[Hype Hype Hooray] Spotify, You Beautiful Wench


Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

I was somewhere in the woods of southwest Washington, hiking a well-worn trail on a cool spring day. My iPod sat in my back pocket, headphones nestled into my ears, pumping the sweet sound of Foxygen to my brain. It was somewhere during their acclaimed single “Shuggie,” in the middle of one of the song’s sudden breakaway bridges, that the feeling overcame me. I was in love, I realized–in love with Spotify.

I hadn’t known the app long. I was in the midst of its two-day trial, a coy courtship meant to lead to a monthly subscription of their premium service. With the trial I got all the perks a premium user gets: instant streaming of almost any album ever made, ability to craft custom playlists, and the oh-so-important offline feature.

I took a break on a log, turned on alt-J’s “An Awesome Wave,” and sighed.

Back in high school, after MP3s swiftly subjugated the reign of CDs, I used to tell my friends “Just wait, something will come by someday and make MP3s obsolete.” They would scoff and say “Sure, but what could possibly be better than a digital music file?” nearly a decade later we have the answer: limitless streaming.

It’s pretty amazing when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We can now, at the touch of a screen, listen to almost any album ever made. The original iPods, which required the external purchase of music, are now nothing more than mausoleums for our dated goods. Who needs to acquire music when we can just have access to it all?

Spotify isn’t inventing the wheel here, it’s simply taking advantage of the inevitable change in technology and marketing it better than anyone else. And, oh, does it market it well.

After the two-day trial ends, I was demoted to the free Spotify service. My selective streaming was gone (on my iPod at least), as were my prized offline playlists. With the free version, I can only listen to “Spotfiy Radio,” which gives me half-assed playlists filled with ads–like Pandora, only so much worse.

Nervous, in withdrawal, I looked up Spotify premium to entertain the idea of paying for my precious streaming. The site offers you “a world of music,” and guarantees you can listen “wherever you are.” People of the past look up and say “Gladly! I’ll pay any price for such a fine opportunity!” But people of today, of the gloriously jaded future, shrug their shoulders in indifference. Staring at the $10 price tag I found myself doing the same. But why?

In circles of 21st century music lovers, there are inevitable discussions about paying for music. “It’s an incredible deal!” someone says of Spotify. “You get an unlimited jukebox in your pocket!” Sure, the argument goes, but remember when music was free? In that wild west at the turn of the century, when all of the world’s music hung like fruit from low branches? An endless supply of anything and everything, free for the taking? Remember the days?

It’s hard to forget. I remember bravely venturing into the world of torrents, only to come back bruised and beaten, a cease and desist letter in my university inbox. I made it out with nearly 100 gigs of music, but decided to never return. At that point the decision was black and white: pay full-price or go without music.

As people crowded the limbo between backwoods thievery and corporate greed, the need for a compromise grew. The deal struck between free-wheeling music fans and anxious record labels was a system in which fans could listen to anything they wanted–for a price. Following the marketing genius of Netflix, they gambled correctly on the idea that millions of people paying $10 a month for music would not only work, but would be profitable over time.

I sit here at home, staring at the computer, the cursor hovering over the green “Premium” button, knowing too well I won’t click it. I know it’s not much money. I know what I get for it. But something holds me back, some rogue teenage side of my mind that yells “FUCK the man!” and throws a flaming molotov cocktail in Spotify’s face. I was never much for the seedier side of music consumption, but there was something romantic in it all.

For a short decade, there were no rules. Everybody banded together to stick it to corporate music, and we damn near killed the industry in our wake. We inspired the ire of the FBI. There were raids, actual RAIDS, of peoples’ homes. Ordinary people faced million dollar lawsuits. And we grinned. We were the smirking face of anarchy, the unbeatable leviathan of a people united. We had the industry at its knees.

But everything’s changed. That world isn’t fashionable anymore. We’ve joined hands with our enemy for a more peaceful tomorrow. It’s sickeningly beautiful.

It doesn’t make me angry–I won’t take to the torrents in spite. After all, it’s not like we walked away with nothing. Let’s remember that as recently as the ’90s, we were paying $10 for a single album. The hive mind of the internet counter-offered with $0 PLUS access to all the music in the world. It was a gutsy play, but in the end it was worth it. After a decade of pointless fighting, Spotify has arrived as a welcoming diplomat, healing our wounds and moving boldly into the future.

A green banner catches my eye on the side of their website. “30 Day Free Trial,” it boasts. Now that’s what I call a compromise.

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