eMusic Explorations Takes Music Lovers Down Amusing Path to Discover New Bands

As a person of medium-old age, I'm lost when it comes to finding new music. It used to be that I'd turn on the MTV and avail myself of the best of what our nation's keytarists and junior-goth hookmeisters had to offer. But since the channel shifted its focus to effecting societal change, I've had only two options: To wait for younger colleagues to send pity MP3s my way or to return to teenage mainstays once anew, all the while banging my walking stick rhythmically against the armoire.

So I applaud eMusic, the deep-cut ying to iTunes' hits-of-the-minute yang, for accommodating listeners of my desperate ilk. The second wave of its "eMusic Explorations" campaign, launched this week, attempts to do what few other music-download sites have tried: Inject a bit of levity into the discovery process, in a way that plays more on an overarching sensibility than on specific musical tastes or genres.

Comparable efforts to date have generally adapted one of two different approaches. There's "if you like X, some person you don't know, and who might not be of motive pure, thinks you'll like Y" and there's the "if we give you the single gratis, we hope you'll feel morally bound to buy the full album. Please do this. Otherwise they're gonna break our knees."

Neither of these two strategies works with discerning listeners - or listeners who choose to think of themselves as discerning, anyway - because neither taps into the someone-you-know phenomenon (e.g., "I like songs that my guitar life partner Scott likes"). Even the most algorithmically inclined websites and email autobots can't wrap their heads around the fact that a Van Halen fan might not dig Aerosmith. The conveyance of musical credibility is a decidedly analog task.

In "Explorations," eMusic dispenses with such techno-tactics. The newest clip in the series poses a question that slyly plays off a semi-obscure bit of rock history: Is the renowned Muscle Shoals studio haunted, as legend has it? To that end, eMusic "researchers" run a series of tests, set to the strains of a song off School of Seven Bells' Ghostory (get it?). They wave flashlights around as an amp bursts into flames, doors swing wildly and papers blow to and fro. The in-studio footage, which looks like it cost six or seven bucks to film, is complemented by similarly cheapo animation (ghosts jumping on a trampoline and getting their temperature taken) and deadpan narration that further underscores the silliness of the pursuit.

The clips that came earlier, "eMusic Investigates: How Music Blows Minds" and "eMusic Investigates: The Science of Beats," share that same tone and lack of self-seriousness. As opposed to the usual buy-this oration - "it's their best album since the one that preceded it temporally" - the videos assert that AraabMUZIK "reverses gravity" and that sleep-listening to M83 provokes "cravings for gluten." Scenes of science being transacted follow, whether researchers poking at complicated-looking consoles or peering intently at clipboards, before the videos end by flashing on eMusic's "stimulate curious minds" tag.

Just watch the darn things - they're not as twee and hipster-baity as I inadvertently made them sound. The clips may not prompt an immediate purchase, but they certainly spur allegiance to eMusic. In this instance, at least, it's all about the soft-sell. By declining to ram a specific artist and the site itself down my throat, eMusic sold me on that specific artist and the site itself. I feel both used and thoroughly satisfied.

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