Gordon MacMillan, recently reported on Spotify’s new video commercials, that have been released onto You Tube. These attempt to capture the ‘concept’ of music, and interestingly seek to do so without a musical soundtrack.
The release of these provocative pieces, attempting to position Spotify conceptually at the centre of music consumption, has got me thinking about the development of musical listening over the last 50 years; and the impact of digital on how we perceive music – and in a broader context – content generally.
Like most people of my generation, I traditionally saw music as a possession – you would own music just as you would possess a pair of shoes, a bicycle or a book.
Spotify’s business model is about leasing rather than ownership. You can of course use the free Spotify service ( with ad’s) but its burgeoning business model relies on customers leasing or hiring content from the service. Premium customers can download music to listen to on a mobile device ; the content is however never owned – it is only available within the Spotify platform.
How did we get here? How did we change our perception of music, from a tangible possession to one that we either get free or are happy to borrow ?
In my view the stop/start era of free music heralded by Napster, went hand in hand with a downgrading in our valuation of owned music, as a content form.
The premise is this – because music is free, or at least considerably cheaper and more accessible than it was ; we can now access a wider range of content more easily. We can graze across artists and flit idly from one genre to another, whether it be video or audio content. If we do not initially like something, then we give up on it. In the days when we paid good money for an album, if at first it didn’t appear to be a classic – we stuck at it. Maybe it was a grower? We made the effort because we had invested time and money.
Music consumption in the 70’s was about ‘owning’ LP’s and Cassettes ; and then CD’s in the 80’s. The big LP format created possibilities associated with the record sleeve packaging – anyone remember the gatefold sleeves of the Yes albums of the 70’s?.Â Other examples of great album cover artwork from this period has entered the realm of iconography.
The singles market was huge – songs needed to achieve sales of around a million to get to the top of the charts and the success of a single release had a major impact on subsequent album sales. But it is a thing of the past – the list of best selling singles of all time, shows that only one in the top 20, hails from the 21st Century …. .
A contemporary of the LP – the cassette lacked the gravitas and impact of the long playing record but was more portable and durable. Although music cassettes had been around for a while (remember the 8 track cassette used in cars? ) the rise of the music cassette, was the start of a downward trend in our respect for physical modes of musical conveyance and eventually, for owned music itself.
The situation got worse with the advent of the Compact Disc which was heralded ( at least by the music industry) as a radical development in the deliverability of music content.
However the CD was not the beginning, but the end for existing forms of packaged music . As well as having to purchase new machines to play the things on, the discs were twice the price of the previous formats , were surrounded by technical issues, and lacked the tangible benefit of superior sound quality . The whole affair looked like an entirely self serving attempt at making money, even stretching to exploiting the music buying public.
Perfect timing then for Napster and it its contemporaries to provide a way for punters to avoid dealing directly with record labels altogether. Although this free music ‘revolution’ didn’t last, at least not in it’s initial unfettered form, it did change how we perceived music. As we learnt to feel comfortable with free or cheaper digitally compressed music, brands like Spotify, slipped into the gap.
And this is why Spotify is Twitter for Music. It allows you to sample bite sized chunks of content. You can roam over the service or click on links to find out more. You can follow individuals or respected brands to access recommended content or use amazon style references – ‘if you like that then you’ll like this….’
The sheer breadth of what’s available, married with an ease of access, allows one to listen to a wider range of music. This leads naturally to greater eclecticism, but means you do not have to put in the hard yards, to really get to ‘know’ a piece of music
Spotify is in tune with a digital world where we want stuff for free (or little cost) and want to know a little about a lot, not a lot about a little. This is the same trend which is damaging (some) newspapers – content channels that deal in depth rather than breadth.
Perhaps because it’s now so easy to get it , we don’t have the same level of respect for music as we used to. Certainly the transitory nature of contemporary music (and culture) manifested by the likes of X Factor, The Voice etc… further aids and abets this trend.
But wait….there is a positive knock on effect for music here. Apps like Songkick allow for a tremoundously easy connection between listening to music and seeing it live. You hear something new ( normally from a new album , so the band are likely to be touring) check out tour dates and book tickets.
The irony then, is that Spotify’s ‘tasting menu’ and Twitter-style, approach to music consumption is boosting live music. And this is exactly the revenue stream that musicians have come to rely on , following the collapse of the traditional retail music market.
And for all of us who love new and exciting music, we say a big Amen to that
Nick Hammond – Founder -The Digital Filter.