A Plea To Keep Music Curation Alive

Posted November 8

Welcome to the O Music Blog guest writer series, a place where we hand the proverbial reins over to qualified writers/musicians/etc and let them share their thoughts about music, technology and more. Today’s guest blogger is Patrick McNamara, co-founder and editor of Oh My Rockness.

Did you know that Microsoft Word absolutely refuses to recognize the word curation? Write “curation” and Word will get all red squiggly line-happy on you, essentially refusing its existence. Is that cartoon Clippy passive-aggressively telling me curation is dead in this digital age of information overload? That we no longer have a need for selectivity, particularly online? Nope. I don’t buy it. Curation is alive and well, Clippy. And it’s most definitely a word. (Somewhere Bill Gates is frowning at his program’s faulty logic… as he flosses his teeth with the gold strands of King Tutankhamun’s dinner jacket.)

Let’s talk about curation with regard to the online world, if for no other reason than to stick it to that little red squiggly line (that’s so punk rock, I know). We’re confronted with this word a lot because Oh My Rockness is a curated show list website, I guess. By that, I mean we highlight only a small selection of the (mostly) indie rock shows happening around town. So there could be some 500 “indie” shows (we’ll do an exhaustive study on the definition of “indie” shortly after we’re freshly dead) on any given night in New York City alone, and we may list 15 of them. Why mention only 15 in this “give me absolutely everything and give it to me RIGHT NOW” wide web world we seem to get lost and exhausted in? Why not just throw all 500 shows up on the homepage and see what sticks? Lots of other sites do that, after all. Well, quite simply, we don’t want to go see the vast majority of those 500 shows on any given night. Do you?

Of course employing such selectivity, it might be tempting to assume that curators of all kinds believe themselves to be some great arbiter of taste. In our example, that we think those 15 “chosen” shows we listed had first floated down to our homepage from some great cloud in the sky where only the inarguably “Best” things reside. Two things: 1.) We ditched that Philosophy lecture to go play skee-ball, so we don’t know about such cerebral matters and 2.) Maybe curators just want to be helpful. Like Mother Theresa. Except, you know, not like Mother Theresa AT ALL.

Ok, fine. Try as we might, we can’t guiltlessly sugarcoat the nuanced subject of curation with such cheery dismissiveness and an all-too-neat naiveté without mentioning the downside. Highlighting what one likes, i.e. curation, also means one is NOT highlighting what one DOESN’T like. And as they wordlessly say, that silence can be deafening. If a band, or a show, or an album, a painting, a book, a pair of shoes, a hat, a mustache, whatever, is being ignored by you, the curator, there’s the assumption that a negative judgment is being made upon these unnamed things by the very fact of their exclusion.

In other words: If it’s not on the site, it must suck! That’s an easy takeaway to be sure, but you know what they say about assumptions (something about making a “as” out of “sump” and “tio,” I think?). Maybe that’s why MS Word won’t recognize the word “curation”; it’s too un-PC. It’s too dangerous.

But here’s the rub: Being exclusive doesn’t have to equal elitism. Forget such silly snobbery. Don’t let the idea of online curation die because of that hangup. Curation doesn’t need to say, “This stuff here is the ONLY stuff that matters” or “This stuff here is more intrinsically worthy of your love than other stuff” or “Accept the superiority of this if you know what’s good for you!”

No. Curation can simply say, “Hey, here’s some stuff we like that we think you might like, too.” That’s not called snobbery. That’s called being nice. And anyway, who really wants to know ALL of their options for everything? I sure don’t. That would most likely lead me to curl up in a fetal position in a dark corner somewhere and have my mind slowly burst apart at the concept of an endlessly expanding universe. And I’d much rather watch whatever Kim Kardashian’s classy next move will be on the old TV.

So to all the present and future online curators out there, I say “Keep curation alive!” But I digress… for now. We can dig much deeper into this fantastically exciting concept soon (please stop pouring gasoline on yourself… No! No! don’t you DARE light that match!). But right now, we have a secret meetup scheduled with that pretentious Clippy. That talking paper clip with the bushy eyebrows just made our list of things to curate today.

Image courtesy of Flickr, freeloosedirt