There’s a scene in Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry, looking perplexed, walks into a coffee shop. He’s struggling with what to order… the choice is so vast. After some reflection, he settles on a ‘vanilla bullshit’.
Too much choice can be a bad thing. Access to a wide range of options limits your scope – how do you choose? Behavioural economics give us plenty of examples of how this applies to pricing and product design. A pretty standard approach is to package three options, knowing that the consumer rarely choses the most expensive. They also rarely choose the cheapest. Likewise, with products, reduce the range of options, and you’re giving people less opportunity to say ‘no’ – you’re removing doubt through the removal of choice. Look at Apple: they carefully choreograph product releases to nudge the consumer along in their decision-making. The iPhone 8 comes out… and it’s basically a decoy to aid in the huge leap of pricing for the iPhone X. It’s not about product choice, it’s all behavioural economics.
Let me take a detour, here. I know that this is a music blog, and you may be thinking that I’m kind of losing the plot a little in talking about pricing and product strategy. It’s relevant, so bear with me. But first, let me loop into a conversation which I had with a mate of mine, last year. He looked pretty crestfallen as he declared that ‘all music is now derivative’. Now, for someone who thinks there’s loads of good music out there right now, I struggled with the statement. But then we spoke at length about the new LCD Soundsystem album – one which we both thought was great. But – and this was basically his point – it didn’t exactly sound fresh and original. Now, to be clear, I’m not agreeing with his statement… but as I’ve already said here, it does sound like Talking Heads being covered by The Fall. So I challenged my mate: in this world of derivative music, how do you find something new, something exciting?
And here we land on Spotify. And, I’ve got a problem with Spotify.
Another of my good friends works in the music industry. Every time I see him, he shakes my hand and with a knowing wink, thanks me for personally trying to keep his business afloat by buying a ridiculous amount of music. I’m an outlier to him, in that ‘I don’t stream’. I’ve got a specific reason, and it comes back to my issue that I started with: the fundamental paradox of breadth of choice limiting what you actually select. My take is therefore that, through using Spotify, I’d limit the scope of my music intake. I wouldn’t ‘seek out the new’, and try to find the needle in a haystack of non-derivative music. I’d end up listening to a smaller selection of tunes than I would if I bought them myself in the first place.
As I articulated this, I heard myself as an old bloke. I heard myself as the kind of person who frankly doesn’t want to change his habits. I heard myself as Larry David, ordering a ‘vanilla bullshit’. And, I didn’t like it. So, while I stand by my point on the dangers of being able to choose to listen to ‘anything’, I’m stepping in. I’m challenging myself. I’m joining the Spotify-era. I will need your help.
So, here’s my request: please share new music with me. ‘New’ music doesn’t have to be a new release… I’m just after things that I’ve not heard yet. I want 2018 to be filled with exciting sounds. For my part, this is me. I’ll create, and constantly curate, an ongoing playlist of freethinking gems. There are 40 in here to get you started – three hours of solid music.
And my final promise is to the record industry as a whole: I’ll still try to keep you in business. I won’t stop buying music.