The Trouble with Spotify

I know it’s long so most people won’t read it, but this blog is almost more just for me to have my writings compiled for myself. So don’t feel bad if you don’t make it through, I know I need some work as a writer.

Spotify. The horrendous moniker suggests an association with measles, or perhaps some noxious cleaning fluid. Yet despite the unpleasant name, upwards of 10 million people use Spotify to stream music, either for free or for a monthly fee. The reasons behind the service’s popularity are obvious: millions of songs and albums available for instant listening, with about 10,000 new tracks added everyday; the ability to link with Facebook to easily see your friends’ listening habits and share your own; easy exploration of music through shared playlists, applications maintained by record labels and magazines, a simple search feature, and Facebook friends; and universal access from any computer, smartphone, or tablet with the application installed (smartphones and tablets require a subscription). But, as with every good or new thing, Spotify has drawbacks.

            In an age where much of a person’s existence occurs through technology, our lives have increasingly gravitated to the computer. This is one of the reasons Spotify has been able to thrive. It doesn’t matter that you can only use Spotify (the free version, which is more popular by far) with a computer, because much of our time is spent working and browsing there anyway. But tethering music to a computer, with its endless distractions and encouragement of multi-tasking, is also one of the problems with Spotify. It is unlikely that you will ever be sitting at your desk, solely streaming music. Rather, you will probably be working or browsing the Internet, with Spotify on in the background. You may be equally distracted by searching the database or scrolling through playlists and apps to find the next song or band for your queue. And since music is often conducive to other activities, most of your computer use will probably be soundtracked with Spotify. Thus the music moves to the back of your consciousness, as only a small part of the experience of being on a computer. Songs blend together, and only the hook, if that, is remembered. None of the intricacies or delights of a well-crafted song are noticed, and only bright catchy tracks survive. Spotify is in this way both relegating music to an unimportant background role and contributing to the dumbing-down of modern hits. The days of sitting in a room with only an album are gone.

            The half-listening that can occur with Spotify is exacerbated by a problem inherent to the Internet and the short attention spans that come along with it: the incredible variety allows you to quickly and easily leave a song if it fails to pique your interest within the first 30 seconds or so and move onto a new one free of guilt. All it takes is the click of a button. But many songs gestate slowly, or are best appreciated as a whole. If you only hear the intro, and only hear it with incomplete attention, what may very well be an excellent song is deemed inadequate and thrown away without a fair chance.

            Not only does Spotify discourage full, attentive listening, it can also lead to less repeated listens. The ability to instantly find a new band you just read about on a blog, then be linked to other bands similar to them, or to sample the songs your Facebook friend is enjoying allows for consumption of an ever-widening range of music. In many ways this is a great feature; it’s always nice to expand one’s taste. But it can also be overwhelming. There will often be times when you have multiple bands lined up to sample, and during each song you may be anticipating the next band more than actually paying attention to what you are hearing. The feeling that there’s something better out there that you’re missing also haunts the use of Spotify. You’re lucky if you can abandon your curiosity long enough to listen to a song, let alone an album, three times. Consequently the amount of albums on which you know every song, every lyric, every riff, lessens. Spotify takes away the leisure to live in an album and make it your own, and what is music without personal reverberations and emotional fulfillment?

            What may be Spotify’s worst (or most brilliant) flaw, however, is its connection to Facebook. In many instances this is an inspired feature: it allows efficient sharing among friends and constant new discovery, in a way replacing the conversations and recommendations that take place in a brick-and-mortar record store. But it also heightens people’s insecurities and fear of judgment by exposing their deeply guarded musical choices. And let’s face it, everyone has guilty pleasures. Publication of every auditory excursion can foster closed-mindedness and prevent exploration. For instance, perhaps a classical music fan is curious about Nicki Minaj, but is loathe to indulge his “baser” tendencies and face the questioning sneers of his friends after they receive a notification that he listened to “Stupid Hoe.” Basically, Spotify’s link with Facebook forces people to remain within their niche and conform to their musical stereotype. Granted, this feature can be toggled off, but it must be deactivated every new time you use Spotify. Turning it off also prevents Spotify’s most idiosyncratic and important quality: the ability to try everything and let everyone know about it. And everyone wants unfettered freedom, even if it comes with flaws.

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