Wolfgang’s Vault

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I’m sort of consumed by the idea of the narrative in music. That is, it’s all connected, but these connections aren’t necessarily obvious. In fact, the best moments in musical discovery (as in most things) are sort of the aha moments when you become aware of a connection that doesn’t seem obvious, but, upon a second look, makes all the sense in the world.

Such is the moment I had during my recent ill-fated experiment with MySpace Music (see my Twitter feed for my list of gripes), before I could take it no more and fled MySpace music.

In this video, Bon Iver’s frontman, Justin Vernon, discusses his influences:

Bon Iver on the inspiration behind his music

Of course, he’s influenced by the great John Prine. And yet, I wouldn’t have immediately come to that recollection.

However, once he mentioned it, it became clear. To wit:

And here’s Bon Iver’s “Flume” from their staggering Daytrotter session:

The narrative grows.

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I couldn’t be more delighted to report that Ms. Hersh’s astonishing Noe Valley Ministry performance is currently ranked high on the list of most played concerts in the last thirty days on Wolfgang’s Vault.

A quick look at the top twenty (the entire list ranks the top 100) shows that Ms. Hersh is in good company. It also shows that great music transcends genre and other artificial parameters. While Wolfgang’s Vault currently tilts heavily towards “classic rock,” additions of sessions from artists such as Ms. Hersh and, of course, Daytrotter sessions (Ms. Hersh is there too), show that the brand is expanding.

What’s as important is that even as Wolfgang’s Vault’s offerings grow more diverse, their listeners are clearly not discriminating based on genre. Of course Ms. Hersh’s work should sit next to that of Ray Charles and Bob Marley and Miles Davis (#28) and Talking Heads (#29). Music fans have long known this. It’s only those “arbiters of taste” (radio station pds/owners, journalists, retailers) who have seen fit to lump music into categories that are supposedly more easily digested/understood (rule #1: don’t underestimate your customers’ intelligence).

What has heretofore eluded these so-called arbiters is this: listeners have an overarching desire to create connections and narratives, and to place their music into their own taxonomies that have nothing to do with genre or classification, but are instead based on emotional responses to music.

This is why attempts to recommend music (Pandora or Apple’s Genius) based on a song’s features (its genre, its bpm…whatever) ultimately fail. While these grouping systems are novel and sort of OK for creating background music playlists, they can’t possibly succeed in any real way because (as far as I know) they can’t measure the emotional response listeners have to music, and then locate other music that gives the listener an equivalent emotional response. Too bad.

The greatest…call them folksonomies…come from users making their own — ostensibly random, but deeply non-random — connections based on nuance and subtlety and things not easily articulated or measured. The sound of love, for example.

Don’t believe me, give me another rationale for this list:

And now, enough talking. Listen:

[Disclosure: I proudly do some work for Wolfgang’s Vault and Daytrotter]

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