Do I really want Spotify? The Collector’s Dream and Nightmare.
Last week Spotify announced to launch in the U.S.. The heavily discussed service is now available in Finland, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK and now also the United States. My first reaction to it was, when will it finally launch in Germany (I know there are some workarounds but I am just too lazy for stuff like that)? It seems to be the music lover’s dream. But: Do I really want to use it? It also seems to be the collector’s nightmare and the final step away from the ultimate music collection.
In December 2010 Wired Magazine published an article on Spotify, claiming “Spotify Is the Coolest Music Service You Can’t Use”. The article gives a comprehensive overview of the offering and the issues the service has to fight to get legally accepted in different markets. For those who haven’t heard about Spotify: It is the full catalogue of music at your finger tips. An all-encompassing music library. The collector’s dream and nightmare at the same time.
It seems to be too good. I am a music addict for more than 20 years now and I have been following the digital music movement since Napster. For me as a consumer and music lover this development has a nostalgic twist to it. Back in my teen days there was one small record dealer in my home town. I visited him like three times a week. At that time it was the only place to browse for new music and check out the latest releases. Over the years I have built a quite impressive CD collection. Although I am proud of that, it had to completely make way for my digital library. When we moved into a new apartment two years ago, I decided to leave the CDs in the packing cases. Now they cover with dust in the basement. To some people this might be a banality. The disbelieving reactions by some friends and my brother proved this to be a big decision and a controversy step.
The thing is: Every collection, may it be music, films, books, magazines, even the stamps collection, are manifested in a haptic collection of physical things like CDs. To let go of this is the first step and hard for a gatherer. My CD collection became a MP3 collection which is now 10 times bigger then my original CD collection. Of course this is still my music collection, accurately organized with titles, covers, genres and release date. It is much easier and way more convenient in browsing and consuming. Still something seems to be missing. I really miss the times, when I was the first in my old record dealer’s store to get the new deftones record. After that I ran home to put the CD into the player and listen to the whole album while paging through the booklet, smelling the fresh print.
It is no surprise that vinyl is constantly growing while CDs are dying. The development is described in this Forbes article. “There used to be this anticipation when you bought a record. You’d take it back with you on the subway and rip open the packaging, and you couldn’t wait to get home and play it. That magic of anticipation has gone with downloading.”
“In April Panda Bear’s Tomboy sold 14,000 copies in its first week, with vinyl responsible for 37% of all sales–more than CD or digital.” “The reason we sell vinyl is that there will always be a market for it. The people in the crowd probably already downloaded the music anyway, and they’ll buy the record because of the big artwork and because it’s something you can hold on to.”
Yes, digital music has to some degree destroyed that intense experience of enjoying music. On the other hand, I would never give up my digital library anymore. Even vinyl lovers will not sacrifice the convenience and the extensiveness of their digital library. “The most successful formats in physical retail are the ones that come with a digital download.” Extensiveness and ubiquity – that is why Spotify is so tempting. “It fulfills the long-sought dream of a “celestial jukebox”—a service that makes every song always available, freely and legally.”
After CDs, Napster and iTunes, Spotify seems to be the next consequent step for the music collector. But a collection is also about ownership. Spotify takes ownership from you. It is not your MP3 collection any more. It is just an endless music library living in the cloud. Available for everyone. Shared through recommendations. It is the stage where every kind of content can be stored, streamed and consumed purely digitally without actually owning it. That is the collector’s dream and nightmare at the same time. You can consume anything all the time but you never really own it. While this way of consuming media content is becoming more and more mainstream, the good old analog ways of consuming music will always attract a niche following.
Do I really want to use Spotify? I really love my MP3 collection, as much as I loved my CD collection. So probably it is time to accept the fact, that as a music lover and gatherer you have to sacrifice ownership for ubiquitous and endless choice. Time to start a vinyl collection or just with something new to collect, something haptic, a new collector’s love, which allows browsing, collecting and owning – graphic novels.