Spotify. What’s that about? I know what it does, but working the word-association cogs I still can’t make the connection.
But to the beast itself. What a fascinating presence in our lives this online music bazaar has become. Spawn, dare I say, of Napster with a passing fling with Pandora (now there’s a name), i-tunes. Spotify rules (or seems to) the music scene.
I’m still a bit of a digital dumbo; this stuff doesn’t unfold easily and rattling round a tiny phone with the index finger is still a bit alien. But Spotify dominates my music (listening) life, it has to be said.
As a young teen I remember the thrill of a small record shop setting up in the main street at Mount Maunganui. And I mean small – probably not much bigger than many bedrooms. I can’t recall what came before – maybe you went to Tauranga to a music store or department stores to buy your vinyl 45s singles and 33 LPs. The new shop opened just as Vertigo launched as a label in NZ, so double celebration – King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep anyone?
Jump forward a few years and tapes came along, then CDs took over. Vinyl hung round as a curiosity but increasingly a bastion of those preferring a truer sound than the digital CD version. Album art took a hit – especially with a ciggie-pack-sized cassette. Not much of a canvas. And hard to pack a decent poster of set of lyrics into a CD case (good on them for trying though.)
Then it all seemed to go online. The chain from artist to studio to manufacture to shipping to retail? Gazumped in a heartbeat. Find, pay (perhaps) and download. It’s not entirely a free ride; if you don’t want the ads and restrictions of the free version you pay a monthly rental – $14.99 – and can pretty much listen to (and maybe download) any new piece of music the artists put up there. Sounds like heaven?
Well, there are downsides. Not all music gets there; some artists don’t release it into the Spotisphere; some older stuff in particular is missing. And you can’t transfer the music to any other devices (not legally anyway). You’re allowed in the toyshop as long as you like (for an entry fee) and can play with what you like, uninterrupted. But you can’t take the toys home.
But you’re getting the music you want, right? Definitely, like I said, free rein in the toyshop. So what’s the problem?
Not a problem so much as an interesting (to me anyway) morphing of my musical enjoyment. Back in the day I bought very few singles; albums were the go. You got into the band/singer in toto: an album was a long swim in their world, not a short dip. There were the hits and there were the other tracks – some of which – hidden gems – became the preferred ones to listen to (the hits could get thrashed). An album had a story to it to – the great ones bore out the maxim about the sum being greater than the total of the parts. Think Dark Side of the Moon, Moondance.
Now I’ve become a singles chaser. My downloads are mostly one-offs; not many albums. And there is SO MUCH to listen to I don’t actually have time to enjoy what a whole album used to deliver. I’ve lost the patience for an album listen. In the past, there was a finite list of bands and musos I liked and I looked forward to the next offering coming out from them, though it was a bit of a law of diminishing returns (later albums, lighter albums).
Now, the list of musicians seems endless. Maybe the freedom to make music easily and post it is the driver. Spotify of course, in true surveillance capitalism style, is constantly pushing you towards other toys. They don’t want you to have a finite cache of music; they want you to keep clicking and adding forever. Spotify makes an astonishing effort to hook me up with other songs and singers I might like – getting a recipe for its recommendations from my listening history and preferences. Much of the time their suggestions are off but they do expose a few that strike a chord. I should be grateful – but feels a bit creepy all the same.
It’s sobering to reflect on this process. How absolutely captive I am/we are of the Spotify algorithms, how I/we crave new sounds so much more, because so much more is available. I’m not sure this is healthy. I liked the attachment I developed to Caravanserai, Stand Up, David Crosby’s first solo album, and others. I/we keep creating playlists. Hooked. Dissatisfied? Maybe not but so much harder to satisfy for very long.
Maybe there’s just too much music. Too many opportunities to tap into it, day or night, everywhere you go. Like I say, morphing. So much control, but out of control?
In a bit of a Spotify, really.