How to discover new music and escape your filter bubble

A friend of mine recently complained to me that he felt “out of the loop regarding music”. Normal radio stations did not interest him, and he felt that the internet just gave him more of what he already knew.

I think that this is indeed a dilemma: Most “normal” radio stations have to focus on mainstream music to attract a big enough audience. If you don’t like whatever they play, there’s a good chance that you end up using some web-based music service like last.fm.

At first, this feels like heaven. Only music that you like! Wonderful!

However, what my friend observed shows one of the downsides of those services. There is even a name for that. It’s called “The Filter Bubble”.

What is “The Filter Bubble”?

Many websites personalize the content they deliver to you in some way. For example, my Google search results for a given search term are probably different from someone else’s search results.

At first glance, this looks like a nice feature. After all, if Google makes it easier for me to find things that I am most likely interested in, that saves me time and effort.

This is known as “The Filter Bubble”. There is a nice talk about this phenomenon that’s really worth watching if you have 10 minutes:

Don’t give me what I want! Give me what I need!

If you think about this phenomenon in detail, a lot of fundamental questions arise.

In many cases, it’s probably ok if a website looks at my previous preferences and serves me based on that. But what about the things that I never see because they are very different from my previous preferences? What if there was something that would be important to me if only I knew that it even existed?

I don’t want to become too philosophical here, but even if you just think about music, there are quite a few consequences.¬†What about all the good music that I never hear because it’s just too different from my previous preferences?

For example, I listen to a lot of House music, but that doesn’t mean that I only want to listen to House music. On the contrary, I really like being exposed to different musical genres. The question is how to make sure that this happens.

The role of the curator

Maybe the algorithms that drive those filters will be smarter one day. Maybe they will learn to not just look at what I have listened to before, but also to serve me sounds that I have never heard before.

Until then, it’s probably a good idea to not only rely on filters and algorithms. I wouldn’t say that those things are generally dangerous. Filters are often useful as they help us separate the good from the bad or useless stuff. You just shouldn’t trust them 100%.

I think it already makes a big difference if you just trust them 80% and rely on people for the remaining 20%. There’s actually a name for specialists that are responsible for selecting and presenting content. In museums, they are called curators. Related to music, we usually call them DJs.

My advice to escape the filter bubble is this: Find someone whose taste you trust and let him/her guide you to music that the algorithms would never play to you.

Oh, and of course I would be more than happy if Sweet Headache could play that role.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/krazydad/3918568762/ // CC-by-nc-sa

About marvis (209 Articles)
Marvis is the founder of Sweet Headache. He lives in Cologne (Germany) and has been a music nerd for a long, long time.

4 Comments on How to discover new music and escape your filter bubble

  1. Nice theory, I’ve noticed the same problem. Deliberately ingoring the filter bubble causes more trouble if one’s not careful though. One of the most frustrating experiences regarding music I’ve had was when I decided I wanted to know everything that was awesome, had to know everything before anyone else and couldn’t afford to miss out on good stuff. Since I’m so open to different genres, the overload of music was just too much to take.

    This is why nowadays I try to balance it out. I’m always on the lookout for new things I haven’t discovered, even forcing myself to try to get to know genres I don’t know much about yet, but at the same time I allow myself to take some distance from all the hyped releases even though I might miss out on good stuff or find out about it later.

    (Reading back, this whole last paragraph seems quite like rambling, but I hope people get what I’m trying to say anyway.)

    • Your experience about ignoring the filter bubble nicely shows their value. Certainly, filters are often useful and that’s the reason why all those websites are using them.

      I agree that you cannot be completely open. This probably just gives you a complete input overload. I have made similar experiences, it just doesn’t work. Your attention and time is limited, and you should definitely try to spend it as wisely as you can.

      I just think it’s good to be aware about that and try to get out of that filter bubble from time to time.

  2. Interesting TED talk. While for music, getting stuck in the “filter bubble” tends to get boring, I think in many other aspects of life (especially news and political opinions), it’s likely to serve as external reinforcement of our existing cognitive bias (especially confirmation bias).

    It’s a scary thought – seemingly well-informed individuals, all at complete odds with each other because they never saw an opinion that challenged their beliefs. Large-scale conflicts arise when people no longer see / understand the other side.

    • True, that thought certainly is scary. However, looking at the comment sections of many news websites, I think that this lack of understanding for other opinions is already a widespread reality…

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  1. Die Filterblase, oder: Warum finde ich immer dasselbe? - DJ - Deejayforum.de

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