If I Ran the Jamendo

Jamendo is a great place to find new music, for free, from musicians who want to share their work.

At least, as of the time of this writing, it’s still up. Jamendo is in big financial trouble, and may be closing its doors any day now.

I believe Jamendo’s difficulties stem directly from their failure to connect with their user base.  There is no clear statement about how to go about reporting a bug, and the only place that looks promising is a “Bugs/Copyright” forum that says “Report problems with the website or copyrighted content here”. Why site bugs are grouped in with copyright issues is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t actually matter, because the Jamendo site maintainers totally and resolutely ignore this forum altogether. It is sometimes said in the English-language forums that you need to post in the French forums to get a response, as that is the native language of the site maintainers. However, I can tease out the meaning of the French posts (even if I’d be hard-pressed to write in French) and it appears to me that’s simply not true — the maintainers provide an equal lack of opportunity to all.

There is a movement of Jamendo users to try and save the site, but I’m a little too cynical to participate wholeheartedly in that endeavor. They made their bed by their inexcusable indifference to their enthusiastic community of musicians and listeners; now they must lie in it.

While there is an incredible amount of excellent music hosted on Jamendo, it is difficult to find good music because Sturgeon’s Law definitely applies. The few tools which Jamendo has provided to help users find music they like fall woefully short of what’s needed, and in some ways are even counterproductive.

I had looked forward to sharing my vision of how the site could work with Jamendo, but the aforementioned indifference which has now brought them to their knees made that prospect patently absurd. Now, with Jamendo in crisis, I’m starting to think about what it would take to get such a site set up independently — especially since the tools I’m proposing could be separate from the actual hosting of music files, which could be left to the netlabels.

Read on to find out why I think Jamendo is doing it all wrong.

POPULARITY AS A METRIC: FAIL

Jamendo does everything it can to promote “popularity” as the measure of its music.  When you go to look for albums, the page that always comes up is sorted by “popularity this week”.  Of the nine different ways to sort albums, seven are variants of popularity. This focus has at least two very detrimental consequences:

  • To be popular, these albums must appeal to a broad range of listeners with different musical tastes.  That means they’re less likely to be brilliant examples of any one style, and more likely to be some sort of compromise that is “just good enough” to more people. This is what drives the commercial music industry to banality, but the economics of free music make it unnecessary to repeat this mistake.
  • Having the site designed around popular albums creates a feedback loop that leads to the exclusion of large amounts of great music. Because the popular albums are what people see, those albums become more popular. If the smaller subset of users who check out the latest releases happen to miss a good album — and with so many to go through, that is the fate of many — it never has the chance to become popular.

Popularity should probably be one tool to help users find interesting albums; but having it be the preeminent tool is a major fail.

NO PRIVATE TRACKING TOOLS: FAIL

Jamendo provides the opportunity for listeners to review, rate, and mark albums as their favorite. Those are the features that make Jamendo seem like a community, and make it stand out from other free music sites. However, all of these features are public: there is no way for a listener to keep track of his own likes and dislikes without publicly appearing to criticize the artists. That’s a glaring omission.

I happen to not like rap or hip-hop music. It’s not my thing. But I’m not going to rate all the hip-hop albums on Jamendo as poor, or give them bad reviews! That would be an antisocial way for me to express my personal tastes at the expense of the artists, some of whom are legitimately considered excellent by listeners who appreciate that style.

Since most users probably feel the same, it’s no wonder that all the public comments are glowing, and all the ratings very high.

I still need to keep track of who the artists I don’t like are, so that I don’t have to listen to their new albums when looking through the hundreds of new titles for ones that suit my taste.

Users need to be able to take private notes, and keep private ratings, as well as having the excellent public tools available.

THE JAMENDO TAG SAGA, AND A BETTER ALTERNATIVE

Besides popularity, the one way which Jamendo has helped listeners find albums was with tag clouds. This worked pretty well, but some artists got upset about having silly or offensive tags applied to their work. Jamendo responded by only letting the artists tag their own work, which is much less informative, but still provides some clue what an album might be like. (For the past several months, even these artist-supplied tags have been broken, and it’s basically impossible to find any new music. But that’s a bug, not a design flaw. EDIT: And they just came back. Yay!)

What I see as an alternative is this. Music listeners like to categorize music — this is the essence of the private tools I mentioned in the previous section.  I’m not going to just (privately) label music good and bad, it will be “hip-hop”, “thumpy rave music”, “sappy”, and so on … whatever I think up that helps me keep track.

These categories can be used to do “more like this” matching without considering what the individual user’s labels are. They’re just groups, with no good or bad associations. If I have a group of hip-hop music that I don’t like, chances are such a matching system, using the categories of other users (regardless of the names they applied) would flag for me other probable hip-hop albums, that I wouldn’t have to listen to.

Similarly music that I like — say, some forms of jazz — I may be assisted in finding by the categories of users who dislike that sort of music.

This system could provide even more guidance than tag clouds did, because for tag clouds to work, we all have to agree on what the terms mean. That is notoriously difficult in the field of music.

RAPID REVIEW TOOLS NEEDED

I have one more suggestion for Jamendo (or whatever may take its place in the free music universe): there need to be listening/categorizing tools built with the reality of Sturgeon’s Law in mind. When I’m looking for new music on Jamendo, I’ll open up a dozen tabs and go though them one by one — and most don’t survive past the first song before I move on to the next. That’s just the reality of how to find good music on Jamendo.  It’s worth the trouble, but it could be a lot less trouble if  listening tools were designed with this process in mind.

I want buttons on my player with things like “I never want to hear this album again” and “I never want to hear anything from this artist again”. Click it, and you’re already listening to the next album. The categorizing tools mentioned in the previous section should also be incorporated into the player, so it’s easy to categorize things.

I guess that’s it for my rant — let’s see if Jamendo can get back up and do some of these things, or whether we’ll have to build another site.

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4 Responses to If I Ran the Jamendo

  1. savejamendo says:

    All very interesting comments and I must say that I have heard every one of them before. Especially the popularity list of albums, some of them seemed to live at the top for months and many never seemed that great to me.

    If Jamendo survives, it can always do with a face lift and improvements. If it doesn’t, well, I’m not sure that we will ever have anything like it again.

    So, let’s keep this blog with our list of ideas and hope that some will be implemented in the new Jamendo.

    Thank you for your ideas and thoughts.

    Barbara Wolfsong

  2. Sylvain says:

    Thanks for your ideas. It indeed makes a lot of sense and highlights some errors we’ve made with the design. So the way forward is pretty clear 🙂

    cheers

    • fcahoon says:

      Hey Sylvain, glad to know that Jamendo is still alive and kicking, and listening to its users now. In that case I’m 100% behind helping Jamendo to live long and prosper.

      I look forward to seeing some of these features implemented, although I certainly understand you have plenty of work ahead of you, so they might not be in place tomorrow 🙂

  3. This sounds very much like what LibreFM is aiming for.

    Great ideas though, you should tell them to the LibreFM devs as well 🙂

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