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TheStreet Open House

The DJ Is Coming Back -- Are You Ready to Party?

Music can't be served by machines alone any more than food can.

Back in the first half of the 20th century, the Automat was popular, as in automatic food dispensaries that sprang up all over New York City. They were never successful as standalone devices but required the context of a really good cafeteria. At a certain point, the cafeteria owners realized that the cost for the operation and footprint of those banks of glass-doored refrigerators and of the excess, spoiled food just wasn't worth it. People could do a better job, more efficiently and with a greater attention to customer satisfaction.

We love our vending machines, descendents of the Automat, but they are only good for snacks that can keep, not for anything like real nutritious food. For that, you need a good diner, with smart, efficient cooks and wait staff catering directly to your needs. The Automat is dead.

The same fate awaits automated music service. Take a look through Apple's (AAPL) iTunes or Pandora or any other music service out there. You'll find a host of choices from stuff you are familiar with and a handful of things you've never heard of but are very similar. Some services even tell you, so-and-so among your friends likes this song. Spotify, if you let it, will alert your Facebook crew to your listening preferences.

In a perfect world, that would be great, because friends would be sharing music that they discovered. New music would spread like wildfire, small acts would benefit as well as large.

But it doesn't work. There is such a profusion of data out there, and so much noise in the data, that all of these shared listening experiences are virtually useless.

At this moment, I open Spotify and it tells me "Trending near you: Taylor Swift" and beneath that, "This album by Bruno Mars is popular in your area." In the sidebar, it says, "You follow Big Sean" and "Check out Lil Wayne."

Sigh. Anybody who knows me knows those names are all anathema. I admire Taylor Swift and should she evolve into a grown woman someday I may be able to take her more seriously as an artist -- but at the moment, I would rather listen to a baby cry on the subway. Same with Bruno Mars. I don't know Big Sean from Adam and have never intentionally chosen to follow him and Lil Wayne sets my teeth on edge.

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