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Who Makes Your Tastes?

I recently heard a radio music programmer claim that most people’s musical tastes are set between the ages of 12 and 17. For the past 60 years or so, radio programming has been the dominant player here. As consolidation swept the industry, a narrower and narrower band of interests had control over this tastemaking (though one might credibly argue that a few players’ dominance over a market gave them “wiggle room” to diversify stations).

It looks like some interesting new players are now taking the stage. First, MySpace has announced plans to sell music. Though I haven’t used the site much, I can see how “viral marketing” might fit perfectly into its business model. Even if MySpace only takes a small cut out of bands’ sales, the service could be immensely profitable.

Second, the NYT reports on Pandora, a new “recommendation engine:”

The idea behind a recommendation engine is essentially to create an online version of a knowledgeable retail salesman, someone to help consumers navigate the dizzyingly vast digital marketplace. The most familiar form uses so-called collaborative filtering, software that makes recommendations based on the buying patterns of like-minded consumers. Think of the “customers who bought items like this also bought …” function on

Well, given my reservations about AI, I think I’ll stick with Head Butler for now.

2 thoughts on “Who Makes Your Tastes?”

  1. That was the story I got that first quote from! I hope I got the ages right.

    Yes, that was a fantastic story. It struck a chord with me because I so easily fall into a rut in music listening. I’ll just stick with the same CD for weeks. Admittedly, I think it’s because I’ve instrumentalized music-listening a bit much…listening to the music less for its intrinsic quality than for some pleasant background for working (and drowning out distracting noises). One more example of what Borgmann (following Benjamin) warned about re the easy reproduction of music…what was once an occasion for reflection and appreciation is subordinated to the Ellulian technical imperative to be more productive.

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