direction of a combative type of discourse I seek to avoid here. I actually have comment guidelines, and while I know most people either don’t read them or don’t even know they’re there, I do take civility seriously and by and large I can report that things are pretty civil here. Disagreements are lovely, as that’s how we learn. Belittling another person and/or opinion simply because one disagrees is less lovely.

      Second, I would like to clarify something which you missed in your reading of the essay. No doubt because of how thinly it was argued. 🙂 Yes, I curate this blog, which of course means I am offering up music for others to listen to, but I hoped it was clear that my stance against “social sharing” was not arguing against the concept of music recommendation. It was addressing the idea of sharing music among friends on social media sites, and very specifically the kind of “frictionless sharing” happening on Facebook via Spotify. I don’t consider this blog as falling under the umbrella of “social music”; the people reading this are not my friends, generally speaking. The playlists are offered up in the spirit of a DJ on the radio, in the old model of a free-form progressive rock station.

      Oh and hey, consider yourself lucky that you’ve got a good community of friends to share music with. This probably means you are either in college or you live in Nashville. 🙂


  12. First off, what a wonderfully written piece we’ve discovered here. As someone who has worked diligently at the craft of songwriting for 44 years (i’m 59), i’ve had my share of successes and near misses in the songwriting wars (songs covered by The Stray Cats, 3 by the legendary Dave Edmunds, movies and television, signed by George Harrison at age 21, who served as our executive producer on his label Dark Horse records….ad infinitum….) i’ve also had my share of odd jobs (carpenter, singing telegrams,ice cream scooper, jingle singer, ad nauseum…) i just want to make a living doing what i love most….luckily i have the gift of voice and started as an actor at age 9, but i am celebrating 50 years in show biz this year and STILL working hard at all of it….my question is this, where’s my free McDonald’s burger, Paul Lamere? A very wise friend once said to me after listening to my complaining about all the different ways i’ve been paying dues in the business of show (read: oil and water) “Mikie, if you stop paying dues, they kick you out of the club!” I have found my music shared on Spotify with no permission granted by me….maybe i’ll stop workin’ so hard at making music and start flippin’ burgers at McDonald’s….if i’m lucky these assholes will write a computer program that gets me a free meal there once in a while…..m


  13. While I concur that spamming people with playlists a la Facebook Music etc. is annoying and pointless, I couldn’t disagree more with the central thesis of your article – that music is not meant to be shared. It is particularly vexing given that you run a website with the express purpose of sharing music with your readers, even if you categorize it as curation.

    If people didn’t share the music they were listening to with other people, the music industry would cease to exist because there would be no way for a song’s popularity to grow exponentially. Word of mouth is a critical element in music promotion. As an independent artist, if my music isn’t getting sent around on private music mailing lists and being put up on torrent sites for people to download, or getting talked about and played in dorm rooms, offices and at parties, then I’m doing something wrong, because nobody cares about it.

    Your deconstruction of Lemere’s quote is also deeply flawed. People, especially younger people who are forming their identities and who – not insignificantly – make up the bulk of the music-buying populace, absolutely use the music they listen to as a part of their public image. Emo kids, goth kids, punks, metalheads, hippies – all of these social niches have associated with them a certain type of music and a cadre of artists which espouse, either directly or indirectly, viewpoints or mores to which the avid listener most likely subscribes, even if only superficially. See also: clothes, hairstyles, slang.

    Mixtapes and playlists (and their contemporary equivalents) are likewise critical parts of the social experience for young people. I can’t even remember how many mixtapes I made for friends and girlfriends and love interests as a way of expressing myself to the recipient. I still have the vast majority of the mixtapes that I received and cherish them for as much for their creative sequencing as for the music they introduced me to. I have a really hard time believing that 16-year-old kids sit at home listening to their private music collections and roll their eyes every time one of their pals sends them a playlist or an MP3. That sounds more like an elder curmudgeon who doesn’t really listen to new music anymore or has a superiority complex about her taste.

    I think blasting every piece of media you have “consumed” onto your Facebook and Twitter feeds is a borderline offensive maneuver and doesn’t really count as “sharing.” To believe it will influence anyone besides the market data companies who want their hands on that information is foolery. On those points we agree. But to dismiss the sharing of music altogether as irrelevant is off-the-mark hyperbole.


    1. Ken-
      Thanks for taking the time to read and to write a thoughtful argument against my essay. You make many smart points and I do see how my words in certain parts of the piece can seem hyperbolic.

      The essay was prompted by the frictionless sharing going on on Facebook via Spotify, as well as by Spotify’s foundational claim that music is “made to be shared.” In taking issue with that, some of my statements might seem extreme without the proper context. For instance, when I say that music is “not made to be shared,” I am actually not trying to say that it *shouldn’t* be shared, I was trying instead to note that at its core, music is made to be listened to. When people share it, it’s for the purpose of having someone else listen to it. The music itself isn’t made *for the purpose of* sharing, it is made for the purpose of listening. But yes, one effective way to have people listen to it is to have people who like it share it with other people who might also like it. I really and truly did not mean to imply otherwise.

      I also did not mean to imply that no one enjoys sharing music with their friends. My subtler point– which may not have come through, given that I do try to keep these pieces reasonably short– was that the idea that this very active, very ongoing kind of sharing that Facebook appears to want everyone to do is not a realistic mainstream activity. Of course I don’t expect that teenagers roll their eyes at each new playlist they receive; neither do I expect that they actually will have time to listen to all of them if the kind of sharing Spotify would like us to be doing is what we indeed begin doing.

      You are exactly right to cherish the mixtapes you received; they are wonderful mementos and represent a lot of work and love. Does a list of songs someone listened to that day on Spotify resemble the same thing? Spotify certainly calls that “sharing.” My biggest point was to argue with *that*.


    2. Ken (again)-
      I was thinking further about your issue with my take on the Lemere quote, and I can of course appreciate what you’re saying about how younger people use the music they listen to as a part of their public image. This is undeniably true. I’m not sure however that there’s a direct correlation between the existence of these “social niches” that are centered around a musical genre and the active sharing of songs. It’s almost at that point about far more than the songs themselves. Kids who adopt clothing, hairstyles, and language patterns to reflect the musical community they feel part of are eager at many different levels, both conscious and unconscious, to hook their identity onto something larger than themselves, something that moves them deep down in their hearts and souls. At this point it is more a visual statement than an aural one, if that makes sense. Even if they could it’s not like they’d want to be walking down the street playing the music they like so everyone passing can hear it. They respond to the music internally, and create an external image to reflect what it feels like and how they want people to respond to them.

      In my mind, this does not necessarily correlate with the assertion that people need constantly to be “sharing” actual songs with the wider world of all their friends and acquaintances. I just don’t believe that leap is a logical one to make. And as an aside, I should note that there may have been a better way for you to make your own particular point than to assure me that mine was “deeply flawed.”


  14. Social music sharing creates a new type of music promotion that small record labels will be able to afford. Using all aspects of networking information, small record labels will be able to pay for a small volume of ultra-targeted ads to find the people who will actually enjoy the music and who have influence over their network (klout). To them, the ads will seem like recommendations, so it will be win-win. It will take the power away from the corporate music industry who is the only one who can afford the *traditional* promotion through radio, tv, etc.


    1. Betsy-
      I see what you’re saying. To the extent that smaller labels and indie artists can use social media to help their music find an audience, that is in theory a good thing. I will quickly add, though, that I personally am never too thrilled with any situation in which a paid message is confused with a non- paid message, especially when that confusion is actually encouraged. And now that you mention it, the kind of frictionless sharing Facebook has dragged Spotify into could, yes, easily start to be promotional-ized (to coin a bad bad word). That could be cheap and somewhat effective advertising for indie artists, but in practice it will I think so closely resemble spam that it will be largely ignored.


  15. Very insightful blog. Also very true. Especially the math part. And everyone who realized that they were guilty of enjoying the giving of mix tapes or playlists more than the receiving of said music raise his or her hand. I thought so. A lot of hands just went up at once.

    That said, the people whose musical tastes you truly care about are people with whom you share a special bond. Sharing music is a very personal act. Sort of like sex, but not quite. Plus, there is less stigma about sharing music with people of both sexes. (Not that there is anything wrong with that :-))


  16. What if you, as a consumer of music recommendations, will be able to reciprocally ultra-target the ads you will receive, using the same networking information. You could select to only receive the small campaigns that have targeted you as a good match. You could take your power back from the chaos generated by the world of spam.

    Instead of feeling spammed, you could see yourself having a vote in the evolution of the new music industry by selecting the type of advertisers whose work you want to support. Maybe it would just be allowing computer-matched recommendations (paid for by labels) to subscribe to a newsfeed for an indie label that you’ve never heard of. If the networking computers had more music listening information, even if it weren’t shared, new meaningful connections could be made.


    1. Betsy-
      Again, my issue is entirely about whether ads look like ads or are purposefully disguised as not-ads. The blurring of advertising and editorial content is a mistake in my book– unethical, actually. If the ads are above-board, and not trying to look like not-paid-for content, then this kind of ultra-targeting may be a helpful thing for many people. (Although I personally happen not to like that kind of thing. I turn off all such efforts to target me when possible. I find it creepy not helpful, but that’s just me!)


  17. I WAS too cranky yesterday. My apologies for the tone. I still believe the distinction between promoting playlists on a blog and sharing ‘what i’m listening to now’ among friends is pretty small. And yes, I do live in Nashville, and we may take the wonder of our musically-conversant community for granted, but I’ve been in dialogue about what’s good in the real world every place I’ve ever lived. All music fans are, and taking that to the social networking space is just as inevitable as anything could be. Thanks for a good dialogue.


    1. Chavighurst-
      Apology entirely accepted. And I don’t think we’re actually disagreeing as much as it might seem. (Not that there’s anything wrong with healthy disagreement, of course.) I do not at all mean to come across as someone who discounts or dislikes the idea of people sharing and/or talking about music. I mean, you’re right– how could I? My underlying issue is with the, shall we say, ‘commoditization’ of the sharing process. Actual, purposeful sharing among actual friends is a great good thing; frictionless sharing of *everything* amongst one’s entire circle of online contacts just isn’t really sharing in any meaningful way, in my mind, and I think denigrates the entire idea. I will however agree to disagree with you about the difference between creating playlists publicly, as a professional music curator and ‘what I’m listening to now’ sharing between quote-unquote friends. But hm that now strikes me as an entirely different essay… stay tuned… 🙂


  18. For some perspective, I came to your blog post from the ASCAP Daily Brief, a daily mailing of articles relating to music in general and copyright in particular. Though I am an ASCAP member and appreciate what they do for me and the rest of their artists, I often find the hostile tone of the articles they choose to be counterproductive in terms of forging a rational dialog between the two sides of the copyright debate. I was therefore primed to vigorously disagree with whatever I found.

    I stand by my assessment of your quote analysis, though I agree it would have been more polite to say that I just disagreed with it. The real problem with Lemere’s statement is that it falsely assigns a primacy to music sharing in terms of the expression of one’s self-image. As we both agree, music is merely a part of one’s identity. It is of course natural for him to make such a narrow assertion since that is the sort of data he deals with every day and it is probably part of the mission statement of his company.

    Kids – at least some kids – definitely do want to go down the street sharing their music with everyone. From the boombox-on-the-shoulder of the 1980’s to loud car stereos to way-too-audible earbuds on the subway, blasting music for all to hear is something of a cultural tradition. Granted, it may be more about being obnoxious or inconsiderate than having a vested interest in the aesthetic response of the unwitting “listener,” but it can certainly be tied back to the expression of identity.

    Again, I agree with your point that automated broadcasting of everything we listen to has little to no interpersonal value. Given the questionable reliability of online privacy controls, it is my opinion that the less we share with the world at large, the better off we are.

    Your comment about technologists as a class being socially inept, however large of an asterisk you put next to it, and more to the point however true it may be, is still offensive. We can’t pick and choose which stereotypes were are going to reinforce if we are to have civil discourse.

    More importantly to your argument, though, is that this push to share everything with everyone isn’t driven by a techno-utopian dream – it is just good old-fashioned capitalism. All of the profits being made from the social networking revolution are due to the highly valuable (and personal!) marketing data being aggregated by Facebook et al. In that context Spotify makes perfect sense – share more of your targetable personality traits today! – and the viewpoints they and other similar companies are espousing are at best a sales pitch and at worst propaganda masquerading as idealism.


    1. Ken-
      Thanks for coming back and adding a bit more to the discussion.

      I really appreciated and fully support this statement: “Given the questionable reliability of online privacy controls, it is my opinion that the less we share with the world at large, the better off we are.” Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the more the Facebooks of the world push this so-called “frictionless sharing,” the more they may move more people in the opposite direction. It simply isn’t human nature to be that transparent to everyone you know, equally.

      And I also want to apologize again (I did so in another comment, higher up) about my generalization regarding technologists. I never meant to insult anyone and am usually pretty much last person in the room who wants to reinforce stereotypes. At the same time, returning to exactly what I said, I do want to point out that I did not say that technologists are “socially inept,” and mostly broached the subject in the first place to point out the (I think?) inarguable fact that people do in fact have different “intelligences” and that there are some people who do in fact have less so-called “emotional intelligence” than others and that this is not by any means a judgment, it is simply an effort to note that we can get in a weird place when people without a strongly developed emotional intelligence are put in a position to make decisions that hold sway over emotional/interpersonal areas.

      I should not however make assumptions about how common or uncommon this trait is among programmers and others in the technology trenches. I’ll admit I was mostly taking issue with Mark Zuckerberg, based on articles I’ve read (a number of them) that have profiled him in depth. Everyone is an individual, no one is a stereotype, but he does seem to come across as someone whose strength is not emotional intelligence. Again, this is not stated as a judgment or an insult.

      And I’ve beat this line of discussion into the ground so I’ll stop now. Oh and I also really like your last sentence about how Spotify’s eagerness to get us to share all our listening is “at best a sales pitch and at worst propaganda masquerading as idealism.” Well said.


  19. I agree with you on a couple salient points, but I want to further question the “frictionless sharing”. I agree sharing music with friends is great, I actually enjoy doing this all the time. But I think people are viewing technology as the only way to share music. Hence, would it not be rational to do it on “social” platforms that reach the most amount of people? Now while your point about if everyone shared 5 songs a day and you had 300 hundred friends that’s 1500 songs is true sure, but this gives you a chance to sift through those and potentially find something new. Music is a need, so doesn’t the need to share music stem from that?

    Also this does bring up a problem though because curation of musical content online goes basically out the door, replaced by inherent mediocrity. Now while this might be a problem to some, searching through this noise helps to better identify the TRUE gems of a given genre.

    But how do we balance this potentially explosive situation?



  20. “Music is inherently, and often movingly, a private experience”

    While I appreciate what you are saying about the potential flood of useless “X listened to this, Y listened to that” info on Facebook/Spotify (and I would at least agree that a viable music sharing service would need a very good, user-friendly filtering technology to mitigate this concern), I can’t believe how wrong you are about this central thesis. Historically, music has been an INTENSELY social experience – deeply intertwined with religion, cultural rituals, social events, etc. It was not unti very recently (with the advent of recorded music, radio, etc.) that music came to be seen as something that could be regularly experienced outside the social realm. While you perceive going to a concert as “at heart, an internal experience,” I honestly think you’re probably in the minority there.

    I also think it’s pretty clear that sharing, borrowing, etc. is a primary impetus for musical innovation, & you downplay the benefits of sharing technologies on musicians themselves. Of course, in practice, there are legitimate concerns with over-sharing & unnecessary floods of data that actually inhibit our ability to find the information we want – but in theory, we should applaud technological attempts to facilitate sharing of music, and hope that the technologies respond to consumer demands re: filtering, control of information, etc.

    In sum, as a policy argument, I see merit to both sides of this argument, but the philosophical premise that music is INHERENTLY a private experience over a social experience is really misguided.


    1. JJ-
      If I’m understanding you properly, which I may not be, you seem to be saying that sharing among friends is generally a good idea, that social media gives us the best tool for doing so, and that if we are left with sorting through a lot of noise to find good music as a result, this is generally a good thing.

      My overall stance remains that the extent to which people truly want and need to share music is overestimated by techno-visionaries on the one hand and that on the other hand, the kind of “sharing” Facebook and Spotify would like us to engage in isn’t sharing but spam. I am very skeptical (obviously) of technological tools that make sharing “easier” because, as another writer has recently pointed out, the whole value in sharing is, in fact, the friction, not the lack of friction.

      Thank you for reading the essay and sharing your thoughts. I can understand why you think my opinion is misguided but it is hard to take your input entirely seriously when you start out by asserting how “wrong” I am. I’m not sure how your opinion on the matter has any more weight than mine. While a certain number of people here have disagreed with me, many have also found something of value in what I have attempted to express. To rush in and insist I am categorically “wrong” seems itself a little misguided.

      But I do understand, I think, your main point here. I probably need to make clearer than I did in the essay that in claiming that music “at heart, an internal experience” I did not intend to claim that there was nothing social about it at all. That indeed would be far-fetched, for reasons you cite and many more besides. Of course music has a social reality, and to the extent that my essay implied otherwise, I apologize for my lack of clarity. Likewise I did not intend to assert that there is no point at all in sharing, nor that sharing technologies were all somehow without value.

      Maybe with hindsight, and assisted by comments such as yours, I might instead say that music begins as an internal experience. That is the first landing point. The social experience happens only if we first are able to experience it internally. The whole point of sharing, it seems to me, is to give other people the chance to have a similar internal experience.

      I should note that simply because music only recently could be experienced outside the social realm doesn’t in my opinion change the idea that music enters each of us individually through our ears and first affects our own emotional landscape. For corroboration on the matter, I can hand you over to Marcel Proust, who wrote intensively about an individual’s internal experience of music before record players or radios were even invented.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: