Stephen Thomas Erlewine, or just Tom, is the kind of musicologist who has encyclopedic knowledge of practically every musician, band, or genre. He is a senior editor at All Music Guide and helps keep the Rovi database (which currently stores information on over 3.5 million television programs, 2.9 million album releases and 28 million song tracks, and a ½ million movie titles) up-to-date.
Erlewine will be at this year's Outside Lands Festival to host a few events, including tests of music trivia (Are You Smarter than a Musicologist?) and demonstrations of the software and technology behind iTunes, Shazam, and Spotify. While in-between listening to The Rolling Stones and Weezer, Erlewine was kind enough to offer some music industry insights via email.
What is a musicologist, and how does one become a musicologist?
Broadly speaking, a musicologist is somebody who studies music. Traditionally, these are scholars, but in modern times the term also covers music experts of any sort--the kinds of passionate, obsessive fans that rose up through record retail, college radio, music press and blogs, the kind of passionate music fan that are the musicologists at Rovi. To become a musicologist, you can study at a university or immerse yourself in the present and past of record music. What's required is passion and an open mind because you can always be surprised by what you discover.
What impact, if any, has the tastemaker movement had on music?
There have always been tastemakers and gatekeepers in popular music, whether it's DJs or music critics or bloggers. Tastemakers can't dictate the terms of the music. Maybe there's an artist or two that are hyper-aware of criticism (Billy Joel, Lou Reed and Kanye West all jump to mind), but usually musicians don't craft their music based on what critics say. The purpose of tastemakers is to expose listeners to music they may not have heard or even have been aware existed. This is as true and as necessary today as it was at any other point in history.