Google’s: Eric Schmidt On Music

“In the next generation of software, machine learning won’t just be an add-on that improves performance a few percentage points; it will really replace traditional approaches.

To give just one example: a decade ago, to launch a digital music service, you probably would have enlisted a handful of elite tastemakers to pick the hottest new music.

Today, you’re much better off building a smart system that can learn from the real world – what actual listeners are most likely to like next – and help you predict who and where the next Adele might be.

As a bonus, it’s a much less elitist taste-making process – much more democratic – allowing everyone to discover the next big star through our own collective tastes and not through the individual preferences of a select few.”

“Intelligent machines: Making AI work in the real world”:

“Radio comes first, on demand comes second. You need to be force-fed what to listen to, then you pick it out for endless repeat on your own.”

The above comments by Google/Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt are the smartest I’ve seen on the future of music in a long time. In other words, if Jimmy Iovine were so brilliant, if it were all about endless playlists, Apple Music’s numbers would have been featured in last week’s presentation and the entire industry would be saying hosannas.

But this has not happened. Because the oldsters still rule in music, it’s a result of rights, the aged control them, but we won’t be all right until the lunatics take over the asylum. That’s right, techies are gonna save the world.

I’d like to tell you I know how machine learning works, but I can’t program and I count on the Valleyites, Silicon, not San Fernando, to lead me, to take me where I did not know I could go. What I’m looking for is a cohesive world that turns me on to the best stuff and makes me feel a member of society. Who wants to go to a gig of one? Where you’re the only person in the audience? That’s what listening in today’s music world is like. I want to be a member of a tribe, a growing one, watching acts ascend and fulfill.

But we don’t know how to do this. Everybody’s operating in their own silo. The labels believe in radio. Because it gives you the most bang for the buck, it’s the easiest place to start the story. And they’re still doubling down on print media and television, even though every week there are new reviews of albums that are quickly forgotten and with 400 scripted shows do you really expect me to scan the talkfests and come up with scintillating appearances by wannabes?

Of course not.

Music discovery is broken. There, I’ve said it.

What’s worse is this is not the conversation. The conversation is dominated by artists complaining that someone’s moved their cheese and is ripping them off at the same time. It’s as if they locked up gasoline producers at the Tesla factory and they kept on bitching that the car’s got no future. Hell, did you read that article that cars in the future are going to be about the software add-ons, that they’re going to resemble your phone more than a Corvette, never mind a Prius? Because getting the driving down is easy, constructing a satisfying listening experience is something else.

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Apple Car”: on the the Wall Street Journal.

Jimmy Iovine is a music producer and the chairman of Interscope RecordsThe problem with Jimmy Iovine is he’s looking backward. To the radio with the idiotic Beats 1. You know it’s not for listeners, right? It’s a way to start records for the labels. The biggest story on the station is their banging of Halsey, Capitol’s new/old act. It’s like if Beats 1 is on it the rest of us should pay attention. But didn’t we realize long ago, in the post-Napster era, it’s about appealing first to the audience? Which is anemic on Beats 1 because it’s got all the flaws of radio but ads, with unprofessional deejays to boot. You mean in an on demand culture I can’t fast-forward?

Most people have completely fast-forwarded through streaming services, because they’re incomprehensible, they don’t know where to start. Which is why they gravitate to the execrable Pandora. Whose genome delivers so many tune-outs it’s laughable. But people want to be served, who’s gonna serve them, who’s gonna turn them on to new stuff?

Zane Lowe: Apple MusicI want a computer to slice and dice everybody’s listening habits to give me the greatest chance of liking what comes next. I like the wisdom of the crowd. The only people who don’t are the outsiders in skinny jeans who need their identities embellished by their choices, the pricks.

Amazon eliminated human curators when it found out algorithms did a better job of predicting books. That’s right, the suggestions you see on your personal page were not done by hand and they generate even more sales. Why does everybody in music hate data? Data says freemium boosts paid Spotify. Might not feel right, but it’s true.

And the truth is we’d be better off with one playlist instead of a gazillion.

But Schmidt’s comments above give me hope… That those outside the bubble can see what we cannot and can deliver satiation.

Shawn and Sean did it with Napster.

Oh, come on, get off your financial horse. Having all of the music at your fingertips is a godsend. Gary Richrath dies and I can instantly hear “Roll With The Changes.” Used to be I’d turn on the radio to wait for it. And the communal experience was good.

But the communal experience is coming back, that’s what’s Schmidt is talking about.

I want all the naysayers and complainers to STFU. Where has it gotten them? Did it kill file-trading? No, legal streaming music services did that. It’s time for everybody to get with the program, to look forward instead of back. This is the new reality. People are listening to music and artists are getting paid. And nothing is stopping them from not only going on tour, but communicating with their fans on social media services.

This is nirvana! It’s just those inured to the old system refuse to play in the new.

I thought human curation was gonna solve the music discovery problem. It still might. But it looks like the techies are gonna get there first. Hell, my inbox is filling up with people loving Spotify’s new Discovery feature.

If only we could let the best minds carry the ball.

Experience counts.

But classic rock acts never have another hit and all the innovation has come from the tech side.

Does Jimmy Iovine know anything about machine learning?

Case closed.

P.S. I learned about this Schmidt piece in MusicAlly’s “Bulletin,” which only does a few stories each day, in this case seven, which is still way too many. Let that be a lesson to all you curators, less is more. Endless lists of articles go ignored.

Special thanks to Bob Lefsetz for allowing us to share his insights on RadioToday. You are welcome to join his mailing list here or check out his LefsetzLetter website.

Who is Bob Lefsetz

Bob Lefsetz is the author of “The Lefsetz Letter.” Famous for being beholden to no one and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to EVERYBODY who’s in the music business.

Never boring, always entertaining, Bob’s insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music’s American division and consultancies to major labels.


“The Lefsetz Letter” has been publishing for over 25 years. First as hard copy, most recently as an email newsletter and now, for the first time, in blog form.

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