The homogenization of music isn’t anything new. For ages, the less nerd-savvy customer service geek in corporate record stores has been twisted and trained to “upsell” by suggesting a “similar” artist to go along with the one the consumer is hellbent on purchasing.
“Like Fugazi? You ought to give Blink 182 a shot! Or Staind!”
As I’ve grown older and technology has increasingly become a baffling ordeal, computer programs are doing the work pimply ninnies wearing nametags used to perform perfectly well enough on their own. And clear as I can see, iTunes is the worst jerk among the whole jerky lot of them.
It began when I took a gander at the recommendations based on purchases I’d made in the iTunes store. None, admittedly, were anywhere near as bad as suggesting former American Idol reject William Hung because I’d bought something by Bob Dylan. But suggesting I try downloading the digital atrocity Beowulf because of some other flick I’d rented really just put the whole iTunes thing in a terrible light.
And yet I felt compelled to carry on. Call me a glutton for punishment if you will, but I took their advice and allowed the despicable Genius to sink in its terrible teeth.
It’s my own fault for even allowing their mothership database to scan my awesome digital collection in the first place way back when, but I must admit to having been a bit curious. Not that I believed they might hit me up with something worth checking out that I wasn’t already fully aware of, but because I thought it would be good for a larf.
But you know something? I’m actually insulted. Because despite untold millions spent developing the technology to make something like Genius possible, they still put Billy Joel at the top of my list.
Seriously? Billy Joel? And a compilation with two of the worst songs ever recorded by anyone EVER on it? “Uptown Girl” and “We Didn’t Start Fire”? The only thing “essential” about that collection is that it’s absolutely essential it doesn’t get anywhere near my iPod.
It doesn’t necessarily get worse from there, because how could it? But among the few decent suggestions (A Chapterhouse track I already own, an admittedly nifty early Jerry Lee Lewis album) are total duds like Aimee Mann and America. As hilarious as recommending William Hung because I enjoy a bit of Bob Dylan might be, it also proves the system is hopelessly flawed.
Who the does iTunes think they are? Who do they think I am?
Last.fm has a similar feature, though it’s not nearly as atrocious. For example, based on certain artists I listen to frequently (Fleet Foxes, the Beach Boys, Blitzen Trapper, Blur, the Beatles, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks), I received Silver Jews, the Hollies, Bon Iver, and (perhaps a bit less successfully) the Turtles. I also got Al Green, Graham Coxon, Spacemen 3 and Slowdive. Sure, I’ve already got music by all of them, but at least that proves Last.fm is better at this sort of thing than Apple.
There is nothing more satisfying as a music nerd than finding some diamond in the rough that you’ve never heard of, having it sink its teeth into your consciousness like a pit bull and never letting go. You know, but in a good way. A lot of that music is discovered through conversations very much like the one with a record store clerk I cooked up above, though it’s far more joyful to me when it reveals itself during a pithy conversation between two overheated afficionados. I realize that sounds elitist, but despite my indie freak out over Billy Joel, I’m definitely more open than closed.
Truth is, I’d just rather you tell me about some kick-ass album I really absolutely have to get a copy of or I’ll surely die than have some cruddy computer program try and figure me out. I admit to being a simple man with simple needs, but Billy Joel? I think not.
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