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TheStreet Open House

Music Needs Tribal Streaming

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Music streaming platforms offer a trove of songs and artists for you plow through at random. Most also offer you some sorting, suggestions of other artists, or songs ordered according to your history of selections.

Even Pandora's (P) Music Genome Project, brilliant as it is, is simply a more rigorous application of this same principle: looking into our past to predict our future and profit from the choices we are about to make.

While it yields some satisfaction, there are distinct downsides, beginning with the fact that it is a self-centered, isolating experience for the listener. Imagine yourself trying to fall in love by looking in the mirror. Everything you'll see will be something you've already seen.

The practice is also weirdly invasive. Spotify, Rdio, Pandora (P) -- these services are watching you, recording your data and using that data to predict things you might enjoy and the ads you might want to see.

That much is just creepy. A different creepy from George Orwell's 1984, where the government spies on each citizen's every move. More insidious, like the movie Soylent Green, where euthanized people are made into food: Our own data is being ground up and fed back to us as a new thing, for our enjoyment.

On the other hand, if the food is good, why complain?

As if to put a sauce on that unsavory entree, some are pointing out that the practice is taking money out of musicians' pockets and wrecking the chances for new talent.

Writer, engineer and tech observer Jaron Lanier, in a recent book and an op-ed in the New York Times, blames this type of data collection for a collapse of industries and the middle class those industries supported. The providers of big server farms profit without any dependence on the future of the industries they serve, he says. Workers in music -- or journalism or any other information-based field -- meanwhile find that only the very lucky are able to make a living. Those at the peak of their profession may not even qualify as wealthy. The majority make very little, or nothing at all.

Rocco Pendola, approaching the topic from another perspective in an article published Friday morning, reiterates this point. Noting a dysfunctional lack of cooperation among tech companies in Internet radio, Pendola says, "Practically every aspect of the systems that pay the people involved in the creation, production and performance of music is broken."

Jason Notte, in another article today, notes the plethora of reunion tours and the growing fan base that supports them. That movement is fed, in part, from the current economic conditions in which musicians must try to make a living.

But, it must be added, part of the attraction is due to the suggestions of streaming music services. As Notte points out, they put these older bands in front of new listeners.

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