Posts Tagged ‘music listening’
This past week, composer/singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane wrote a poignant editorial about the emergence of the music service Spotify and how it may adversely affect the way we consume music. As someone who has recently begun to use Spotify as a resource, I found his opinions to be particularly timely.
And yet I was somewhat troubled by what I perceived to be a prevailing idea–that the medium with which we listen to music ostensibly dictates how we listen:
I’d like to propose a third stream: that the problem we face is not one of economics, but of the spiritual nature of how [we] consume music. That is to say: what Spotify and illegally downloaded music have in common is that they both spiritually devalue music by making a surfeit of it too accessible.
Mr. Kahane seems to be saying that universal, unparalleled access to all music is somehow inherently bad. This seems dangerously paramount to saying, “The devil made me do it.” It’s not the mechanism with which we consume music that makes or breaks our listening experience, but rather what we do with that mechanism. How do we use Spotify and other technologies in an intelligent manner that rewards diligent and deliberate listening habits?
Ultimately, we as listeners must take personal responsibility for how we consume music. I concede that mediums such as the record player/vinyl challenge us to listen more intently, and in a way I consider more positive than others. But I can’t accept that listening to music digitally makes the experience any less meaningful because I now have access to more of it and will somehow listen “less.”
Discovering Spotify did not cause me to investigate more music less thoroughly. Rather, I applied my existing listening habits to my use of Spotify, particularly as a way to supplement my experience of a particular artist’s biography or to listen to specific recordings of a seminal work. In this way, the service can be used advantageously by completists or by intrepid listeners seeking to compare different recordings of the same composition.
Mr. Kahane refers to the onset of Spotify and “the demise of curation as it applies to one’s music collection” as cause-and-effect. But with regard to Spotify’s practical function, is that really true? Users may “star” songs and entire albums for later perusal, and there is of course the ability to create playlists. This latter function is arguably the most important aspect of the Spotify experience. How else can one organize a seemingly limitless library of music but through the use of personalized playlists? If this isn’t curation, what is it?
New developments in music consumption are inevitable, and increased access is part and parcel. Soon enough, the heir apparent of Spotify will emerge from the primordial sludge of technological innovation. But was our listening experience decimated in the path of the last digital music victor,in the wake of iTunes and the iPod and their irrevocable trajectories? No–essentially, we merely transferred our music collections to another format.
Now here is where Spotify’s function differentiates itself, and the subject of “complete access” becomes especially contentious. Is it really my music collection if I have access to everything? And herein, I think, is the underlying crux in Mr. Kahane’s perspective: What constitutes a personal music collection? Beyond a matter of spiritual value, I think Spotify raises vital questions about ownership and music-as-commodity.
Unfortunately, this is also where our topic, “Spotify and the Personal Listening Experience,” becomes derailed and turns instead into an economic quandary. By allowing users to access a vast cache for amounts ranging from free to $9.99, Spotify obscures the monetary value of music and fosters a communal atmosphere. And this is a real problem in an era in which the avenues for artist compensation are increasingly unclear. And as the following articles attest, Spotify similarly seems to have been largely ineffective in compensating artists for their craft.
First, some background history:
Guardian, August 2009 -
The Music Void, October 2009 -
The latest events:
Music Ally, August 2011 -
Monetary issues aside, it’s important that we the listeners hold ourselves accountable for how we listen to music and how we use services such as Spotify. If we have caught ourselves devaluing the music listening as a spiritual experience, perhaps the enemy is us.