Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Trouble with Streaming

Yesterday, Spotify - presumably fuelled by the fear of Apple Music stealing all their users - rolled out a new feature called Discover Weekly. What this means is that, every Monday morning, Spotify will give each user a two-hour 'mixtape' (read: playlist) of songs it reckons that user will like.

Now, I don't use Spotify (or any music streaming service) very much, so I don't suppose I'm the target audience for this new feature. Bear that in mind as I tell you why I dislike it.

Assuming that each Discover Weekly mixtape consists entirely of music that the recipient hasn't previously listened to, that's a lot of new music to take in every week. Also, judging by the screenshot above, it looks like each track on the mixtape will come from a different artist - that is, no artist will feature more than once in any given Discover Weekly playlist.

Here's the problem: even if I only like, say, three of the artists on my first mixtape (a conservative estimate, given that this is a two-hour mix that's supposedly picked just for me), I'm not going to have time to really get to know those artists before Mixtape #2 arrives and gives me another few artists to check out. I'll then receive a third playlist on the Monday after that, full of yet more new stuff that I've never heard before. By the end of the month, I've got a list of 'new favourite bands' that's a mile long, and no time to look into any of them because, oop, it's time for another mixtape!

Look, if you really are constantly on the search for your next favourite band, that's great, but this attention-deficient approach to music consumption simply ain't how I operate. I prefer to buy an album, listen to it over and over again, and grow to love it over time, hearing new sounds and spotting new themes with each  new spin. It doesn't seem like Discover Weekly is going to leave room for any of that - as soon as you Discover a band that you genuinely like and want to investigate further, Spotify will dump another two hours' worth of new music on your head and demand that you sift through that instead.

(Incidentally, while I haven't tried Discover Weekly for myself, I'm no stranger to having a constant barrage of new music flung at my ears. I used to listen to 6Music all day long, and every time I heard an interesting song that I didn't recognise, I'd make a note of it. Do you know what I ended up with? Pages upon pages upon pages of songs and artists that I've never gotten 'round to revisiting, because it's just too much.)

When I first started The Album Wall, I dubbed it "a blog about albums". but as pretentious as I'm about to sound, what it's actually turned out to be is a kind of diary of my own musical journey. I realised pretty early on that I wouldn't be able to listen to every single release in the way that proper music magazines with multiple staff members can, so I don't try to do that; instead, I write about the albums that I'm obsessed with at time of writing, whether they were released last week or twenty years ago. Every time I buy an album, I'm furthering that journey, and each new purchase is, to me, an important choice that's informed both by what's worked for me previously and by what other people are pointing me towards now.

And I think that's why I really dislike Spotify, and music streaming services in general. Because they give you instant access to EVERYTHING, and consequently, it all ceases to mean ANYTHING. Because they eliminate any reason you might have had to really invest in an album; if you don't like it right away, you can just move on to the next one, because after all, you haven't lost anything.

It's a shame, because Spotify is - in theory - an awesome tool for getting to know an album, and indeed the wider repertoire of the artist(s) who made it. I appreciate that not everyone can afford to drop £10 every time they want to check out a new artist, and Spotify is a good, cost-effective way for those people to access the music they want and listen to it as often as they want.

But the introduction of Discover Weekly proves that Spotify themselves would rather you didn't use their software like that. THEY want you to constantly be discovering new music, listening to a new artist every day, tweeting about them, and then quickly forgetting about that artist to make way for another. I love discovering new music, but if you listen to one track and then move on to something else, it seems to me that you didn't really discover that music at all. You just happened to catch it as it whizzed by.

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