Monday, 17 August 2015

The Problem with Radio: Shazam Top 20

I love the concept behind Shazam, it's an app that I'll always have installed on my phone. Despite how wonderful it is, it's appearance in television advertising made me notice just how little I actually use it and the introduction of Shazam Top 20 on radio stations made me realize why.

Always listening...to the same Top 20 charts
At first, the idea of a Shazam Top 20 chart seemed like a great idea. The whole purpose of the app is to identify music and since you have no reason for the app to identify a song you already know, the charts should be regular changing mix of rising, lesser known songs. However, I then realized two things;


  1. The existence of a Shazam Top 20 chart gives people a reason to give the app music they already know in order to vote - something that the radio stations help perpetuate. 
  2. Radio is the most likely source of music where someone is to use Shazam and as such items appearing on the Shazam Top 20 are likely to have people identify the song while it's playing, increasing it's chances of securing a place in the future.
These two factors result in Shazam charts being practically identical to others like iTunes downloads.

While simply being aware of the problem can help a little, how could we correct this? Originally, I thought of using regional Shazam charts. A single Australia wide top 20 leads to a homogenous mess where all of the interesting rising, lesser knowns are pushed out by everything popular. Having a separate chart for each state would reduce the pushing power of larger songs and others a chance to get a bit of the spotlight. But this doesn't solve the problems that are outlined in either of the problems I've identified.

If we wanted to remove the influences of both these problems, we need to separate the listener from the voter. If each Australian state was to listen to a chart of another with no reversals (eg. New South Wales might listen to Western Australia, but Western Australia gets Queensland) then there's no longer an incentive to Shazam a song you already know. While this system still could lead to the increased longevity problem, it would have to travel through all 8 states and territories before coming full circle which significantly decreases the chances of it happening. 

This probably sounds like a terrible idea to radio stations as it takes control away from their audiences but this system provides an opportunity for greater musical diversity which, in the long run, is better for everyone. 

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