Music hub Vevo had some big announcements at its first appearance at the digital NewFronts, last Wednesday’s new-media equivalent of spring television upfronts, where networks present their original programming to advertisers. The online and mobile channel, best known as a source of music videos, is adding six original shows, from a music-based dating show to a Glee-like scripted musical comedy. But there’s another change going on at Vevo, behind the scenes. Scott Reich, Vevo’s vice-president of programming and original content, has taken on a more public role as the company works to emphasize the personal expertise behind its curation of music videos.
“It’s to say, hey, there’s someone here who’s keeping an eye on this stuff and seeing the trends and guiding the ship,” Reich explains.
In the choice to put Reich forward as a human face of the company, Vevo is the latest example of a growing trend of expert curation of music. In a world in which music fans can feel like they should be listening to all of the music, all the of the time, music platforms are working to help cut through all that, well, noise. Projects like Pandora have become successful by using human experts to tag and categorize songs that will then be selected by a computer and the Facebook-Spotify combination is great at telling users what their friends are listening to—now it goes a step further. Like old-school record-store clerks, experts at Vevo and its competition will just plain tell you what to listen to.
Vevo uses data and social suggestions too, but Reich says that his many years in the music business—he’s been on the job since he started at VH1 in 1999—and his access to Vevo’s user data means he knows what’s coming before the users do. Reich cites One Direction as an example: Vevo pushed the British boy band before users knew that was what they wanted to listen to. “We can balance it out with an algorithm giving them things that we know they’re going to like based on their habits, and some editorial layered on top of it,” he explains. “It makes a difference that we’re not solely focused on the algorithm, on robots. There’s myself and there’s a team here and they are music experts. We try to give our viewers the best experience possible by combining everyone’s knowledge.”
Elias Roman, the co-founder of Songza, another expert-based music program—it streams music sorted by time of day and activities to do while listening—says that while listeners don’t really care how it happens, they appreciate the help. “The early years of music on the internet, which I think we’re still going through in many ways, were very much about access to everything and personalization,” he says. “We’ve sort of looked at what the impact on the fan has been, of that combination of access to everything, which is mathematically equivalent to about 18 million songs more than you could ever possibly consume, and then personalization on top of that, and it means you end up listening to the same tiny subset of content over and over again.”
Experts at a company like Songza or Vevo believe they can help users access new music, music that their most music-savvy friends aren’t even listening to, and end what Roman calls an oppression of choice. But songs aren’t the only thing in the online music world that can overwhelm listeners; the quantity of music services may explain the trend. Vevo’s Reich says that his role as an expert, while it helps people find music they’ll like, is also designed to solve that problem for his company: “Whoever is positioned as the expert,” he says, “is going to have a leg up on the competition.”