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Spotify – Goodbye Music Business, Hello Starving Artist

Here is my rant for Music OMH about Spotify. I was sent a link to an ‘mp3 lovers’ message board discussing my rant, where a couple of people totally missed the humour and were confused at the contradiction that I could both love and hate something. They were under the impression that I wanted to stop Spotify or stop people listening to it. I don’t! My rant is written to amuse, entertain and to strike up discussion about the long term ramifications that Spotify may have in the near future. Like radiation, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect.

How brilliant is Spotify? I really can’t get enough of it. For the music fan it’s a gift from Heaven. But let’s face it – it’s the final nail in the coffin for the music business as we know it. Just Spotify logolike the biz shot itself in the foot by switching to a CD format (which could be copied in a way that made those ‘Home taping is killing music’ stickers seem quaint) now they are doing it again with Spotify and the likes.

So, I hear you cry, what’s the problem? Spotify say they are fighting the pirates by making music free to listen to. But instead of going on torrent sites and downloading music illegally (something that at least took a bit of effort), now you can go to a legal site which has kindly gathered everything in one place to download at leisure.

“But you can’t actually download the tracks on Spotify,” you say? Well, the fact is that anyone with half a brain can download anything which can be heard on one’s computer. Only today someone sent me a link for an application created specifically for downloading tracks from Spotify. Pirate Bay is considered illegal for ‘pointing’ people in the right direction to steal music (they don’t host any music files themselves) and yet Spotify, arguably and unintentionally, does pretty much the same thing, only it’s legal. Legal because Spotify has the blessing of the record companies. I bet Pirate Bay will get more people to buy CDs than Spotify.

But to tell you the truth this is all irrelevant. Just like people were brainwashed into thinking CDs (and even MP3s!) sound better than vinyl, so will people’s mindsets change thanks to Spotify. Ownership of music will become meaningless and people will no longer feel the need to possess something which is available free on tap to their laptop or mobile.

I love this idea from a Zen point of view but it really is ‘goodbye music business’ (may or may not be a good thing) and ‘hello starving young artist’. Declining sales will decline further. Psychologically, music will become even more devalued than the free CDs given away with magazines. True, the live experience of seeing your favourite band will live on but would some young whipper-snappers bother to press up 300 seven inches, or put tracks on iTunes, when no one buys music anymore? If they did it would only be to plug the gig and sell the t-shirt.

So why have the record companies allowed this to happen? I guess they haven’t looked ahead. They haven’t realised the implications of Spotify just like they were late to realise the power of iTunes and downloading tracks a few years back. Maybe that’s why they were so keen to jump on board. They get a nice cheque from Spotify for now and they will pay for it later. Only they won’t pay later. They will rape and pillage the last pennies and leave the battered corpse for someone else.

As for the artist – I doubt they will see much at all. Most people I spoke to weren’t even consulted about having their tracks put up. I certainly wasn’t consulted. I’m okay with my old tunes being there but I would be livid if a brand new album went up.

Perhaps record companies don’t want to be seen as old fashioned and fighting against progress. My cries of doom feel like The Church getting up in arms about the printing press and not wanting books falling into the hands of normal folk. Or the sheet music publishers when the gramophone record was invented. But both of these world changing things allowed a new business to thrive and artists a new outlet to make a living from. Will Spotify and other free music sites create these things?

We are living in the wild times of the Internet. Cowboy times. Orgy times! Last.fm, YouTube, Pirate Bay, music blogs. We’re living in paradise and it’s all for free. Copyright has lost any meaning and it’s one giant party. But we will suffer. Spotify wants to do movies next. When Hollywood is hit by all the free downloading it’s the interesting, independent films that will lose the funding. Money will only be splashed out on obvious crowd pleasers. Dumb movies. Quality will take a dive and only the bland will survive. In a world where entertainment is free it will become harder for the artists to make the things we are demanding for free. They’ll be too busy with their second jobs trying to make a living.

What’s the solution? Put old tracks up there by all means but let them wait six months before the brand new album appears. Just like you had to wait before a new movie came on TV or on DVD. If people want to hear it they can damn well go to a record shop and have a listen – and keep them in business by buying something while they are there. If that’s too old fashioned then listen to snippets on iTunes or Amazon. Why does everyone think it’s their right to hear before buying (which is fine) but in a way that requires absolutely no effort on their part? Spoonfed, pampered people. Go to a friend’s house and listen to it there… if you have a friend. Just make some effort. And remember to buy it if you like it!

Spotify is like having great sex available at a click of a button. But where’s the foreplay? Where’s the thrill of the chase? How long before great sex becomes so familiar it becomes average sex? You wouldn’t think too much choice would be a bad thing but Utopia could turn out to be a very dull place to live.

So as I sit here listening to the third Os Mutantes album on Spotify (which I was going to buy on Amazon), I await the new world. I was told downloading on iTunes would mean all sorts of interesting things would get in the charts. The charts sound pretty predictable to me. No crazy, weird stuff made in someone’s kitchen getting in. Those people were wrong in their predictions. I sure hope I’m wrong in mine. In the meantime I continue my love/hate affair with Spotify.