Musings from The Great Escape

Wednesday, 16 May 2012
by steve
filed under Lunch Table
Comments: 7

Last week I attended The Great Escape which is a fantastic festival and conference in Brighton. In a previous life I built the Great Escape website for the Mama group and I’ve been to the festival for the last two years. I love it.

If you have never been to TGE, then I’d highly recommend you check it out next year. Spread out over 30 venues it is a great place to listen to new and upcoming bands as well as some more established artists. The vibe of the festival is chilled and when the sun shines, there’s no better place to be than Brighton.

On Friday morning I attended a conference about New Music Radio and listened intently about how curated radio is changing with an interesting panel of podcasters, radio entrepreneurs and DJs, one of which kindly let me crash at his family’s house (thanks Darren!) for the duration my stay.

When the debate was opened up for questions from the audience Duncan Geere from Wired asked how the panel see services like The response from Matt Young who runs Song By Toad was interesting and although I know he has a vested interest as a ‘radio presenter’, what he said was simply not correct. And I quote:
“I really think and Pandora are fucking pointless. Whenever I log in to, it just plays me 20 songs I already know. There’s no way to listen to anything new”.

Well Mr Young.. have you not checked out your personalised recommendations? Have you missed the new release recommendations, have you checked out Discover? Ever tried Your Recommended radio? browsed music by tag or tried multi-tag radio? There are SO many ways to find new music via that the potential to discover tracks and artists you like but haven’t yet listened to is enormous. Better yet, we can offer a choice to account for the needs of the people you seem to have overlooked… people who WANT to listen to music they know and like.

The point was well made by Mr Trick – which thankfully added a reality check to the statements from others on that panel – and that is… not everyone has a desire to have a DJ ‘throw them a curve-ball’. They actually want to listen to, and be recommended, music that we know they will like.

The fact that new, upcoming and independent artists have uploaded almost 4 million of their tracks to be discovered in and amongst the entire catalogue of almost 15 million streamable tracks and the fact that our users have scrobbled and added rich data for more than 50 million artists should tell you that the scope to discover new music with is huge.

It is interesting to note that the poll running on Wired’s site currently shows that 70% of people (at time of writing) are listening to less traditional radio because of

So, Matt Young, please come on over to anytime and join us for a techmosis session, perhaps one Friday. We’d love to show you how good really is and why millions of people all around the world know for a fact that what we are doing here is far from “fucking pointless”.


  1. J
    16 May, 17:06

    I’d say Matt Young has a point, recommendations have never been much good. Except in the Spotify app, they’re quite good there.

    J – 16 May, 17:06
  2. Ryan Beasley
    16 May, 19:39

    I think could produce some numbers judging how well recommendations work out.

    That said, since we’re talking anecdotes, I flew from SF to Montréal to see an act I discovered through In the last 2 years, I can count 8 artists whose shows I deliberately attended after hearing their songs on With some overlap, I can count 18 whose singles/EPs/albums I had since purchased, again after discovering them on

    Ryan Beasley – 16 May, 19:39
  3. Duncan
    16 May, 22:09

    Thanks for the link, Steve. For the record, I totally agree with you (and Mr Trick). The vast majority of people love to be played songs that they’re pretty familiar with, or aren’t too dissimilar from. That’s why and Pandora have proved so successful.

    I was surprised the topic didn’t come up in the main session, before the Q&A!

    Duncan – 16 May, 22:09
  4. Lawrie
    17 May, 09:23

    Just wanted to chime in and agree with Ryan. I’ve been scrobbling tracks for a few years now, and the quality of new recommended artists and events has been amazing. There’s a fair few artists I’d consider myself an avid fan of whom I would never have heard of if not through Last fm, so thanks for all the hard work and great features.

    Lawrie – 17 May, 09:23
  5. John
    17 May, 10:44

    While I have found the recommendation system to be useful for finding bands and I have found a number of bands that I thought were interesting with it and gone on to buy their material. I think your rather glib response highlights the problem.

    Mr. Young has clearly not used the services you provide, why he has overlooked these possibilities is not clear, but perhaps rather than simply stating that these services are there you might consider how you could raise the profile of these features in the site architecture and make them more obvious to people, perhaps like Mr. Young, who would like to use these features but do not know they are there.

    John – 17 May, 10:44
  6. Mark Levy
    21 May, 11:09

    @J: I wrote the recommender service that powers our Spotify app. It relies on the same underlying technology as our site recommendations and our personalised radio stations. So any difference in quality between the two is probably in your imagination.

    @Ryan: if you read technical things then you might be interested in the academic conference paper on Music Recommendation and the Long Tail which we published in 2010. Conclusions: 1. radio, and especially our recommendation radio, leans heavily towards the long tail compared to the overall taste of our users; 2. users with high exposure to radio listen to slightly more long tail music than those with low exposure.

    Mark Levy – 21 May, 11:09
  7. Rick
    2 June, 13:15

    Matthew Young is a charlatan with an online notepad, take no notice.

    Rick – 2 June, 13:15

Comments are closed for this entry.