Take a look at your music library.
Chances are it doesn't all belong in one genre, and, more than likely, it's not all in one place.
Between the ever-present radio, podcasts and online listening sites like 8tracks and Last.fm, our mechanisms for seeking out, discovering and listening to music are ever-evolving. Purchasing music is no longer required and becoming less and less expected, while the number and quality of legal on-demand listening sites are ever-increasing.
This change in the way that we acquire music puts a unique pressure on today's artists to not only produce more music, but also to make music that can capture the interest of an audience who has access to an infinite library.
When Will Glaser and Tim Westergren founded the Music Genome Project and began cataloging what they call "the essence of music at the fundamental level," a major shift took place. The idea that genres of music could be broken down into a series of "genes" that could then be used to compare or contrast individual tracks, albums or artists, had never been conceived. What was even more revolutionary, though, was the subsequent implementation of this idea: Pandora Internet Radio.
Since its launch in 2005, Pandora has grown into a library of more than 800,000 tracks and a membership of more than 90 million users in the United States alone. Using music's "genes," Pandora creates recommendations that bridge genres, and its users gain potential exposure to thousands of songs and artists nearly effortlessly. More recently, Pandora's younger cousin, Spotify, made on-demand listening easy and intuitive, allowing users to stream almost any song free of charge.
For consumers, these services offer some immediate and obvious benefits: never before have we had legal access to high-quality audio, free of charge, whether it be through on-demand streaming or radio stations based on recommendations.
However, Spotify and Pandora and the music-listening culture have helped to create a unique kind of pressure on musicians. Because listeners have nearly unlimited access to music, the range of their tastes has expanded; they want more than just more music; they want more kinds of music.
Bands who have spanned the gap between analog and digital music face the challenge of young audiences whose demands on musicians are greater than ever. In 2007, Radiohead responded to this challenge by selling their album "In Rainbows" at the price of "pay what you want" – garnering attention from a new generation of music fans who, until that point, might've never heard of Radiohead.
However, the more interesting responses to this challenge occurs when artists address it not through the way their music is retailed, but through the making of the music itself. We can find the best example of such a response in Justin Vernon, who made his name as "indie-folk" ensemble Bon Iver's pseudo-frontman. Soon after, he collaborated with the likes of Kanye West and James Blake, transcending genres and audiences.
Vernon, in recent years, has been at the head of music innovation. Untethered by the notion that groups of musicians must remain together forever as "bands," Vernon takes on "projects," one-or-two album collaborations between musicians with common interests.
This approach has allowed Vernon to not only remain relevant and reach varied audiences, but has also granted him the freedom to explore his own varied interests within music. Justin Vernon's type of music-making would never have been possible before the era of Pandora and Spotify. Not only have they created an infinite library for listeners, they've created an infinite audience for musicians.
It's uncertain whether Justin Vernon is deliberately taking advantage of this, but it is certainly clear that it plays to his favor. In the music industry's quest to remain fresh and relevant, his approach may well begin to shape the musician of the future.
Marianela D'Aprile is a fourth year in architecture. She can be reached at email@example.com.