Some Thoughts On Spotify

So as many music fans may know, Spotify recently opened up in the US. Immensely popular in Europe, draconian copyright laws lagged its opening here. But it finally was released, and I have tested it out and thought about it and I mostly like it a lot.

Normally, if you want to check out an artist, you can go to YouTube or search mp3 blogs and hear the songs one-by-one-by-one. Which is great, but so focused on individual tracks, that you can lose the context of the album, or even the artist’s career. Spotify, unlike most other internet music options, makes albums (and even whole careers) instantly available for listening in one click. I love this. As much as I love sharing songs in the mixes, I only get there via albums.

I realize though that many listeners may just like listening to tracks. You can still do that too. It is just that albums/careers are treated equally. (Of course, I’ve read quite a few interviews with artists lately, who are unsure about the future of the album. But that’s another post entirely.)

Certainly, this completeness can be too much; listeners need a curator. And that’s the one drawback of things like this. You get in there and can be like, “Ummm now what?” Even I, who generally acts as a curator a lot of the time (all my mixes on here), can find it too much and needs limits. There are playlist features, and you can add your friends and see what they are sharing and playing, but curating on Spotify isn’t quite there yet. But once you get that curator–like the songs on my mixes? read an article about a local musician? see a Pitchfork review that makes no sense?–you can jump on Spotify and give a closer listen, easy. And free.

One example of that: Spotify gives great access to a lot of classical music–stuff that may be difficult to sample, stream, or even download otherwise. I’ve been reading The Rest Is Noise and using Spotify to bring it alive. Wikipedia notes that classical fans don’t like Spotify because the search is spotty and there’s sometimes a slight pause between tracks. The pause doesn’t bother me too much; and the search is manageable.

Some of my criticisms are temporary. The selection is sometimes limited — there’s no Bob Dylan songs on there at all, for instance. But generally, most of what you want to hear is there; granted, I haven’t searched too wide and far to know how common missing artists are (Wiki notes that there’s no Oasis either, and who cares?). I don’t know if the catalog will grow, but I would feel positive that it will, so I am not ready yet to hold that against Spotify. I have read some reports that indie labels receive miniscule royalties from Spotify, and are contemplating removing their artists. If true, that’s disturbing, and perhaps can change in the future (legislatively, or otherwise, increase the royalty rate for internet streams).

Also my other tiny problem with Spotify was my own doing, and I include it now as a warning. I bought the premium version, so I could listen to it on my phone at work, where I could not install the program on my computer. (Only pay if you want or need to listen on your phone.) However, be sure your phone is connected to a wireless network; otherwise it will eat up your cell data plan really quick and you’ll get charged extra. 🙂

Anyway, I find that Spotify has a lot of promise, the same promise that always comes along with the internet: instant access to a gigantic library. When you first heard of Google Books, you were probably like, “WOW every book ever?! That’s like a science fiction fantasy come true!” It is not quite like that in reality, but that’s the idea. Spotify brings that thrill to music.

The idea of ownership and music has become quite complex lately. iTunes may have a pretty huge selection, and you pay, but you still get something in return. Bjork in this cool interview indicates she loves new tech, but still has faith in people wanting physical objects (or digital downloads). I’m not sure I agree entirely, and like what Spotify does. It takes a more modern approach–music does not need to be a luxury item, something you must buy to have. Music is about listening. And Spotify, above all, lets you listen.


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