Monday, August 08, 2011

Spotify on the spot

I'd seen a references to Spotify online (particularly this post on Flowering Toilet), another system where one can stream music on-demand or essentially rent music for a portable device. It's not the first such service; it's merely the buzz-worthy one at the moment.

Here's the thing: I have not tried it yet, and if I'm completely honest, I don't find myself inclined to. But something gnawed at me, making me feel compelled to explain why. However, as I ruminated on that, it didn't gel into a nice, simple explanation.

Of course, rather than worry about having to explain, the question may really be: Why do I feel compelled to say anything?

There's plenty of subjects that come up in pop culture (or in politics, or sports, or whatever) where I don't feel as though I have to explain why I am not inspired to check it out; with anything, if it doesn't appeal to you it doesn't appeal to you. No shame in that, and no need to subject the 'net to something that ultimately is merely "hey, I'm not inclined to do it but if you want to, that's cool." That's my attitude about virtually everything that is not of specific interest to me, and perhaps there needs to be some of that in the blogosphere to counter the "if you don't like the same things I like you're an idiot" sentiments that are out there (but it's not as though the sort of people who espouse such sentiments would find anything I post to make them reconsider their tactics), but that's not worth the time either.

Unlike many things, however, I do still feel some connection to what's going on in the music world. I used to spend a fair amount of my disposable income purchasing CDs, and at one point I had well over a thousand of those jewel cases on racks. It's been a few years since I had the time to follow the industry as closely as I did, say, back in my 20's, but in my mind I haven't gone "out to pasture"; I still feel some affinity toward it.

Therein lies the source of the inclination to comment; I have not crossed that line that delineates those who consider themselves "into" music from those who merely listen and enjoy music. I'm nowhere near what I once was, am much closer to that line than I like to admit, but in my mind I'm still on the same side I have been since I was a teen.

So really what I find myself pondering is not so much whether Spotify is worthy of the buzz it has, nor whether Spotify is the "future" of music (or if recorded music has a future at all in the digital age); at its core what I'm pondering is not why I should feel any pangs of guilt that I'm not inclined to try Spotify; what I'm pondering is how to reconcile the fact that I'm on one side of that "into" line and have no inclination toward Spotify and do not feel guilty about that. On some level it seems like those are inconsistent. So is this merely me being confronted with evidence that to think I'm still on that side of the line is mere delusion, that my dalliance with that is actually more over than I realized?

Perhaps it's ultimately that Spotify put me on the spot about my relationship with music these days, and have to really accept that I am okay with what that relationship is. We're kind of an middle-aged married couple, where the intense passion has subsided (as it must) but where we fondly recall those days; we are comfortable with each other in the best sense while still finding exciting moments, and most important, we still love each other.

No technological advances will ever change that.


And now, if you'll pardon the self-indulgence, here's some other thoughts I had on this:

The future?

It's likely the "cloud-based" system is the future of music delivery, but as to how it will be economically viable for the music industry remains to be seen.

Perhaps in the future recording songs will be exclusively as promotional material, to convince listeners to go see the band in concert. There will be no "selling" of music so there will be no "ownership" of the recordings by consumers. It will be supported by ad revenue or something, and/or by listener subscription fees (paid to these streaming sites who offer some level of royalties to the artists).

I guess time will tell.


The Collector Objection

Were I in my 20's undoubtedly I'd think it the coolest thing; back then I had a nigh insatiable appetite for new music (and by "new" I mean music I didn't already have, not merely that which had just come out). Frankly, a service such as this back then may have overwhelmed me.

Of course, back then we had to get music on physical media—there were CDs, yes, but LPs and cassettes had not completely faded (to see records in a store was not due to some comeback). And here, at the risk of launching into the back-in-my-day nostalgic glorification of merely what happened to be the common paradigm when my habits were formed, I'll note there was some effort involved in acquiring that music I sought. To get a rare b-side involved actually finding a shop who had the actual 7" and paying the price for a collectible, where that single cost more than an entire album.

Even with CDs, a lot of stuff didn't come out domestically at first. I recall purchasing the import of the Smiths' Hatful of Hollow at a store down in Orange County for nearly double what regular CDs were going for. (Some months later I could have gotten the U.S.-released version for half that, but at the time I didn't know when such a release would come.)

In short, even if one wasn't obsessive about everything, if one was at least reasonably into music one was a collector. One had a shelf with actual objects to not only be a means of storage but also of displaying what one liked.

Nowadays I have embraced the digital revolution, because there is something undeniably convenient about having thousands of songs on a device that fits in one's pocket. I don't go to stores anymore, as I buy my music via download. But that's still a method that gets me something that I have, forever (or at least as long as I keep a copy); it's taking up space on a hard drive, but that's easier to find than was shelf space for records, tapes, and discs. I still know what is mine, even though it's accessed through iTunes rather than on the aforementioned shelves.


Movin' on up?

Spotify does appear to allow for a subscription plan allowing for putting songs on one's iPhone. But the thing for me is: I already have thousands of tracks I've amassed over the years, and have a system for getting them on my device with ease. I don't think I need to replace that with a system where I must pick all that again.

But for previewing a song before actually buying it (rather than hearing merely a 30-second snippet) it certainly seems like it could be worthwhile.

It may be somewhat akin to the time back in the mid-'80s when I was not sure whether CDs would really be worth the higher price to pay for them (compared to LPs), and then a few years later I had hundreds and hundreds of them (eventually easily exceeding the thousand mark); that was a scenario where the new format offered advantages (easy access to specific tracks, no having to turn over the record, easier portability) that appealed to how I liked to listen. Then with the opportunity to rip those discs to mp3 on the computer (a project that took me months to complete back in 2000-2001) I found the jukebox software paradigm to be more convenient to hear particular tracks than getting their individual CDs. And with the mp3 player's advantages of portability and storage, I eventually embraced that.

It was all about appealing to my listening preferences at that time in my life. And nowadays I do not explore brand new music anywhere near the extent I did back when I was buying CDs. In some part that may be due to the stereotypical crystallization of my tastes (where what I like tends to be what came out in those days) but I still do buy some contemporary releases, so it's not a matter of me dismissing today's offerings as "that crap these kids are listening to." But if I'm honest, the majority of my listening is done while I'm at work (I plug in my iPod to speakers at my desk) where it provides a low-volume soundtrack for my day. I fill the device with randomly generated playlists of my library, and put it on shuffle; it's material with which I am familiar, which didn't take long to get on there, and is all stuff I know I already like; it does not require active attention while listening to it (like new material tends to do), and while I'm working I don't have extra attention to spare, so that achieves what I need from it.

I am not a fuddy-duddy who knows nothing of new music, but I'm not the musical adventurer that I was while amassing the collection I do have. I like a little new stuff (even if it's buying some old stuff from those days that I missed getting at the time) every month, but that modest addition to the considerable library gets me what I need, and not more.

I do not have a problem with my current setup that Spotify seems likely to resolve; it's not that it has nothing to offer, but for what my listening preferences are these days, it's not an obvious improvement over what I'm already doing.

But that's just me. My thesis here is merely ruminating on whether I find myself feeling inclined to check out Spotify as my next way of listening, and at least at the moment, as I admitted at the top: I do not.

I'm not giving a review of the service (obviously)—although I'd certainly like to hear what you may have to say if you have tried it—but giving a review (so to speak) of what my brain is thinking about the service.

And that review has rambled on way too long already. As usual.

Thanks for pretending this was worth hearing. Now listen to something better, on whatever format strikes your particular fancy.


  1. Hey Doug, thanks for the shout out.

    I've played around with Spotify a bit, and for me it is mostly a new music discovery engine, and not a replacement for the way I've been collecting music over the years. For example I have a new Grant Hart LP on its way to me via Amazon because I checked out the album on Spotify first. I've also heard a few things that I was curious about that I decided I didn't need to buy. On the whole, I'm not sure if my free membership is costing me or saving me money (probably costing).

    I would not pay for Spotify, since I don't even have an iPhone or similar, so I'm not really the service's core audience. I can imagine a lot of people (most of them younger than me) being very happy to pay $10 a month to have access to Spotify's catalog anytime, anywhere.

  2. Pandora's about as advanced as I get, and it introduces me to plenty of new music. Spotify sounds cool, though.


So, what do you think?