Taylor Swift made news this week by pulling her entire catalog of music from Spotify.
“…I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free”, says Ms. Swift in the Us Weekly article linked above.
Oh, Taylor. You have it so very wrong. The model for the production and consumption of music is changing forever, and your attempt to drag your collection of work backward in time is, though as willful and valiant as a toddler stomping her foot, cute but pointless.
A statement from Swift’s Op/Ed piece from the New York Times, suggests that streaming artists’ work is “taking the music out of the music industry”. I respectfully disagree. I pay for the music streaming service of Spotify every month, and every month I listen to literally HUNDREDS of pieces of music I would never have been exposed to, because of the streaming model of music consumption. Small-time, local groups have their music on Spotify, right along with the big boys. No corporate radio station or giant record label is deciding what I hear; I am. I can get suggestions from (real, live) friends I follow and who follow me on Spotify, based on what we listen to daily. (My Spotify username is megderrico.) Practically any and all songs, and several covers of each, are at my fingertips. Phone, car stereo, or home computers are able to play whatever song, list, or mood music I’d like, constantly. I’ve never felt so gratified as a listener, musically speaking.
Poor Taylor; Honey, embrace it. Cause they’re just gonna download you anyway. Or, they’ll skip you altogether and listen to Selena Gomez.
To prove my point, I’ll share my relationship to the music streaming industry:
First of all, there are many other music streaming services. There’s iTunes radio for you fanboys. There’s iheartardio and Pandora, if you want a certain sound but don’t care about the wonder of The Playlist. I do. There’s Google Play and Grooveshark, to name a few more. I have used all these services and then some, and as it stands now Spotify wins, hands down.
As it is the addiction I have chosen from the above list, I DO pay Spotify for my music consumption. Subscriber music services charge a monthly fee and pay a royalty for each time a user plays a song. Whether they pay enough is debatable. As a (sort of) musician myself, I vote NO. But I’m not going to ask them to charge me more at the moment. I am a part-time graduate student at West Chester University, so with all that loveliness and part-time stress, I get the Spotify student rate of $4.99 a month. To me this seems almost criminal. The regular Spotify montly rate is $9.99.
Screen shot of the program on a user’s computer. I don’t know who they are, but if I could read the print I’d probably playlist stalk them.
In contrast to “radio” streaming services, you can create playlists on Spotify (and Google Play, and others), by searching for and dragging titles. Now remember, I have an addiction. This is not just convenient for making the perfect party playlist. I have dozens of lists, ranging from mood lists that include “Pissed” and “Quiet”, to more functional ones like my “Jog”, “Cleaning Lady”, or “Alto Part is Better”. (For this last one, you generally get female soprano vocals and me singing along in the car to the imaginary Alto part I make up in my head when NPR gets boring.) I also have “Guilty Pleasures” which includes some Meatloaf (I secretly love the songwriter Jim Steinman – tell no one!) and “Never Sick Of” (self-explanatory, of course). There’s also “Weird Al Inspirations” – for each song I have the original, then his version. I also have a whole folder of lists for my kids, some seasonal stuff, and the lists that Spotify publishes like “New Music Tuesday” that introduce you to new releases. I also subscribe to my friends’ lists and music-stalk them.
Then there’s the monthly lists… I have had monthly playlists running for back for years, even before Spotify was a thing. Remember Zune? Some songs return almost every month, earning them a place on the “Never Sick Of” list. At the start of each month I copy over from one month to the next only songs I am not tired of hearing. Then I go check into a few oldies, visit a few other genres, and perhaps put a few pieces that remind me of what I was doing that time of year, years ago. Hello, bad high school music. November 2014 is not my best work, but I’ll share it below anyway.
Then there is Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame”, which has been making the rotation for over two years, I think. Why so stuck in this song rut? Because you can hear the piano bench creak and the sax solo is so simple yet perfect and yes, Willie Nelso did it first but Tom’s voice gives you the roughened but tender side of the narrator who is just now realizing that he’s fallen for someone, and…Ok I’ll stop. It’s right here…
Tom Waits: “Picture in a Frame”
I have never laid hands on a Tom Waits album, and don’t I intend to. I feel absolutely no need to physically own this beautiful song. Nor do I need to own Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. What? It’s on the “Guilty Pleasures” list, and I know every last word of those 8 minutes and 30 seconds. A friend can post about a song on Facebook and I can immediately look it up and fall in love with it. I can pull up a song for my students instantaneously. “Hey Meg, do you have any Chinese music we can play for the kids?” Why, yes I do. Want to hear what Mahler’s 1st symphony or The White Stripes sound like? I can have them whenever I want them, and that’s the point. This may be old news to some, but I’m still having a total What-An-Age-We-Live-In moment. Artists who haven’t embraced the streaming movement haven’t gotten the point yet.
In general, Spotify and businesses like it are perfect for us annoying music consumers who adore one or two songs of an artists’ repertoire but can’t commit to saying, “I LOVE Tom Waits, I have all his music.” Have you heard anything else by Tom Waits? Little scary, some of it. However, Tom is still getting something every time “Picture” comes up on one of my lists. As he should.
So to be blunt, Taylor Swift, young and fresh as she may seem, needs to get with the times. Like it or not, something so wonderful can’t possibly be going away. Especially in light of the entertainment world moving towards TV and movie streaming. It’s here, and it’s staying. We are consumers who demand instant gratification, after all.
SO, Taylor, do these sound like the words of someone who does not value music? I would certainly pay more for this gift, if that’s necessary. It might help me cut back. Sometimes I’m basically a prettier version of John Cusack from High Fidelity, just making the perfect mix tape.
Now, to further bare my soul, here are some playlist snippets for you. You can scroll through the songs on the little widget here, but NO JUDGING ME – THIS IS A SAFE SPACE.
November 2014 List: Work in progress. Already I acknowledge the total absence of instrumentals on this list. I’ll get right on that.
Edit: I should not post after midnight. Can’t believe I didn’t share “Never Sick Of”. Tell Fitz and the Tantrums I’m very sorry, please.
And the “Guilty Pleasures” list. There’s actually much more to add here, too.
Comment below about how you get your music fix, and your thoughts about the industry’s direction. Or, your playlist. I always need new stuff to listen to!