May 09

The way we listen now

FT9 comments • 507 views

I asked a simple question – nicked wholesale from Steve M on Poptimists -“What’s your favourite current song and how did you first hear it?”

Here are the answers I got.

Slaid Cleaves – “Cry” (“read about the album on a USENET group”)
The Ventures – “Tequila” (“My son’s guitar teacher assigned it, and it’s absolutely stuck in my head.”)
Bat For Lashes – “Glass” (“probably via Drowned In Sound”)
Telepopmusik – “Breathe” (“@carlastephanie showed it to me”)
Phoenix – “Lisztomania” (“first heard on a blog who posted a leaked MP3. Then heard SNL performance on Hulu.com”)
Crazy Cousinz – “Inflation” (“heard on dancefloor @ fwd @ the end, it prompted me to declare that 09 would be the yr of the xylophone”)
Pet Shop Boys – “All Over The World” (“First heard it previewed during their Brit’s medley, which I watched on Youtube“)
Buraka Som Sistema – “Kurum” (“picked up the album because of “Sound of Kuduro,” & discovered this track”)
Theresa Andersson – “Birds Fly Away” (“which my boyfriend hipped me to”)
Metronomy – “Radio Ladio (Mae Shi Remix)” (“through the Mae Shi”)
Cryptacize – “Tail And Mane” (“streamed it (along with the rest of the album) at the band’s Muxtape“)
Polarkreis 18 – “The Colour Of Snow” (“through The Singles Jukebox!”)
Lovebugs – “The Highest Heights” (“It’s this year’s Swiss Eurovision entry, and it’s *cough* a bit Stadium Indie.”)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero” (“First heard (seen) on MTV2”)
Kasabian – “Vlad The Impaler” (“after receiving email from band mailout”)
Crystal Vipers – “Bringer Of The Light” (“1st heard when I DLed the album. The truest metal comes from Poland nowadays”)
Pallers – “Humdrum” (“At the Labrador website.”)
Don Omar – “Virtual Diva” (“got off a dirty rapidshare blog, mebbe hear-it-first.net”)
“‘I’m a Stranger and Afraid’ first heard on Andy Kershaw on R1” (This is probably BB King’s “A World I Never Made” – not on YT if so)
Micachu And The Shapes – “Calculator” (“first heard off MBV’s stream of the album”)
Antony And The Johnsons – “Dust And Water” (Fan Video – mild NSFW) (“I’ve been a follower of Antony for years.”)

Now, this is a tiny and wholly unrepresentative sample – but I know two things about them. They’re on Twitter, and they follow me: which means they’re either interested in music, social media, research or some combination of the three. So I still find what they have to say intriguing.

Let’s pretend these people are an audience segment. “Tom’s mates on Twitter” would be the honest name for them, but instead I’ll put my fancy researcher hat on and call them “Digitally Engaged Music Seekers” – DEMS. What can I hypothesise about DEMS from these answers?

1. Forget traditional broadcast media: it’s entertaining but it’s not a source of anything much – only two people mentioned radio or video channels.

2. Blogs are important, but so’s direct band/artist communication: I was surprised by how many people heard favourite tracks through direct digital connection with artists or labels – no intermediary required.

3. Word of mouth can be casual: music gets transmitted across pretty weak ties – guitar teachers and twitter friends as well as mates and boyfriends.

4. Serendipity matters: I get the feeling that most replies weren’t seeking out new music so much as putting themselves in the way of it and being alert and vaguely open to its possibility.

5. The Long Tail lives!: I am a pop fan and so I was expecting to see more records named which are hits or at least have some chance of it. Instead the bulk of them I’d never even heard of.

OK, all of this is speculative – but I think at least it’s an interesting snapshot of how people roughly like me listen to and for music now.


  1. 1
    mike on 7 May 2009 #

    Very interesting stuff. And apols: I didn’t answer the second part of your question very well. I first heard the Lovebugs track by downloading it from a Eurovision download blog, that an old friend had told me about via e-mail.

  2. 2
    David Belbin on 7 May 2009 #

    Interesting stuff, Tom. I read on the Springsteen usenet group that I occasionally frequent that there was a new Slaid Cleaves album about to come out and it was in a different league to anything he’d done before. Turned out it was only available as an eighteen quid import but I bought a copy from the Cayman islands for a tenner and it arrived within a week of its American release. ‘Cry’ is the title track, in that it includes the line ‘Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away’. It’s a very catchy country folk album with a lot of songs about mortality and, if there’s any justice, should make him bigger than Garth Brooks ever was. Since there isn’t, I’ll probably be seeing him in the same small club I’ve seen him in three times before when he tours the UK this October.

  3. 3
    Martin Skidmore on 7 May 2009 #

    My answer to Steve was through the singles jukebox, which is how I hear nearly all new music these days (plus then seeking out more by the acts I really like, of course).

  4. 4
    Nelson Wells on 7 May 2009 #

    nice work, tom. we like. surprised that idolator scooped it before Pitchfork. Did you even bother pitching it to pitchfork?
    like it.

    so, my new favorite blog: FreakyTrigger (found out about from a Tweet from Maura at idolator) LOL.


  5. 5
    DV on 7 May 2009 #

    I find myself wondering whether the whole obsession with “current” music is one that we might move away from. It suits a print music press, because people will want to pay money to learn about the sounds of now, but as people move to primarily downloading music they are surely going to start engaging more with music from random periods of the past. And with a dying print media, they are as likely to read a blog on which some guy enthuses about Ethiopian jazzers from the early 1970s as whatever sounds are currently troubling the singles chart (or are they?).

    Or maybe not. Anyway, my favourite song of the moment is the Shangri-Las “Give Him A Great Big Kiss”, and I had never heard it before buying a Shangs compilation.

  6. 6
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 May 2009 #

    DV this sentiment officially announces the start of being VERY OLD for you! (it’s the best thing to be obv)

  7. 7
    Michael Kelty on 8 May 2009 #

    Walking in the dark- by MrsAmeryca
    Patty R. was tweeting that a b list celebrity who will remain anonymous didnt want to perform live because of an ‘audio problem'( she wasnt able to lipsynch) and I guess Mrs Ameryca opened for her and ended up playing and singing live for about an hour and everyone was kinda Awestruck!lol I googled her up and found a reverbnation profile for her and the rest was history. I listen to it EveryDay. Its different makes me wanna move. Still cant find away to download it though!

    Thanks Patricia Ramone!!

  8. 8
    koganbot on 8 May 2009 #

    DV this sentiment officially announces the start of being VERY OLD for you! (it’s the best thing to be obv)

    Not necessarily. If you look at what’s happening on the charts themselves, the same songs are hanging on week after week after week – which shows that even with relatively recent stuff, now that the record-company practice has faded of deleting singles as fast as possible in order to get people to buy the album, people aren’t jumping on the new so much when they download.

  9. 9
    DV on 9 May 2009 #

    I did find it interesting a while back when that Mariah Carey song became Christmas number one. I would love to believe that it was loads of people thinking what Xmo party song they love and downloading it, though I bet it was just some marketing campaign, or maybe the song was being used in a short advertisement film being shown on the television.

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