Music discovery is a crowded field these days, with digital services like Spotify and Pandora directing much of their marketing dollars to waving the flag of their recommendation platforms. But increasingly, the old gatekeepers of public radio are flexing their muscles to remind listeners that curation is still best achieved by word of mouth -- or airwave, as the case may be.
Last year, six public radio stations -- KCRW in Los Angeles, KEXP in Seattle, KTBG The Bridge in Kansas City, KUTX in Austin, WFUV in New York City and WXPN in Philadelphia -- banded together with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to launch VuHaus, a digital video streaming platform that exists both on web and as an app that hand-curates and highlights performances, interviews and events conducted by its member stations, all in one place.
"The public radio stations in VuHaus have been at the vanguard of music discovery for decades, taking risks and investing in the careers of unknown musicians and spinning their records when no one else was paying attention," WXPN general manager Roger LaMay said in a statement. "Our stations are constantly working to uncover the best new talent, regardless of commercial appeal."
Crucially, that last part works because VuHaus is a non-profit service, which exempts it from the corporate pressures that require clicks, views and listens to make money. That leaves each station free to deliver videos from artists it deems most worthy, rather than those that will grab the most attention; accordingly, the site has spotlighted hundreds of artists from all over the map, from local and underground acts to more established names such as Regina Spektor, the Avett Brothers and Ziggy Marley.
So far, the numbers say that VuHaus' platform is working for its member stations. The site hosts more than 3,500 videos from over 1,100 artists, with around 50 new performances added each week, according to a rep for the service. That includes live streams from 200 artists since its launch in May 2015, with the full network reaching four million people.
Each artist has its own page on VuHaus' site, which contains a short bio, all videos from each member station and a short list of similar acts, as well as a link to purchase the artist's songs. VuHaus also has curated playlists of videos from each station in addition to highlights from events such as Austin City Limits, Pitchfork Music Festival and Bonnaroo and venue-specific collections from spots like Boston's Paradise Rock Club and House of Blues. NPR has a dedicated VuHaus Song of the Day channel on its site, and the platform's embeddable player is featured on more than 50 sites dedicated to public radio and media.
Since its launch, VuHaus has also kept growing, adding several more stations like KXT in Dallas, opbmusic in Portland, Mountain Stage in West Virginia, KDHX in St. Louis, Live from the Fort in Vermont and WGBH Boston, as it approaches 20 in total. "As our network grows, so too will our capacity to uncover an even greater number of artists from markets across the country," the company's president Erik Langner said in a statement. As public radio's broadcast audience holds steady, with little change in listenership over the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center, VuHaus represents another way for the sector to continue to expand -- and continue to curate.