I've been playing around with Spotify this week. Download the program and you can stream a staggering amount of music for free. And it's completely legal. Some thoughts for the curious...
ADVERTS: So you have to pay 9.99 a month to go Ad-free, which seems a bit steep to me. I'm happy with the free version for now. The ads aren't any more or less intrusive/irritating than what you'd hear on most independent/pirate radio stations. Typically, listening to a full album will only be interupted once by a couple of ads somewhere in the middle. The 99p 'day pass' option could be useful if, say, you were throwing a party and wanted to prepare some suitable playlists. Hook the laptop up to an amplifier/speaker set-up for instant, ad-free soundtrack to your swanky dinner party. Guests can have fun picking tracks without getting their grubby little mitts on your beloved vinyl/CD collection.
CHOICE: Considering it's still at Beta stage, the choice of music is enormous. Obviously, if you're specifically looking for niche/marginal genres, you'll be very disappointed. Dubstep is only really represented by the Soul Jazz 'Box Of Dub' compilations and a few other bits here and there (my in-progress dubstep playlist here). Post-punk electronica is quite well represented due to involvement of Mute/Grey Area (a nice playlist I built here). Recent releases by Warp acts like Autechre, Squarepusher and Clark are available, but generally there's a lot of work to be done before electronica reaches an acceptable level of representation. Where Spotify excels is, naturally, the pop/rock area. Some big names like The Beatles and Pink Floyd aren't involved yet, whilst Elvis and the Stones are. Some 'classic' Left-field artists like Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Soft Machine are comprehensively covered, and krautrockers like Can, Faust and Neu! are also well-represented. Yet I can't find anything by
FUNCTIONALITY: Searching the site is pretty straightforward and especially helpful if you're not quite sure what you're trying to find. Type the word 'Donk' and you'll be quickly directed to Blackout Crew's "Put A Donk On It", type 'Sigor Ross' and you'll be asked if you mean 'Sigur Ros', etc. The ability to create playlists is useful and fun, though I think it would also be nice if there was a facility to build your own virtual 'collection' of favourite artists/albums, organised by genre/year or whatever. Perhaps that'll come later. Being able to share/modify your playlists with other users is useful too and could lead to fruitful collaborative efforts. Those who still prefer to buy their music elsewhere may still find Spotify a useful tool for previewing material and researching artist's catalogues. The speed of delivery is superb - the stream kicks-in almost instantaneously when you make a selection (it's as quick as playing mp3s on your media player) and I've had no system crashes yet.
ETHICS: Look, it's legal, okay? So everyone gets paid, right? And I don't need you giving me a fucking guilt trip cos it's not a 'real' format. I still love and maintain a hard-format collection and I think I'll always enjoy the act of searching for and acquiring vinyl records, though I rarely buy CDs these days. A big part of my motivation is tracking down music that hasn't been absorbed by digital formats - those forgotten remnants and curios of the 20th century that only exist in the analogue world. Plus vinyl is a joy to handle and drool over, you can smell it, and of course it sounds great providing you look after it, but there's the problem: the burden of ownership means you have to protect your investments. I've got some lovely, collectible records that I never play cos I'm too scared of ruining their condition. Sometimes I pull them out of the stack and have a good oggle at them, but then put them back unplayed. Sometimes I feel weighed-down by the responsibility of maintaining this wall of 12" cardboard and plastic that I've put all my adult life into ("my possessions - will the howling never end?!"). Sometimes I almost wish I owned nothing. And with Spotify you really don't own anything. You don't even have to worry about how much space your MP3s are taking up on the hard drive - the burden of ownership, maintenance and storage has been passed on. Yes, Spotify reduces music to a souless stream of zeros and ones, and renders proper sleeve art useless, but it sure takes a lot of the worry out of my listening experience. Inevitably, this is the way most passive music consumers will access sound in future; there will no longer be individual character-defining collections, just one gigantic all-encompassing stream; especially when it becomes possible to access this kind of service from mobile phones, in-car systems, etc. Only producers and djs will need more 'malleable' media. For the rest of us, resistance will constitute little more than an alternative, 'eccentric' lifestyle choice.