Daniel Ek

Now I’m back­track­ing some­what. Almost.

I blow hot and cold on stream­ing services.

Hot: I love them. In par­tic­u­lar, Spo­tify (Pre­mium — not sure how one can use this with the poorly tar­geted adverts for Justin Bieber et al.) is per­son­ally indis­pens­able for a vari­ety of rea­sons. One of which is the inevitable ‘oh! what does that sound like?’ I do that a lot and I think many peo­ple do (accept­ing that just as many also use it sim­ply for back­ground noise — like radio).

I don’t use it for pure ‘dis­cov­ery’ though and I doubt many do — I’m not dri­ven to ‘check out’ sim­i­lar artist rec­om­men­da­tions ever really, mostly because what­ever algo­rithm is being used to chan­nel these to me is decid­edly bro­ken. It does not fol­low that because I like The Clash and Wire, I’m demo­graph­i­cally likely to enjoy 2012 Swedish Death Metal. And yet that’s the sort of thing I get if I let it. This part of the mech­a­nism remains as bro­ken as the iTunes Genius. Lis­ten­ing to Lit­tle Willie John doesn’t mean that I should be forced to endure, god help — any­one help — a ‘radio’ sta­tion filled with Reo Speed­wagon, Dire Straits and Boston. I was.

I men­tally assumed it was white noise com­ing through the wall from the Sin­ga­porean stu­dents next door (spend time in a CD store in Sin­ga­pore — they love this shite). Then I realised it was me. The Spo­tify pub­lic log­ging remains OFF. To live that down — how?

The apps to aid dis­cov­ery are mostly use­less. Pitch­fork? I don’t get most Amer­i­can bands. Never have. There — of course — are Amer­i­can bands I’ve lived and died for at times, but more or less the Amer­i­can bands I like are ones most mid­dle Amer­i­cans either don’t under­stand or have sim­ply never heard of. Ask Bubba what his favourite Tom Ver­laine (or even Ramones) album is and the returned stare will be naked.

And Amer­i­cans don’t get elec­tron­ica (the cur­rent rave-tasm explo­sion is really sta­dium hold yer lighters in a brand new lyrca top replac­ing the black Metal­lica T shirt — the nation was a decade late on punk too so let’s not give them too much credit here) at least not out­side the niches that pro­duced it and had to sell it in non-US mar­kets to get any traction.

Main­stream Amer­i­can hip-hop crept over over the fin­ish line alter­na­tively marked sell-by date and/or inno­v­a­tive some time in the late 1990s. I like the new Nas record as a record but it’s like get­ting worked up over the new Bill Haley album in the midst of the Dia­mond Dogs era. I lis­tened to it twice. Stream­ing does that.

Cold: which is why I don’t love stream­ing ser­vices. It’s a big­ger part of why I hate the democ­racy of the inter­net some days. I miss Berry Gordy, or Ahmet Erte­gun, or Chris Black­well telling me that Bob Mar­ley or Ray Charles or Smokey Robin­son is shit hot and mak­ing me love it. I don’t always want to ‘dis­cover’. Dic­tate to me. Not big com­pa­nies, but seat of pants taste fas­cists who say: lis­ten to Grace Jones, I dis­cov­ered her and she’s fuck­ing amaz­ing. She was.

I need a killer vision­ary or two to look up to. Not a ‘dis­cov­ery’ machine.

A few days back we were told that of the 650,000 Aps on Apple’s vaguely Stal­in­ist strip mall they call the App Store, 400,000 are never down­loaded. Not just not down­loaded very often, but never — zero — down­loaded. I’d like to see the fig­ures telling us how many more have only been down­loaded 10 or less times. I’m will­ing to bet that 400,000 fig­ure would be well over 500,000. Effec­tively if you are not part of, or anointed by, the com­bine that now con­trols the inter­web, and by Apple who con­trol the whole place­ment thing, you are utterly fucked.

Which of course is the prob­lem with the stum­bling Uni­ver­sal takeover of EMI — if it hap­pens it kills every­one else aside from Sony and arguably Warn­ers (although their time would inevitably be num­bered too under the new regime, no mat­ter how many bil­lion oli­garch bucks they have behind them). Mat­ter of time = Warn­ers are rooted too.

But I digress.

The big­ger prob­lem is that we also no longer have the time to live with records to learn to love them as we did. I lis­ten to music every day, I lis­ten to music all day, at home, on the move — it’s absolutely ubiq­ui­tous in my world.

And yet for all that the amount of new music I’m able to absorb is shrink­ing, most because I’m given so much. Stream­ing ser­vices, where I can pick and chose from mil­lions of tracks (although Spo­tify remains shitty in non-mainstream older indie, R&B and elec­tron­ica depth) means that I can get access to — and lis­ten to — a vast amount of music. Once or maybe twice.

Fancy the Neil Young Archive set? I did but balked at the silly cost. I’ve lis­tened to it now and it’s cool. Really, really cool. I may never lis­ten to it again. But it’s cool.

Today I’ve had a dozen albums, a few mix­tapes, a batch of new artists and a video or ten sug­gested to me, just by friends. On Face­book there are a squil­lion more. On Spo­tify I’ve got playlists queued and clas­sic albums lined up. I have, back in the real world, a bunch of loved albums I want to revisit des­per­ately and on top of that I have a non-trainspottery life which includes my wife, hang­ing with friends, a cou­ple of exhi­bi­tions, clean­ing the house and a walk in the park to fit in.

Really it’s fuck­ing insane.

Much of the time I’ll hear a song and think ‘like’. I mark it down as a tune I rate, to poten­tially love, and never lis­ten to it again. I have a hard drive full of this stuff. I find songs on my iTunes and they’re unplayed. What’s this, thinks I. Check­ing, I remem­ber being sent it, or find­ing it, and think­ing: damn! The rea­son it’s marked as unplayed is that I loved it for 2/3 of a play then moved on to the next ‘damn!’ song, never, ever to return.

This, of course, is not a new Spo­tify or stream­ing thing — it’s an inter­net thing and it hap­pened when Nap­ster said ‘here you go: enjoy the whole audio world’. We did. And now that the record com­pa­nies are catch­ing up with that ridicu­lous addic­tion to overkill, Spo­tify mul­ti­ples it. No longer do I need to hunt the tor­rents, to search Medi­afire or what­ever to find that obscure Arthur Alexan­der album. Hope­fully it’s there — legally.

As long as I know about it.

Sadly that’s where the increas­ingly pow­er­ful gate­keep­ers throt­tle it. There’s no democ­racy to dis­cover music. There is democ­racy to cre­ate now, any­one can do it with acces­si­ble tech­nol­ogy, but there it stops. Instead we have a sit­u­a­tion, which is being tight­ened annu­ally and is about to be hor­rif­i­cally esca­lated with the impend­ing arrival of mega-Universal, who will absolutely dom­i­nate every con­ceiv­able deliv­ery mech­a­nism with any pen­e­tra­tion thus ensur­ing that you only hear Uni­ver­sal and Sony releases, or ones that they have a pecu­niary inter­est in — pub­lish­ing included.

Right now, noth­ing appears on your iTunes front page unless it’s placed there by the 3 1/2 big con­tent owners.

So conun­drum: I either trust the cor­po­rate gate­keep­ers, in which case I have to accept that I’m offered almost noth­ing more than the care­fully con­trolled Top Twenty racks at Best Buy or HMV 0r their dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent. I’m to remain a robot buy­ing exactly what I’m told to buy and when.

Or I delve into the swamp and accept that I’m to be over­whelmed by a vast del­uge of music and — as above - we no longer have the time to live with records to learn to love them. So I don’t, I sim­ply move on to the next rec­om­mended track or album.

Which per­haps goes part of the way towards explain­ing this:

In the two decades since Nielsen Sound­scan started to keep track of U.S. album sales in 1991, the com­pany has seen the indus­try fold in half, dig­i­tal sales catch up to phys­i­cal, and vinyl mount a resur­gence. But until last week, they’d never seen old records out­sell new ones.

I can’t work it out.

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