We now have access to almost every piece of music that was ever recorded. Pile on top of that, the thousands of new songs released every week. It’s a sea of information. It’s a gold mine or a tsunami, all depending on how you choose to access it. Most of us will do this through our phone. It’s an amazing piece of technology which is actively filtering this information to prevent us from being overwhelmed.

But lets not forget that you can decide how the filter works. Your choices instruct the algorithm. By simply taking the time to explore a little deeper you can funnel that tsunami into a tap and enjoy the riches that the music of the world has to offer.

It’s very simple! You start by asking yourself a question: Why am I listening to this?

According to The Telegraph there are over 30 million tracks on Spotify and iTunes. So how did you choose?

Asking Questions.

One question I always ask my students is: Who are you listening to?

I’ve always believed it is important to keep up to date with what is relevant to them. I may not like the music, but I listen to it, learn it, transcribe it, talk about it and teach them how to play it. Once we have established that I care about their opinions and interests, it is up to me to use this music as a platform to help them explore the music that the world has to offer.

Over the years the answers to the above question has varied depending on the current music style, but recently it is the question which has required variation; How do you listen?…What do you listen on?…Where do you find your music?

The last question, ‘Where do you find your music?’ has got me thinking recently. Lets take a step through the process.

1. Turn on phone. (Its already on, right?)

2. Open Spotify

3. Scroll through the top 100 songs.

Ok, so you have access to 100 current pop songs. Thats a major improvement on Top of The Pops!

100 songs is about 5 or 6 hours of listening. But this isn’t a tape cassette (remember them?). We can scroll and swipe.

So where do you click? How do you choose?

Lets take a closer look at the HOME screen on Spotify.

The first thing you see…Made for youfor me?

Yes. Spotify has made a playlist especially for you. Spotify knows what music you like and has compiled a playlist.

How does Spotify know what music I will like?

It’s been monitoring your song choices up to this moment and has developed an algorithm that can select new songs based on this information.

So, its been recording what I do? Watching? Analysing?….

Of course, it’s in the terms and conditions…

Wait a minute, everything?…

Oh yes, including that Bon Jovi phase you went through in 2015.

But that was a joke, I was being ironic…..


Are you satisfied with your Algorithm?

Much of the music on offer has been preselected to suit our tastes. Google has been monitoring your decisions for years and will make suggestions based on your previous choices. The convenience of this tool underlies a pyramid scheme of choice, which is narrowing our field exponentially as time goes on. It’s the reason why we dress the same, we eat the same food, we listen to the same ten songs. Its the reason why all your Facebook friends vote the same way. With every click we are specialising our way out of choice.

My Musicologist

When i was a teenager I had a Musicologist called Niall. He was the kid who made the mix tapes, who listened to pirate radio, who collected records. He was the kid who introduced me to music that was relevant and cool. He is one of my greatest influences. Unsurprisingly, he’s now a DJ and continues to perform his Musicology to all who will listen.

Its an under-appreciated art really, possibly a dying one too, but if you listen to music you might want to ask the question; Who is my Musicologist? Is it a person or an algorithm? Is it the Radio? Spotify? Youtube? Is there a friend or older brother/sister who turns you onto ‘this great new band’? Are playlists actually replacing the function of the Mix Tape or are they just another product from record companies? Is your favorite Radio DJ allowed to choose their own playlist? If not, then why not?

In my mind the Musicologist is an audio explorer. Searching through piles of records, reading the magazines, tuning into the latest pirate station, hounding the DJ with questions. All that information is processed and fed back to you like street corner gossip. Anticipation…thats when you have to wait..for a new record. You bought it before you even heard it. Just because the drummer was crazy..

Are you being stretched?

Ever listen to a song and not like it, only to change your mind after a second or third listen? Some bands/ Musicians I didn’t like first time I heard them ; John Coltrane, Steely Dan, The Smiths, Jeff Buckley, Queen and Bruce Springsteen. In each of the examples I was given or recommended an album but didn’t like it on the first listen…. I don’t feel the same way now!

But is it possible to go through this process these days?

Do we have the patience, the time or the attention span?


Your phone is learning what you like. Its narrowing down your options to the links you click 90% of the time. It’s not trying to challenge you. Thats the Musicologists job. So who’s yours?


Ask your friends what music they listened to this week.

Spotify is a great tool if you understand how it works. You need to expand your personal algorithms parameters by searching for music outside ‘the usual’. Look up ‘new irish music’ or ‘Peruvian folk music’ or ‘expand my mind’….You’ll find a playlist, or artists to suit. The great thing is that Spotify will recognise your expanding tastes and find some cool music for you.

Related Artists.

My personal favorite Spotify feature. Pick an Artist. Lets say: ‘Prince’. Click on the Prince icon and scroll down to Related Artists. Click, and follow the white rabbit on a musical adventure!

Check out these playlists


KCRW x Morning Becomes Eclectic

The Mercury Prize

Alternative Nation

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