Spotify has completely transformed the way I listen to music – and has probably changed how whole generations of people will think about music too.
These days, when I listen to music I don’t have to get up to change the CD, or flip a tape, or even download and play MP3s in Winamp: all my music is streamed from Spotify. I use it as a way to play music and organise tracks, share cool things I’ve heard and discover new music. It’s quick, and convenient, and above all it’s incredibly easy. But, sometimes, as I merrily skip from album to another with the click of a mouse, the 30+ year-old in me grumbles that maybe it shouldn’t be so easy.
In the same way that I tend to skim-read books on an iPad, I listen to music on Spotify as background noise. The act of having to get off the chair, walk over to the shelf and choose what to listen to next tends to make you concentrate on what you’re listening to more.
The fact that I can carry all my music around with me in a tiny box in my pocket is still amazing. The thought that it’s not even really in my pocket, but in the cloud, is even more mind-bending. No more boxes of records, shelves of CDs, bags of minidiscs or even folders of MP3s… almost every physical embodiment of music has disappeared, beyond an implacable block of solid state gadgetry and some headphones.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, of course.
If I was still DJing I’d probably have all my tracks on an SD card, rather than carrying a small selection in a 15 kilogram box of vinyl. I discover new music daily, with the click of a button, rather than through radio stations and record shops. I’ve got more albums and playlists on Spotify than I ever had CDs, although I don’t actually own any of that music, in a legal sense as well as a physical one.
There’s certainly a lot less music-related clutter in my house these days. My wife and I cleared out our stacks of CDs a while ago, and had a great time digging through all the old memories on the shelves. We both had quite a few albums that we’d bought on a recommendation, or on the strength of one track, but then found to be mostly crap. Back in the day, CDs were generally between £10 and £16 – not cheap, especially when it was an album you listened to once and then consigned to the dusty top shelf, never to be heard again.
I don’t know whether to feel happy or sad that new generations of music fans might never have the dubious pleasure of getting home to discover that your new CD is actually one great track and 40 minutes of unlistenable jazz klaxon wanking. They’ll never have to buy a whole album just to get one track. They’ll never know what it was like to not be able to get hold of a track, or an album – to scour all the music shops in a city looking for one slippery CD that mysteriously sells out five minutes before you get to the shop. Those were painful and frustrating but ultimately formative experiences.
Between Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud and other streaming services I doubt there’s anything you can’t find online to listen and download (be it legally or illegally). The concept of scarcity in music (and “scarcity” is a relative term, considering I grew up in an age of CDs, tape-copying and dozens of radio stations) simply doesn’t exist any more, and I think that must really change how people see (or rather, hear) music.
More after the break…