Starving amidst plenty

In my last post I wrote about the power of Tido to aid discovery. In this post I want to cast the net a little wider.

It’s a truism that in the developed world, we live in an age of plenty. More music recordings, scores, and certainly video materials are available to us than ever before. But, just as in big farming, industrialisation doesn’t necessarily equate to diversity. And, just as in big farming, an emphasis on productivity, size and scale can lead to some unintended but significant distortions in both provision and consumption.

The idea of a ‘canon’ of music – indeed, the idea of ‘classical’ music altogether – is an invention of the Renaissance. Before that time, music was always contemporary, enjoyed and forgotten. The concept of a revival, the same motivation which drove the creation of a new genre called opera which would reanimate ancient Greek theatre, has been with us ever since. And, of course, when seventeenth-century Florentines hypothesised about what Greek music theatre might have been like, they projected their own, contemporary, assumptions on to that particular Platonic cave wall. You could say the same about ‘authentic’ or ‘historically informed’ performance practice. Such ideological movements have always said more about us than about the objects we act on – and in this sense, ‘authenticity’ can only be claimed for what we currently are engaged in. I can’t tell you that J. S. Bach would have recognised the style of Emmanuelle Haïm more than von Karajan, for instance.

But I’m wandering off track! To come back to Tido, the digital universe offers everything…in principle. Abundance does not equal quality, although it includes quality. The benefit becomes, more and more, about curation and selection. Unfortunately, much of the music industry is driven by the ‘if you liked that, then you will LOVE this’ paradigm. Like a decrease in crop diversity, this farming of music has some serious and distorting consequences. Female composers continue to be neglected. Why? Because…well, female composers are not generally as well-known or as powerfully promoted as male composers. And so the cycle, without correction, will continue repeating itself indefinitely.

The same is true for ‘most popular’. You could die of thirst drinking only Bollinger champagne; sometimes you want water. But the relentless promotion of ‘more of the same’ means that we are surfeited on J. S. Bach. We don’t hear nearly enough Graupner, for instance. And even within the output of J. S. Bach, we don’t hear nearly enough of the neglected works. What about if, instead of ‘if you liked that, then you will LOVE this’, a platform could steer users in wilder directions? ‘If you liked that, then THIS will come as a complete shock to you’. Algorithmic recommendations can be built in infinite variety, so we could highlight ‘least listened’ as easily as ‘most popular’.

And what would the effect of all this be? It would be pretty much the journey I have been on, developing Tido. In the past few years, as Tido has taken shape, my listening habits have become wider than ever. The discoveries I have made reinforce my realisation that I have been dancing on the head of a pin, musically speaking. There is so much more great, neglected, diverse and sometimes bizarre music out there. The world is wide, and Tido is playing its part in opening doors. Not just to the well-loved, familiar rooms we know so well, but to corners we didn’t even know existed.

I want to share an important piece by Kathryn Knight, CEO of Tido, to conclude this post. I think you’ll find it very germane to the thoughts above!

Until next time

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