years, old recordings have piled up in the archives at Verve Records,
including beloved jazz tracks that had no market big enough to justify
pressing new discs. But thanks to the Internet, music lovers are
rediscovering iconic titles like Ella Fitzgerald’s "Sunshine of Your
Love" and Quincy Jones’s "Body Heat" — rekindling enough popular
demand to prompt Verve to reissue them through a project called Verve
"The demand for music has never been as big as it is
today. We get all kinds of questions from customers worldwide, looking
for a track name or an album, or asking, ‘Why haven’t you put that out
yet?’ " said Jon Vanhala, vice president of new media and strategic
marketing at Verve. So far, about 2,700 albums have been brought back
through the Vault, with more than 5,000 scheduled to follow.
the Internet has changed how people discover and share music, the rules
of marketing it and the hierarchy of who determines what’s hot have
also changed. As radio-music listenership declines, the industry finds
itself spending more time courting a broader field of tastemakers who,
through Web sites, are popularizing songs that never get radio play.
The primary tool in this transition is the playlist — a sequence of
tracks posted on blogs or shared on music purchase sites such as iTunes.
listen to way more music than I ever have in my life," said Robert
Burke, a North Carolina quality assurance manager by day who spends
nearly all of his free time searching through new music online, then
compiling tracks in playlists with various themes, like rock songs that
include a tuba, Top 20 bands from the 1980s with mullets, artists who
sample riffs from Miles Davis, and so on.
"I kind of started it
because I’ve always collected music, and I’ve become pretty obsessed
with it since then," said Burke, whose blog on Yahoo Radish,
Playlistradish.com, has published thousands of his playlists for the
consumption of others.
With legions of new bands popping up
online every day, fans need guidance just to keep up, said Oliver Wang,
founder of Soul Sides, another high-traffic music blog.
online world, friends’ recommendations or an endorsement from bloggers
such as Wang and Burke, as well as podcasts such as "The Nashville
Nobody Knows" and "Accident Hash," can yield significant marketplace
A duo called Gnarls Barkley, for example, found a huge
following online. The band’s songs, including "Crazy," were well
established online before getting radio play. Its songs have been
listened to on the band’s MySpace social-networking site more than 6
million times. Transatlantic online exchanges made the British band
Arctic Monkeys famous in the United States before any album came out
"Word of mouth benefits [independent labels] in particular,
and we’re only starting to see the benefits," said Kevin Arnold,
founder and chief executive of the Independent Online Distribution
Alliance, which disseminates music from 2,500 labels to digital music
To court the online tastemakers, the alliance last fall
launched Promonet — a system that maintains a master playlist of new
releases for reviewers, Arnold said.
Digital music services
themselves have become engines of recommendation. Music stores such as
iTunes, EMusic, and Yahoo Music give users the ability to check out
others’ playlists, so people with similar tastes can find each other
and discover new music. Additionally, services such as Rhapsody,
Napster, Livefm, Pandora, AOL and Yahoo all have Internet-radio options
with algorithms that register a person’s taste and, based on the
listeners preference, stream in similar, new music.
"I’ve found a
few bands that way," including one called the Magic Numbers, said Alex
Kilfoyle, 23, a Washington electrical engineer.
"When I started
college, I was listening to rock and classic rock, and that’s it," said
Kilfoyle, who swaps music recommendations with old college friends
through instant messaging, online chats and checking out each others’
playlists on iTunes. A program called Hamachi also allows them to
listen to music saved on each others’ computers. Because of his
friends, he said, his musical taste has evolved to "eclectic — a lot
Ian Rogers, 33, grew up in Goshen, Ind., where there was no record store.
drove five hours to Chicago to see a punk rock band," he said. He’d
pore over reviews in Maximumrocknroll magazine, then have his mother
write checks so he could send off for albums without having listened to
them, said Rogers, who is now director of product marketing for Yahoo
The effort and cost involved in buying made him feel
almost obligated to like what he could get, he said. "You end up
consuming what’s marketed to you. With the Internet, you consume
exactly what you want."
To adjust to that shift, radio stations
are experimenting with "send us your playlist," or by-request music
shows, said Mike McGuire, an analyst with the research firm Gartner Inc.
"It greatly complicates how you promote acts and content," which is why
forward-thinking labels like Warner Music Group’s all-digital label
Cordless Recordings are spending more time and promotional money on
finding bloggers, he said.
While consumers say the diversity and
availability of more content is unequivocally good, some bemoan the
lost art and distinction of having the great, comprehensive record
In the past, a music aficionado had to invest time
and money sifting through racks in the hunt for, say, a little-known
ska band. Now, entire CD racks and vinyl-record collections can fit
into several gigabytes of computer memory — and people who never
invested their resources in acquiring music can simply rip off a
playlist, or type in a search to find that same, small-time ska band.
It’s yet another blow to brick-and-mortar record stores, which with the
rise of digital music have already lost CD sales.
"The fun of
collecting is gone," said Michael Crowley, who said he spent his
childhood hunting for bootlegged copies of obscure acts in hidden-away
record shops run by edgy people with nose rings. "They’re not that fun
if you can download them with a few mouse clicks," said Crowley, a
Washington journalist who wrote about the rock snob’s demise by digital
music for the New Republic.
Crowley admits that he now relies
more on music blogs and friends’ playlists to keep up with trends in
music, making him more of a follower than a leader in the online world.
Still, he said, the ability to copy music can’t stand in for taste.
"Taste is something you have to cultivate."
Richard Carlisle toes
a harder line. The self-described vinyl-record purist has sold records
for 30 years and owns Orpheus Records in Arlington. He’s never put an
iPod to his ears and spends no time on the Internet surfing for new
music. "I have a vested interest in people not using an iPod," he said.
"I guess you could call it a sour-grapes phenomenon."
trends still affect his business; a customer recently came in asking
for an album from an indie-rock band he’d never heard of — Neutral
Milk Hotel — which had become popular online. Since then, he’s sold
roughly 30 of those albums.