Spotify and such

I’ve been a little quiet/swamped with other things recently, but since my Radio Rambler Spotify playlists were mentioned in no less than the New York Times over the weekend, I thought I ought briefly to pop my head over the parapet.

Steve Smith (of Night after Night) wrote a lengthy introduction to the pros and cons of Spotify for the benefit of its many potential new users in the US. Here’s what he said about Radio Rambler:

[P]laylists assembled by other users have made me aware of recordings I didn’t even know existed. The day Spotify arrived in America, Tim Rutherford-Johnson, an English copy editor and new-music blogger, welcomed newcomers with a brilliant playlist devoted to contemporary-classical riches gleaned from Spotify, including an album of works by the Italian composer Fausto Romitelli promptly added to my to-purchase list.

There’s currently a debate raging on Twitter, across the blogs and in other such hot-headed places about the relative merits of Spotify. Interestingly, the conversation (so far as I’ve been aware of it) has been around its financial value for the artists, and its potential role in saving an ailing music industry. I’m slightly too young to remember the reception accorded to CDs when they first arrived, but I’m sure music-lovers weren’t couching their arguments against the new technology in such economic terms. And anyway, doesn’t this seem like a topsy-turvy way to evaluate a new service – how well it will perform economically, rather than how valuable it is as a consumer experience?

Look, Spotify probably isn’t the answer, or at least the final answer, to music sales and distribution in the online age. But solid-state media probably aren’t either, and, weirdly, MP3s seem even less so right now (who wants to spend their life synching their iTunes library between their phone, iPad and laptop?). There is a gigantic demand for streaming music services. Spotify and other similar applications provide a way of servicing that demand in a way that is both legal and generates revenue. It is the job of record companies to negotiate, on behalf of their artists, an appropriate balance of payments; but can the rest of us – like Steve – not just continue discovering what’s out there?


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