Last month, Clay Shirky wrote a great article on how the music business has been largely replaced by online and cheap digital counterparts except for one key element: finding new music that is good (or at the very least, music that people will buy). He further states that there are great collaborative tools online to find the best writing, but that music is slow to catch up. I agreed with the article wholeheartedly when I first read it.
Recently, I met someone that works at Garageband.com and I have to say what they have achieved is pretty close to what Shirky says is missing. Using a simple review process, you listen to one track, then another, and decide which one you liked more. That's it. Among the thousands of reviewers and thousands of unsigned bands, eventually the review process teases out the highest rated songs. If you check out some of the top songs, they're pretty good and the review process seems to work (try a few low rated songs if you don't believe me). I signed up the other day and reviewed about ten cuts in different genres, most of which was ok, some great, and some not-so-great, but all in all, it was very simple and I could see doing this more often.
Given tools like this for unsigned bands, it's looking like maybe the predicted death of the record industry's business model could actually come true sooner or later.