on the danger of “listeners also bought”

I like a lot of “borders on” music.  I love “In Front of the World” and “Milwaukee” by Steven Kellogg and the Sixers, a band that borders on country.  So do The Weakerthans, apparently, and I love their “Left and Leaving.”  Fleet Foxes, who sing the wonderful “White Winter Hymnal,” are folk and, in my own mental music catalog, pleasantly compatible with Blitzen Trapper and Nickel Creek.  But apparently all three are adjacent to a more modern-sounding folk that makes me anxious and squiggy.

This might mean that I’m a wishy-washy person, unable to fully commit to a genre, preferring to linger at its edges.  It’s like going to Aspen and sticking to the bunny slope.  I’m not terribly adventurous, I suppose.

Practically, however, this means that it’s difficult to use the “listeners also bought” feature in iTunes or Amazon to find new music. I innocently click a few hyperlinks, choosing innocuous-looking album covers and interesting band names, and before you know it I’m listening to the musical equivalent of the Twilight Zone.

What is this strange electronica?  Why is this band so angry?  Is that a chicken wearing legwarmers?  And do I really share musical tastes with the listeners who enjoy this?

But then again, perhaps I didn’t give the chicken in legwarmers a chance.  The danger of iTunes and similar MP3 stores is the snippet — that brief hiccup of a track available to you pre-purchase.  I typically make a decision about a song within the first twenty seconds.  Sometimes I make an impulse purchase based on a nice, chugging bass line only to learn, post-download, that the track devolves ten seconds later into a duet between a ferret playing the spoons and an out-of-tune accordion.  (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.)  More often, I don’t give the artist a chance to win me over.  No wooing.  No repeat button.  No attention to nuanced lyrics.

No longer does an album have the chance to truly grow on me.

Once in a while, I’ll buy an entire album and discover, months later, that the song that attracted me to the band has dropped in my estimation and that, in fact, I love the underdog — that quiet track number 8 that sneaks up on you in the car during traffic.  Without purchasing the Fruit Bats album The Ruminant Band, for example — an album I bought entirely because I love “When U Love Somebody” (still awesome) off an entirely different album — I would never have discovered “Beautiful Morning Light.”

No other song includes the line “I will blow the tiny spider off your wrist.”


2 thoughts on “on the danger of “listeners also bought”

  1. I find the “customers also bought” feature fairly useless by itself. I have, however, combined it with Slacker and/or Pandora to find a few artists that I have enjoyed. Also, Pandora’s artist pages usually list a few similar artists to check out which is another good starting point.

  2. Pingback: in which carrots uses the word “skizills” « running with carrots

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