For some reason, everyone wants to get into the music business. After achieving any modicum of success, companies seem to make their next move a foray into the music industry, an attempt to plant a flag in the field. Amazon and Beats launched new twists on the streaming music model; MySpace re-revives itself as an artist’s haven; every brand you can think of is throwing a small music festival. Now, the developers of Tinder, the world’s most efficient dating app, have decided to enter the ring.
It’s called “Next,” and using Tinder’s principles of gamification, they aim to transform the music industry the same way they’ve turned dating into a transactional, binary sorting hat. According to an article at TheNextWeb, Users will get to view 10 seconds to 3 minutes of an artist’s self-submitted video and swipe left or right to render judgment. The theory goes is that it will allow people to discover new, under-the-radar artists while allowing the performers a chance to be heard on equal footing. It’s garbage.
Imagining The Experience
I don’t have an iPhone to use the app, and apparently its user base isn’t big enough to get an accurate picture of its functionality anyway. But, knowing what I know about how music and musicians exist on the web, from Turntable.FM to Muxtapes to 8tracks to YouTube, here’s my completely unfair, unjournalistic expectation of how a session would go:
Start up the app. A teen with an acoustic guitar in his bedroom is covering “Wonderwall.” Swipe left. A teen with an acoustic guitar in her bedroom is covering Jason Mraz. Swipe left. A teen with a ukelele is in her bedroom covering Ingrid Michaelson. Swipe left. A band in a basement starts their song, but 30 seconds into it the lead singer still hasn’t sung a word. You get antsy. Swipe left. A teen with an acoustic guitar is doing a soft cover of Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” because we still live in a primitive culture where that’s considered hilarious.
Obviously this is all prejudgment, but if you read early impressions and have traveled the frontier of internet music long enough, it’s easy enough to jump to that conclusion. When you leave it entirely to the users, the most basic, boring and vanilla stuff makes up the majority. YouTube fame caters to singers of covers and idea-less acoustic pop. On a site like 8tracks, the masses have attached genre labels to shoddy, watered-down playlists to the point of meaninglessness. Without algorithms or editorial, the only thing you get to discover is more of the same.
Instant gratification is king on the internet, and Next wants to deliver it to you in a form that doesn’t work with music.
Why is Finding New Music An Issue, Anyway?
We live in a golden age of music discovery. There are endless of ways to find new artists and more are built every day, each with different flavors. You can have an intricate algorithm find similar bands for you on Pandora, or you can use an app like Lazify on Spotify to build you an 8 hour playlist. Last.FM recommends me music and events based on everything I have ever listened to since 2006. Outlets like Bandcamp and SoundCloud offer an oversight-free, grab bag of every genre under the sun. Hell, you are right now on a music blog, one of the thousands of cogs in the music blog industrial complex, designed to recommend you new music. If you can’t find new artists in 2014, it’s probably because you’re deaf.
“We want to be the democratization of access to music,” says Tinder co-founder Christopher Gulczynski in the aforementioned TNW article. He was presumably speaking through a wormhole leading to 1997, when 50 artists on the radio monopolized listener attention.
Burst Culture and Music
The reason Tinder works for dating is because it streamlines the dating process in a form that we already engage in: looking at strangers and deciding on attraction purely on first impression. It’s brilliant, it’s genius, and that’s why they’re making a gazillion dollars off of it.
Music discovery, on the other hand, doesn’t and shouldn’t work like that. Do you get an accurate assessment of a song from the first 15 seconds? Probably not — but the concept of Next encourages it. Even if you have the patience of a saint, can you imagine yourself opening this app and listening to the full allotted 3 minutes every time? How often do you stare at a Tinder profile for that long? And unless it’s a blistering punk number, 3 minutes is still a short song.
The internet works on what author Warren Ellis calls Burst Culture. The most successful, widespread stuff works in quick bursts and chunks. It’s why Twitter is so popular, why Vine is fun, why Buzzfeed Lists spread like a virus. It’s why Reddit and Tumblr post captioned screenshots and animated gifs instead of YouTube videos. Instant gratification is king on the internet, and Next wants to deliver it to you in a form that doesn’t work with music.
Here’s what instant gratification & burst culture means for music: Spotify lets you pull up nearly any song immediately. Pandora just straight picks something for you. Next’s application of burst culture is asking you to pass judgment on as much music as possible on as shallow a level as possible.
I can hear your counterpoints from here: “You don’t know that! Give it a shot before making a decision! You’re rushing to judgment on the app’s usefulness!” To that, I say, yes, that’s it. You’re getting it.
One caveat: swiping and judging is fun. That’s why they might have a shot at success, if you define success purely by popularity. If it gets big, it will be because we enjoy the meta game and the mechanic, not because it’s the tool we’ve always needed to find that one perfect artist.
Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.