Thom Cummings

More About Me

Yo, I'm Thom. I live in Berlin, work at SoundCloud, nerd out over data, long for my backpack, indulge in random projects and listen to indier bands than you do.



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How do you find music?

Over the last couple of weeks, quite a few people have independently asked me: How do you find music?

The answer, of course, is: everywhere.

It’s not hard these days to find new music.  What is harder is to cut through the noise - this is one of the reasons I started HotSpotMusic and that’s merely a very basic layer of aggregation and filtering, one or two degrees below the surface.  Even more importantly, perhaps, is finding and dedicating time to do so.  Gone are the days when I’d spend hours every night reading music blogs to keep on top of all the new bands doing the rounds but there are a number of sources.  

So, in case you’re after some new sources of inspiration, here’s a few ideas:

Blog Aggregators

Since I don’t have time for all the blogs, aggregators are a great way to zip through some of the things that they are posting.  There’s two levels of aggregation - the first is the blog radio style where I can follow different bloggers or people and see what they post.  The classic example of this is the Hype Machine which is just as strong as it was 5 years ago, the more emergent (but iPad-compatible) and the music jukebox in the sky that is (which also handily picks up posts from your Tumblr and all around the web).

The other is review aggregators that aren’t necessarily following hot tracks but reviews from established outlets and trying to gauge the consensus of the critical elite.  My favourites here are AnyDecentMusic (which has a UK-lean) & Metacritic (which has a US-lean).  AnyDecentMusic, in particular, seems to go to extreme lengths to find new content and help augment its charts.  The charts themselves are usually pretty representative of the current climate and ADM is therefore my go-to place when I feel like I’ve been out of it for a few weeks.

Random Discovery

Okay… this is my favourite mode of music discovery: the random walk.  Or, as it’s known in the modern age, the Wikipedia effect.  Starting with something I know, I’ll endlessly browse through related artists, inspirations, offshoots, label mates and connected genres. Somewhere along the way I always run into something fantastic that I’ve never heard before.  The best place to do this is (still) All Music with its encyclopedic detail of music history and, let’s be fair, taste.  But this works equally well on Spotify’s related artists,’s recommendations or tag browsing or even Amazon. 

The flipside to this is randomised discovery via radio-mode on Spotify, et al (Pandora being a big one that’s not available here in Germany).  I should state for the record that I hate the shuffle function.  So I don’t often use radio mode, but when I do I rarely remember the names of the artists featured.  Shuffle mode is background music, it’s lazy mode and that’s why I don’t recommend it for real music discovery (also the algorithm’s are generally quite ineffective for unearthing new stuff, see 8tracks below).

Email / Newsletters

Most of the services I’ve mentioned here will do their own newsletters (and a particular shout out for the weekly album rundown by ADM & AMG as two of the best) and band/label mailing lists help too (if a little unwieldy to manage).  Rough Trade also do a great weekly roundup (the website claims it’s ‘World Famous’) and their ability to pick new music is impeccable.  The final one I use is a hack that someone put together called soundamus which looks at your history and tells you if there are any new records by those artists.  Another handy reminder.

Podcasts / Radio

Today I listen to a lot more radio than I did a year ago thanks to digital radio through my iPhone.  That means I’m able to enjoy 6music all the time (but particularly pre- and post-sleep and particularly when Gideon Coe is on).  When I’m not listening live, I love a good podcast and some of my favourites here are:

  • NPR’s All Songs Considered
  • WBEZ’s Sound Opinions
  • The Guardian’s Music Weekly
  • Others include The Line Of Best Fit, Indie Feed, Hype Machine Radio

Daytrotter isn’t technically a radio station but they have an immense amount of great sessions (hidden behind a paywall) and there’s always something new and great there.

Social Networks

  • Tumblr has a great network of music lovers who are continually sharing music, new and old alike. I’m always finding new tunes from folk like David, Kirk, Mark & Fred.
  • SoundCloud - I follow hundreds of bands, labels, blogs and friends here who are posting and curating new music 24/7. Discovery happens entirely through this social feed and it’s now at the stage that most of the acts I search for have a profile too.
  • Twitter - Obviously there’s a ton of artists out there on Twitter but the source that remains the most fruitful for me is the little community of Spotify-related users I have been unofficially inducted into through HotSpotMusic’s earlier days.  
  • This Is My Jam - a new-ish site that I’m just getting into (thanks to their new Spotify app), allowing you to post one “jam” at a time.
  • 8tracks is a site that I care a lot for and yet one I don’t spend nearly enough time on.  Human curators making playlists is simply the best way to find music and trumps any machine making automated guesses at what you might like.


So, even though I don’t have that much time to read blogs any more there are still a number that I consistently look at and rely upon.  Below are a couple of my favourites and here’s a link to all of them (and some of the ones mentioned above) in Google Reader.

So there you go, that’s how I do it.  Or at least 50% of it.  

How do you find music?

What I Want…

… is some kind of app that allows me to leaf through all the albums I have ever owned or played in a way that replicates how I used to go through my own CD collection or through racks and racks at a record store.  It would work best as an iPad app but could work anywhere.  You could order by play count, genre, chronological, alphabetical, autobiographical….  It would give me recommendations and charting and insight and would help me to stumble upon all those albums that I’ve sort of forgotten about…

I guess what I’m looking for is a browser for the touchscreen age.

Want a job? Here’s a few tips…

You may have noticed we’re hiring…

We get a lot of applications.  

Every Monday and Thursday morning I go through Jobvite with a mix of excitement, anticipation and dread.  The fun of finding someone who has the potential to be a fantastic addition to the team is well worth wading through the majority who might not be.  

But I keep seeing the same mistakes over and over again.  If you’re applying for a job at SoundCloud (or, to be perfectly honest, anywhere), here’s a few tips to help you standout:


  • apply for more than 1 job.  It shows a lack of focus from an applicant.  If we see a quality application but there’s a better fit in another area you’ll be damned sure we’ll tell that other area.  
  • even think about applying without a cover letter.  I used to think they were formulaic nonsense too but in a startup where team fit, passion, energy and personality are the most important attributes, the cover letter is one place you can communicate that.
  • apply in German (or any other language).  Our entire site, including the jobs page, is in English.  Attention to detail is important ;)
  • write personal statements or objectives in your CV.  Actions speak louder than words.
  • write in the third person! (Yes, it happens and no, it doesn’t make any sense).
  • think every job is the same.  Take some time to read the job description carefully and ask yourself what you can bring to the role that’s different from anyone else.
  • be boring.

These are the basics.  These get you through the net.  Then it’s time to show us we need you.  David has some great tips on that.

My_____: My Take

So today the artist formerly known as MySpace announced their mammoth revamp.  This new direction aims to reposition the site as a hub for social entertainment from all angles: music, movies, TV and celebrities. 

Whilst I haven’t had a chance to play with it myself yet, I have seen the videos, screenshots and interview with CEO Mike Jones and I think Myspace announced a pretty smart move today. They’ve decided that no longer are they going to try and compete on friends or on pure content but try to carve out their own niche at the intersection of the two.

Of course, this isn’t a brand new idea but where Facebook has content elements and someone like Boxee has sharing features, a destination site right in the middle of the two, combining social curation and free-flowing content might just work.  And it leverages arguably their strongest asset - partnerships with big media companies - and matches their strongest demographic - young, media-hungry consumers - with a wider variety of products for the advertisers who are so evidently paying the bills.

It’s a bold move, to be sure, and one that will only be borne out by successful execution.  But they still have tens of millions of users, owners with fairly deep pockets and are still the default place for major label musicians to share their music, even if some sites are digging away at that.  (Incidentally, I think this new strategy is pretty good news for start-ups like SoundCloud who can continue to focus on providing the best experience for anyone to share their sounds to anywhere online, including Myspace itself). 

Maybe it’s all come too late for Myspace to stem the tide of negative perceptions they’ve built up over the last few years but I, for one, think it’s a decent plan. 

Having said all that, the new logo is undeniably stupid.

Two ways to make even more useful

As if my slowly escalating Tumblr addiction wasn’t enough, I’m beginning to really look forward to Tuesdays because it’s the day when everyone’s Top 5 Artists feeds update (courtesy of this awesome hack by Joe Lazarus).  It’s always fun to see what everyone’s been listening to recently, in case I missed their audio posts. 

Which makes me start to think - wouldn’t it be cool if introduced an asynchronous (i.e. Twitter style) follower model.  For example, I don’t know him personally but I can see joelaz’s profile so I know that he has pretty good taste.  I can visit any profile and see roughly what people have been listening to but I can’t follow it (without being friends or stalky) and get the updates straight to my homepage.’s recommendations engine is brilliant but it still misses a little bit of that personal touch.  I’m quite likely to find the latest buzz band that is related to all the other buzz bands I’ve been listening to recently but actually what I’d really like to see is random, brilliant and unexpected new tracks.  Hype Machine does this to a certain extent but it’s limited by it’s inputs and is not as universal as  Adding a second social layer around could be really interesting and would probably bring in plenty more users.  

And while I’m at it, why doesn’t do email digests?  I know there’s gazillions of users and things would get pretty messy pretty quickly but if YouTube can do it…  I’d love to receive a nice looking weekly rundown of all things around my musical activity (friends plays, my charts, upcoming events, new releases).  It’s use and engagement would skyrocket.  Maybe this already exists - if not, it would make an awesome hack day project. (and the community) already provide lots of awesome tools for managing and visualising your data and this post is by no means supposed to be negative.  I just enjoy thinking about all that lovely information hidden away in those databases and how it can continue to improve my listening experience.

Rip-off industries that must adapt or be doomed to failure. #1: Telco

Did you know how much you are being over-charged on text messages every month? SMS fees have kept mobile operators in business for a long time.

Each text message can take up to 160 characters which approximately equates to about 160 bytes of data. So this means that theoretically 1MB would set you up for about 6,554 messages (1024*1024/160). In Spain, I pay €29 for a 1GB 3G data package which therefore equates to about 6.7m text messages monthly. From this, it’s relatively fair to say that text messages are virtually free in marginal terms (i.e. variable cost = 0).

Since most operators charge ~10c for each message, 6.7 million of them account for a decent €670k in revenue. Compared to the €29 fee I’m charged on ‘data’ (which to them is virtually indistinguishable), this is a fairly healthy profit margin. Of course, as an average consumer I’m not going to be making 6.7m messages but with 4.1 billion, yes billion, being sent daily around the world it all adds up to quite a large sum indeed.

But what happens when communication starts moving entirely online using instant messengers, twitter and push email (not that far away with smartphones beginning to seriously penetrate the market)?  And let’s not even take into consideration the potential impact of VoIP on call charges (particularly internationally), innovations like Google Voice removing voicemail fees and all the other cash cows that have been happily milked over the last 10 years. Of course it will take time for consumers to adjust their habits… but the mobile operators of this world must be petrified of what will happen when they do.

Top 10 innovations from the last decade

The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger talks here (…) about his top 10 innovations from the last decade and how they’ve changed the world. It’s hard to argue with most of his choices.

It’s also interesting to see the differences in the companies that make up the list – the difference in headcount between Google (>10,000) and Craigslist (about 30), the open aims of iTunes U vs the closed system of iTunes/iPhone itself, the free policy of Wikipedia vs Facebook’s alleged exposures of personal data. It’s also interesting to note that on the list there are 8 companies (Apple is mentioned twice, the BBC is a public funded corporation although I’m counting Wikipedia as a company here) and 6 of them did not exist 12 years ago. Three of them (facebook, Twitter & Spotify) didn’t exist 5 years ago. Innovation is changing the world and the face of business.

What is your top 10?

(reposted from my blog at

Why do I use Twitter? Here’s why.

Sometimes people ask me why I bother using Twitter.  It’s overly simplified yet too complicated they say.  It’s another pointless distraction in our already information-frazzled lives.  Yet today something happened to confirm why I use Twitter and, more importantly, why it is now, not only an interesting new communication tool, but is changing the world forever.

This morning the Guardian posted a cryptic article claiming that they had been gagged from reporting on events in Parliament this week.    The events in question pertain to questions raised about a firm called Trafigura who have, allegedly, been dumping toxic waste into the sea off the coast of Africa.  The law firm representing them, Carter Ruck, had sought special privileges to ensure that their client remained secret and, somehow, these were permitted.  Now, it’s a fairly obvious and fundamental part of a democracy that the press should be able to report everything that happens in Parliament so the Guardian were perplexed enough to write an even more powerful article about freedom of speech and start an underground campaign to get the ban lifted.

Before long this was being picked up by some of the UK’s most prominent bloggers, writers and media people including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, Ben Goldacre and even Nick Clegg.  Stephen Fry alone has over 800,000 followers on Twitter so when he tweets, a lot of people hear it and the message started spreading like wildfire.  Twitter terminology uses hashtags, like #trafigura, to collect and monitor popular memes in real time and within hours these dominated the twitter trends chart.  So now we actually have a measurement for the spread and power of word of mouth and at one point there were more than 200 tweets per minute using the #trafigura tag and probably many more without.  People were outraged and the internet became the place to voice their disgust.

At lunchtime today it was reported that Carter Ruck had given in and lifted the ban.  Freedom prevailed.  I’m sure they will claim that it had nothing to do with the reaction of the Twittersphere but why act before the court appearance at 2pm?

By seeking this censorship, Carter-Ruck have undoubtedly brought far more damage upon themselves and their clients than they ever would have done if this had been free to cover in the press.  Maybe a page 7 Guardian article and a brief appearance on the BBC homepage about the questions in government and then most of the world forgets about it.  Yet now enraged e-politicos are spreading the bad word everywhere through blog posts like this one, giving their Google Map presence negative reviews and even amusing appearances on their ‘own’ Twitter acount on @carterruck.  You can be sure many, many more people will be paying attention when that question does eventually get asked.

I use Twitter for several reasons; interacting with friends, keeping up to date with news, being constantly exposed to new and interesting information and sharing my own activity…  But the biggest reason is to be part of something.  Don’t underestimate the importance of this – the internet has been a leveller in media and business worldwide and it’s fast becoming an equalising force in politics too.  We are experiencing changing, uncertain and exciting times and using Twitter means having a voice that is heard.  However quiet that one voice may be, it all adds up to a deafening crowd.

Friends Revisited

Friends Reunited was recently sold by ITV for just £25m, only 3 years after they bought it for £160m.  Crucially, this was just before the Facebook juggernaut rode into town but it still begs the question: Is Friends Reunited even worth £25m?  What value is there left in a social networking site that has little social networking left in it.

Harking back to the Whopper methodology I used here, we can try and get an estimate for the comparative value.  FR, at last count, had 2.9m unique visitors per month and falling rapidly.  It’s fair to assume that less than 100% of these were registered and active users but for simplicity let’s take that as the number of users.  The average user on FR, I’ll wager, would have many less than the 120 average connections that a facebook user maintains (due to geographical constraints, website usability and no ‘friending frenzy’). Let’s assume a fairly generous 50 connections.

So, using the same calculations as before, Friends Reunited comes out at a valuation of £7.25m.  Much, much lower than facebook and, critically, a fair amount lower than the £25m that Michael Grade was able to get for it.

So where’s the value?  We could be cynical and presume the price reflects the list of email addresses that FR has accumulated over the last five or six years (at one point over 43% of online, British adults had an account).  However, the answer is probably less to do with the social networking side and more to do with the successful sister company providing online genealogy tools (which has the fairly ominous strapline: “We know who you are”).  FR is still the 236th most popular website in the UK and continues to have a big (if somewhat fading) brand name attached to it.  If new owners DC Thomson can effectively monetise the 9m strong membership at Genes Reunited, it might yet turn out to be a decent deal.

Friends Reunited Traffic Stats

10,000 Googles and counting…

Yesterday I hit my 10,000th search term on Google (it was for ‘delhi agra travel’ and threw up mostly old and useless links).  My actual number of searches is bound to be much higher since this only takes into consideration the times when I’ve been logged in to my account. If you consider I’ve been a registered Googler for under 5 years (since signing up for an early beta of Gmail)… that’s over 2,000 searches per year,  meaning just over 5 per day on average.  That doesn’t sound too much until you realise that my searching patterns have been increasing at an exponential rate – over 6,00o of the 10,000 total have been within the last year.  Is it lazy search terms, a default modus operandi whereby I search instead of using URLs or simply more things that I’m trying to find?

Whatever the answer, the statistics that Google provides make for interesting reading.  Apparently I search nearly twice as much more on a Monday than I do on a Friday and it’s quite clear when I tend to take a lunch break.

Google Search History Trends

Analysing your internet habits and usage is a fascinating field – one that has huge potential and, as yet, is fairly unfulfilled in terms of actual services/applications.  I don’t fear the fact that Google knows so much about me – I love it.  It makes the advertising I get more relevant to things I might actually care about and means that services and products that they make will be more attuned to my preferences as a customer.  I’ll definitely be blogging more on the topic of internet usage data and how it can be used more effectively than charts telling me when I tend to grab a bocadillo.

You can find out how many you’ve made (assuming you have a Google account) here:

Facebook Whopper Index

I have recently been reading (well, listening to – getting a book out and resting it upon the handlebars of my bike every morning is probably a tad more dangerous than just turning on the audiobook) the new book, Free: The Future of A Radical Price by Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail.  It’s a very interesting read and you can pick it up for, yes you guessed it, free if you look in the right places (Spotify has the audiobook and has the eBook).  The general theme is about how the digital revolution is turning economics on its head with marginal prices tending towards zero in a large number of industries.

I’m just going to cite one example that I found pretty interesting.  Talking about the ‘reputation’ economy, i.e. one of the non-monetary markets, Anderson tries to value Facebook from the bottom up, by looking at the economic value of a friend.  A while ago Burger King ran a promotion in the US that gave away a free Whopper to anyone who de-friended 10 people.  Since this turned out to be a pretty popular and effective marketing idea, it makes a good/amusing basis for the analysis.  So the maths goes like this:

Facebook has 250m users, each on average having 120 friends.  Of course, it takes two to tango so each connection that is broken is worth two friends.  So, (250m x 120)/2 = 15,000,000,000 or 15bn.

If a Whopper is £3 then each broken connection is worth 0.30p.  So, according to the Whopper Index (which is very different from the Economist’s Big Mac Index), facebook is valued at 0.30p x 15bn = £4.5bn or $7.5bn.

This is not far off the $10bn valuation at which they recently raised funds and very close to the more recent valuations given by most analysts.  Assuming these people aren’t using the price of burgers to do their modelling, it’s a pretty interesting result that seems to indicate that a) ‘friends’ do indeed have their price and b) that we are innately valuing them at the right price – 1/10th of a large, sloppy chunk of meat.

The Toil & Tenenbaum

With the trial of Joel Tenenbaum just started in the US, it seems the right time to lay my cards down on one side of the music piracy table of debate. First of all, let’s be clear: this is not suffering artists pleading for their just rewards. Nay, it is the aimless thrashing and flailing of a dying industry trying to cling onto dollar bills as they slip slowly between the fingers.

The music industry, not the record industry, is thriving today because of, not in spite of, technology. Artists are still out there producing records but most have learned to make money through other channels like gigging, licensing and premium boxsets. The savvy record labels have adapted and become 360-degree agents, concert promoters and management for artists. Most have not. The internet as a platform puts artists directly in touch with their fans and builds that loyal following who will then come to the shows. There is more diversity and more depth than ever before if you look for it.

The record labels themselves have failed to realise (at least publicly) that the game has changed, that the game is no longer about controlled 1-1 distribution but free, in both the liberated and monetary sense, many-to-many flow of media. New tools are making it easier for artists to cut out the middle men and the result for the consumer is a torrent (pun intended) of content, waiting to be selected. Music too will now have to function on a freemium basis as it becomes closer and closer to being a commodity.

The record industry is unhappy because they are being cut out of the equation just like newspapers and countless others. Well, tough luck. That’s just the way it is now. The game has changed. As in any industry, a disruptive technology takes out a dying, greedy, old business that fails to adapt. Trying to solve it with disproportionately large lawsuits that bear no relation to the original misdemeanour will only stem the tide for so long.  Good luck Joel.

Back to Blogging

In 2006/2007 I used to travel. I also used to blog. I enjoyed blogging. It gave me a new perspective on the world and made me seek out the beautiful, the curious and the amusing in everything I saw.  I took time to contemplate these things and how I could relate them to other people.  I also travelled obsessively with a notepad close at hand (now I have a phone but the system is the same).  In the following years I lost this habit as real life and real work got in the way.

So, as the entire world (myself included) makes the move towards brevity and 140-character posts, I want to find more time to improve my writing, to concentrate on the long-form and to have a say on matters that are important to me. Whilst I may not be writing about escapades from across the seas, I hope this still entertains and informs.  Most of all, this site will be about technology, innovation, music, design, business, politics, big numbers, small numbers and trying to make sense of it all.

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