Nashville's really stepping up to cater to the independent artist these days, with a new company called Songness launching a website in September to help DIYers determine who their fans are. It says the program "attempts to predict how users will rate a song" and "compares individual users with categories of users that appear to influence their music choices and generates recommendations."
For artists, it's a virtual focus group. They upload songs, fans rate them, and the artist is sent feedback to help them understand to what extent they've written a "hit."
For fans, it's a music recommendation tool. At first I thought it sounded a bit like Pandora, whose music analysts isolate the DNA of songs and link them to similar ones. Then when you type in, say, The Pixies, you'll get a Pixies song or two, and then a few bands who "sound like" The Pixies.
But then I came across the listener page, and it turns out Songness uses something called Zaztrax to predict "how you'll rate every song in our database, based on recommendations from people like you."
I don't know who those people like me are, but I do know I bristle at the thought. But I think that, since it asks you to rate genres first, it must mean that other people who liked rock or jazz like X, Y and Z songs the most in those genres, so there's a good chance I will too.
This instantly bugs me, because we know that walking into a record store and blindly picking up any record in the "rock" genre in the hopes of finding a score is completely useless. And we also know that just because a bunch of other people like something doesn't mean we'll like it. Sometimes, sure. But mostly? Nah.
And, I may typically like country less than rock, but that doesn't mean there aren't going to be country songs I'll love if they incorporate traditional country more than mainstream modern country. I honestly can't even bring myself to pick how much, on a scale of one to five, I like or don't like "alternative" music, whatever that word means. Ditto for jazz, pop, funk, heavy metal and world.
Also, the "incentive" for listening to all this indie music is that you get the song for free if you rate it and you like it. But what if you don't? And say it slowly refines my likes better and better based on how I rate music in their database as I go along. This is still so far from helping me find what I might actually like, because it can only read my taste based on what the site is letting me hear. It'd be like dropping me off at Wet Seal and making me try on clothes, then "deciding" what kind of fashion I like based on what I chose—when really I just picked the thing least likely to make me look like a trashy whore. Am I missing something?
But that's just me. If you don't mind working a little for a free tune and you have the patience to wait for something you might like, go for it. And if anyone else uses Songness or has used it, feel free to prove me wrong and tell me how awesome it is.