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Plumspotter hopes to humanize online music discovery

In this era of media oversaturation, it’s not finding new music that’s the problem—rather, it’s navigating the endless array of audio clips and figuring out which SoundCloud and Bandcamp embeds are worth giving a 30-second spin. Whereas money was once the barrier between new albums and potential listeners, now it’s our time and sanity that are on the line as we stand soaking wet in front of the firehose of information.

There are services out there that can help, of course. Spotify, iTunes’ “In the Store” picks, and Pandora are popular resources for hungry music fans on the hunt for the next new discovery. But as avid local concertgoers and music fans Jamie Plesser and Ryan Fulton realized, there’s something conspicuously lacking from those automated recommendation services—namely, they’re not human.

“Spotify, Pandora and other things are really great, but they’re not very personal,” says Fulton. “It’s just this cold algorithm out there somewhere telling you that you should listen to this, this, and this. And we think it’s more fun to get a recommendation from someone you know, and you kind of know what they’re into and know what bands they’ve liked in the past. It’s much more personal than what people are using today.”

“It’s a lost art,” Plesser agrees, remembering back to the days when listeners would rely on recommendations from hyper-knowledgeable record store clerks. “For me, I had that Almost Famous moment—you know, where you see the kid getting the box of LPs from Zooey Deschanel? My brother gave me a box of LPs, like T. Rex and Hendrix and Marley. With music, I always like it to be more personal than ‘recommended if you like this kind of band.’”

Fulton and Plesser met while working together at Best Buy Corporate and bonded over their shared love of music, trading mix CDs and comparing notes on bands they’d found on blogs, through social media, and from friends on Twitter. It didn’t take long for the tech-savvy co-workers to start wondering if there might be an quicker method for sifting through all that information.

“We thought: There’s gotta be a better way to do this,” says Fulton, who now works for UnitedHealth. “It just doesn’t seem easy. So we started talking about, well, how would you make that easier? A lot of our favorite recommendations had always come from friends, people we knew, who were somewhat ahead of the curve. So we thought, how could you make a site or a system that would make it easier for people to share bands that they’ve discovered, and also discover new bands from other people?”

The two forged a partnership, recruited a team of web developers, and eventually emerged with Plumspotter, a new social media site for music fans that aims to streamline the whole falling-in-love-with-new-artists ordeal. The concept is simple: Each person picks five bands to champion at any given moment, and earns a point each time another person picks one of their bands.

Know that person in your timeline that always gloats about hearing about a band before everyone else? Well, now they’ll have to rack up the Plumspotter points to prove they really know their stuff.

Though their user pool is still small—Plumspotter entered private beta testing in August of 2012 and is rolling into public beta testing this year—Plesser and Fulton say the appeal of gathering this kind of data is immediately apparent.

“We’ve talked to different venues, and they’re excited because it would give them an early indication of who might be starting to increase in popularity,” says Fulton. “That’s valuable information for a venue, or for a radio station or record label, a lot of different people in the music industry. It’s almost like an early warning indicator. This band is starting to get more popular. We’re starting to see bands pick up steam earlier than they do with the rest of the blogosphere. We’re seeing it before it actually happens.”

The site is still in the early stages and working out the kinks—not all bands are in their database, for example, and it’s taken some finagling to get the artist profiles, photos, and song samples to sync from a few different services—but Plesser and Fulton are taking things one day at a time, referring to Plumspotter more as a “passion project” than a revenue-generating new business venture.

“It’s nice to have something outside of the day job to spend time on,” says Plesser. “People start blogs, or do photography…”

“Some people run marathons, some people play hockey,” Fulton adds, shrugging and smiling contentedly. “We do a site that helps people discover new bands.”

Blog readers, sign up for a Plumspotter beta account at this special link, which allows you to bypass the waiting list and give it a try.

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  • http://twitter.com/tmyk99 Andrew

    “The concept is simple: Each person picks five bands to champion at any given moment, and earns a point each time another person picks one of their bands.”

    There must be more to it than that because otherwise the site is nothing more than a band popularity contest. It would be no different than looking at how many “likes” a band has on Facebook right now, just with an easier method to compare them side by side. That seems even less sophisticated than Pandora or Spotify. And since fewer people are on Plumspotter than Facebook, it means a band that isn’t necessarily more popular than another might win, because the user base is tiny and everyone on it probably comes from the same The Current hipster crowd. At least on Facebook you have a billion people of all different types and when Lady Gaga has 55 million likes it really does mean she’s more popular, not just that The 331 Circle Jerks got all their friends to click on the little plum icon 30 times.

    A user with the most “plum points” or whatever is just the person whose musical tastes most match the majority. Isn’t that anti-hipster cred?