Music critics feel ousted by the AI ‘algorithmic culture’ of streaming

Music journalists and critics are fighting for their jobs, in a world where streaming services and recommendation algorithms dominate.

Traditionally, people relied on either friends or “experts” – music journalists or critics – for opinions and advice on which new music to buy. In recent years, that’s diminished rapidly, with the artificial intelligence of streaming programs designed to choose new music for you based on what you’ve already listened to, or build playlists around your tastes. That leaves music writers and critics fighting for relevancy, recognition – and jobs, reports Columbia Journalism Review.

For music lovers, finding new music to listen to today is less labor-intensive than ever, writes Cherie Hu. While it once meant logging hours at dusty record stores,  looking for listings in alternative newspapers, going to concerts,” now, “discovery can be as easy and passive as scrolling mindlessly through a personalized feed or shuffling an algorithmically curated playlist … without help from a critic or other human guide.”

It’s the recommendation aspect of algorithms that has been bad for music critics, who used to be “consumer guides,” are now relegated to the wayside as the artificial intelligence of the stream does all the work.

To be fair, people have been lamenting the death of criticism since the internet was born, but streaming has constituted quite a shift for those who write about music. Many who find themselves out of work end up shifting careers, working in curation at streaming services.

Liz Pelly, a contributing editor of The Baffler, recently tweeted that the transient nature of music and micro-trends popularized by “algorithmic culture” makes criticism – and even being allowed to write – difficult. Music outlets have been shying away from “investing energy into reviews, interviews, editorial, writing in general … and into ‘sessions,’ ‘experiences,’ [and] playlists,’ she Tweeted.

Of course, there are other ways to look at it; some music publications have chosen to work with streaming services and see it as a new opportunity to spread influence. Many music publications, including Resident Advisor, and electronica magazine, are now curators on Spotify.

Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.