What's the best way to discover new music?

Who will be the next Gotye? What video will spawn a “Gangnam Style” dance craze? The Internet creates music sensations, but it’s difficult to predict which artist, song, or video will go viral.

Technologists, app developers, and music industry insiders gathered at the SF MusicTech Summit in San Francisco Tuesday to discuss how to put new music in front of users and find the next generation of stars.

Music services and apps such as Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, and SoundHound help users find songs and curate playlists, but helping people break out of their musical bubble and discover new songs and bands to love is still a challenge.

From the radio to your smartphone

Music fans once turned to the radio or their local record store to find new tunes. MTV changed the game and made music discovery more visual. Now we have more options than ever to find content, and more content to explore than ever before, but we find ourselves returning again and again to the same songs.

“Back in the ‘80s you had zines, college radio, record stores with the guy with long, stringy hair,” Live Nation Labs’ Ethan Kaplan said during a panel discussion at the Summit. “If you were bored in the '80s, you went to the record store. If you’re bored today, you take out the supercomputer in your pocket, go to Reddit, and look at memes.”

Vinyl may be out, at least as far as mass-market music mediums go, but the rise of these pocket supercomputers means more opportunity to discover music on the go. But it’s not a science: finding the next big thing is still unpredictable.

Kaplan said record labels are desperate to create the next Fun. or Gotye, but the climate is constantly changing. A YouTube video that caught the world by storm yesterday may not even raise an eyebrow tomorrow.

The human element

YouTube, the world’s second-largest search engine after Google, is still one of the most prevalent ways people find songs. But YouTube’s search function helps you find tunes or bands you already know, and you can’t create a playlist or download songs from the site.

Streaming music services use algorithms and user-generated data to recommend new music to you. But companies are still trying to figure out how to deliver the personalized recommendations of a record store clerk with the convenience of an app.

Shane Tobin of The Echo Nest, which analyzes music data to help developers create smarter music apps, said music services must offer an editorial voice

“Music is not a math problem,” Tobin said during the music discovery panel. “It has to be informed from a human element. The way our recommendations work is by understanding what humans have to say.”

Jon Irwin, president of subscription-based streaming service Rhapsody, said in an interview at the Summit that music is still a largely social experience–which is not to say that social networks are the new record stores.

It might not be the most scientific method, but when your son streams DJ Tiesto’s song in the car or a friend shows you the “Gangnam Style” video on her tablet, that’s music discovery money (and record labels) can’t buy.

New discovery solutions

The Internet is comprised of every type of content imaginable, and sifting through that content is a challenge that all technology companies are striving to conquer.

At the Summit, BitTorrent demonstrated a new feature of its Surf plug-in, which is currently an alpha project but is planned for a beta release in April. Surf is a torrent discovery Chrome extension that is part of BitTorrent Labs, the company’s incubator for new, untested projects.

Marketing vice president Matt Mason and user experience designer David Hilborn showed off a new feature of Surf that prioritizes BitTorrent content in search results. Searching for DJ Shadow will turn up a BitTorrent content bundle that Shadow produced for the company. BitTorrent has never offered search before in its clients, so Surf is a step in a new direction.

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