Spotify: the fast food of the music industry

Craig Angus

This September I got Spotify for the first time. My flatmate had been using it since 2008, and I’d always resisted – initially because of a stubborn dedication to a CD walkman, then because of an iTunes library that to me, rendered the music streaming service pointless. Recommendations? I could get them from friends. No one to talk to about music? Last FM did the trick. I sauntered along for half a decade not using Spotify, without feeling that my life was suffering to any extent.

Then I signed up. £10 a month means you can browse to your hearts content, and on mobile devices too. It also – crucially – means you can avoid those hugely infuriating adverts that insist on interrupting your album of choice at precisely the wrong moment. Unnamed sources told me it was: ‘the best tenner I [they] spend every month”, and instead of making some ‘get out more’ wisecrack comment I just went along with it – suck it and see, as they say. Belatedly perhaps, my new access to a constant stream of music has provoked me into really considering the manner in which I digest music – for lack of a better word; but my own role in this relationship between man and sound appears to be inconsequential, the entire dynamic has changed and I’m merely a cog in the machine.

The point – and I’m getting there – is that whether or not you listen to CDs, Vinyl, or even Cassettes, the chances are that you listen to a lot of music on the internet. The degree is of course, variable – on one end of the scale of you have the ‘YouTube DJ’ – manning the laptop at a party and playing techno for girls to pose to, on the other hand you have the dedicated music collector, that despite his substantial collection of 10″ singles, still finds out about local music by streaming tracks through soundcloud and bandcamp, maybe a blog or two – and maybe even Myspace. The point is that things have changed so much – even in the last 10 years – that the future needs to be analysed vigorously. It all reminds me of a Peter Serafinowicz sketch, where Pete buys ‘internet ham’ from a supermarket, and claims the food back via CD drive upon arriving home. Gross and vile as this is, the digitisation of music need not be viewed so negatively.

Let’s start with the obvious point. More people are making music – and it’s easier to make music, more accessible – you could make a Mercury Prize winner using Garageband, a couple of SM57s, and a trendy wardrobe. Consequently, there’s a lot to listen to, which takes time – and money – which us ‘artistic’ people are lacking. Streaming music allows you to filter and browse through an increasingly congested space; pick out the things you like and try similar stuff out. It’s brilliant, and this manner of sampling has introduced me to lots of music that previously I wouldn’t have encountered. If it weren’t for Spotify, the chances are I wouldn’t have taken a punt on How to Dress Well, realised I liked both his records, bought them and in the future go to a show. Likewise music by Ty Segall and Purity Ring – artists want their music heard and the internet makes that easy. The cream of the crop rises to the top and in theory this increases the quality of the product.

It’s not all good news though, and recently Jana Hunter, lead vocalist of Baltimore based Lower Dens, has made some acute comments regarding the pitfalls of Spotify and streaming services. After an initial twitter outburst, she took to the bands Tumblr page to clarify her points. Whilst starting off by saying: “It’s [Spotify's] value as a promotional tool and a browsing resource is undeniable”, her analysis of the fundamental flaws of spotify was pretty spot on.

“The way people use it [Spotify] and similar services is screwing musicians (and comedians). It’s also screwing anyone who uses it to feed the weird addiction to massive quantities of music that a lot of people seem to have these days”.

I read this and immediately thought of myself.

Addiction to massive quantities. On last count I have 20,000 tracks on an iTunes library – and that’s after going through and deleting everything I really wasn’t that into. If we just say a track lasts 4 minutes, and there are 1440 minutes in a day, then that would mean I can get through about 360 songs a day, and that’s not including sleep, making a sandwich, going to work, phoning back home, making another sandwich. The reality is that I’ll probably get through 40/50 songs in a day, and more often than not i’m just dipping in and out of things, enjoying but not really engaging, becoming aware without falling in love – and I mean that. I haven’t ‘fallen in love’ with a record in a while and it’s no coincidence that at the moment I’m probably more conscious of what’s ‘happening’ than ever before.

It’s 10 years since Interpol released ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ now. It’s a really special record, a collection of songs by 4 musicians completely in tune with each other – and along with Is This It?, probably the defining musical statement of early 00s New York. I have so much love for this record, the instrumental ‘Untitled’ opening, the breathtaking outro to ‘PDA’, the de-tuned assault of ‘The New’ – I know it like the back of my hand, and I listened to it more times than I can remember. The release of the deluxe edition feels significant – a timely reminder of the value of the album. The whole process, taking the CD/record out of the case/sleeve, reading all the notes on the inlay, and really getting involved with it. In this year, I’ve only really had similar experiences with Beach House’s Bloom and Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, and while you could argue that the overall standard is dropping (especially when measured against Interpol’s seminal debut – I’ll admit) I don’t buy it for a second, theres a reason why I feel that way and I can attribute it towards my over-reliance on immense libraries of sound – my weird addiction to quantity.

Then there’s the whole argument about making money through music. Streaming might offer an artist exposure, but it won’t bring home the bacon. But I’ll leave that for the real artists to think about. For now, I’m off to try and find me a record player, whilst using Spotify occasionally to find things that sound like early Weezer. The best of both worlds, I hope.