"I just have trouble finding sane guys into my music," says Marissa Daywood, a Philadelphia-based student I can practically hear shrugging over AOL Instant Messenger. JupiterResearch may have predicted that the American online dating market will bring in $931 million in gross revenues by next year, but that doesn't mean the few appealing subscribers know who Local Natives or Neutral Milk Hotel are. To remedy that, the dating site that introduced me to Daywood works unlike anything else in the market. Her profile doesn't tell me whether she's single, her body type, or her opinion of long walks on the beach. We were listed as compatible simply because we both dig Sonic Youth.
Daywood goes by the handle Release-TheBirds on Tastebuds (www.tastebuds.fm), an online dating site designed to help subscribers "find single people who share your passion for music." The site was created by U.K. musicians Julian Keenaghan and Alex Parish, the guitarist and bassist, respectively, of the band Years of Rice and Salt, whose drummer, Milo Marsei, is also involved with the site's design. Parish traces Tastebuds' origins to a post-party hangover last year when he and Keenaghan wished into existence a way to "make it easier to hook up with girls who love the same music we do."
"People want to share their love of music with others, even if it doesn't result in a romantic connection," Parish writes in an e-mail. "The concept of Tastebuds is to explore the possibility that people would be willing to look for connections based primarily on their tastes."
The site was quietly launched in June, and was promoted via postings on Facebook and obscure post-rock online forums. Soon enough, word reached influential Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber, who quickly endorsed the site via Twitter ("Music-based dating site, great idea!"), and today Tastebuds boasts around 3,000 members. You suspect that number would be higher if Parish, an admitted rookie at building social networks, had included a fully functional inbox from the start. (User feedback eventually got that changed.) But he says future features could include a mobile app and the ability to share mixtapes with your would-be sweetie.
As indicated by Spin's having named "Your Hard Drive" 2000's Album of the Year, the big music stories of the past decade have been the rise of downloading and MP3s, and the decline of CD sales. But the upside was personalization: No more buying a whole album just for one good song, and no more relying on the radio to tell you your tastes. The customizability of playlists, popularity of iPods, and growing number of indie success stories (Arcade Fire, the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie) proved that word-of-mouth can still make big bands. So it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea of customizing your romantic partner's music taste.
I ask Parish to forgive my skepticism for thinking that a site like Tastebuds could be further alienating or segmenting an already fragmented culture. "You could say the increased personalization might remove the element of chance encounters that are how people traditionally have met — and are still attractive to a range of people," he replies. "We feel it's definitely a risk worth taking if it ultimately leads to you finding people in your given niche."
Having joined up and made a profile with my girlfriend's blessing (she can rest assured that the headline "Ex-Pitchfork Writer Seeks Best New Date" has kept my inbox chaste), I can attest that Tastebuds is hardly a girlfriend-programming device. One typical profile reads, "I'm in desperate need for a decent show partner," followed by a list of bands manually chosen or aggregated from Last.fm data. Tastebuds doesn't allow for much else; you can search for potential partners only by age, gender, and similar artists. There are other problems: You can't search outside of the city or state that you set as your location, the database of eligible concertgoers lacks in non-indie types, and most people on the site are, um, white (perhaps you saw that coming).
Daywood helps broaden my search results by suggesting I remove location from my profile. Eventually, adding certain artists to my search parameters led to some humorously predictable results: Punching in "The Decemberists" upped the ratio of girls in glasses to about a third of each results page. Throwing in "Arcade Fire" added at least one knitted hat per results page. And the phrase "Miley Cyrus" received only one search result in the entire United States. (Poor Steph357.)
The site intends to replace one superficial outlook (searching for a romantic partner based on looks, race, or occupation) with another. But this works better in theory than in practice, partly because the site's limitations are unavoidably frustrating. Fans of pop, country, rap, and R&B are scarce, so the resulting database of potential dates lacks diversity. Tastebuds' creators might have predicted that, though you wonder whether they've considered the link between the site's de-emphasis on sexual attraction and the asexuality of the current leading indie bands (Arcade Fire, Decemberists, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens), whose fans Tastebuds courts. Someone who has trouble finding "girls who love the same music we do" might ask why a Miley Cyrus fan can't find another one at a Miley Cyrus concert, and I could ask the same thing about Arcade Fire.
The makers of the site seem to assume that people who share your music tastes are right in your backyard, but are simply overlooked because they don't catch your eye physically. Parish also says the intent is also to skip the "endless forms and boring questionnaires" of other dating sites, and expedite the process of meeting people. You can find out how pretty or witty they are when you meet them; right now you need a date for that Quasi show who won't complain about the noise.
Chatting with Daywood, who says she tries to "keep an open mind" about what she listens to, makes the problem behind this idea clear. It isn't really that hard to find people who like your music, either online or in the real world. The hard thing is finding people who are attractive — sanity being a key quality thereof — and who like your music. Unfortunately, Tastebuds doesn't have a filter for that.