Spotify: Joy, Wariness

As their unbelievably happy video attests, Spotify is here:

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, reading about how this legal stream-all-the-music-you-want service is changing the face of music all over the world. So when I saw it was here I signed up for an invitation right away and got my “Step right up!” email in the next day or two.

I’m not going to go into all the features, because you can read about that elsewhere. Suffice it to say that it really is as easy as it sounds. I downloaded the program, logged in, searched “harry potter and the deathly hallows part 1” and instantly began streaming the soundtrack. (Part 2 isn’t up yet, as far as I can tell–but it’s on Grooveshark!) This morning I thought, “Oh! I haven’t bought the newest R.E.M. album yet! I’ll stream it now!” It’s going now, and I really love it.

Quick interlude: before I got married, I listened to music while falling asleep every once in a while–say, 2 nights a month. I would put on a CD, and I’d almost always be asleep before it ended. When I got my first mp3 player, I made awesome “fall asleep” playlists, because I love playlists. But I found that when I listened to the playlists, I would never actually fall asleep with them on. It wasn’t the headphones–when in college, I fell asleep plenty of times to Björk’s Vespertine through headphones.

I finally decided that I couldn’t sleep to the mp3s because there were too many of them. I always wondered, “What’s coming up next?” or I thought, “Oh, I don’t want to hear this one, so I’ll just skip it–there are dozens more!” That little bit of mental engagement kept me from sleep. I’ve nostalgically felt somewhat similar feelings about cassettes sometimes: when your friend makes you a mix tape, you get to know every song on that tape, because you don’t want to bother fast-forwarding to the songs you know you like. And in the meantime, you often begin to like the songs that you initially didn’t appreciate as much. With a mix CD, there’s nothing stopping you from plowing ahead. In both cases, there’s something about the bounty and ease of the new technology that had an unexpected, negative side-effect on the human element. (Call it the epistemology of the cassette, if you like words like that.)

Back to Spotify. Now that I have it, I hear this little, eager voice in my gut that moves from one possible future listen to the next, with somewhat alarming speed: “Oh! And I could listen to Paula Abdul later! And then Cyndi Lauper! And Depeche Mode! And The Cure! And Phish! Do they have live Phish? Live Pearl Jam? Live Death Cab? Rare Death Cab? Rare Smashing Pumpkins? Rare Björk? Club-remix Björk? Club-remix Delerium? Old-school Delerium?”

And on, and on, and on.

So while I’m excited at what Spotify can offer me, I’m wary about anything that makes me think so much about me and my wants, and allows me to fill those wants so easily, with no hesitation at all. I’m afraid that too much bounty puts me into a me-focused, jittery mindset that doesn’t include room for living within boundaries, or sleep. No, I’m not anti-Spotify. I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep using it for a long, long time. But I’m also trying to pay attention to subtle changes that new technologies want to make in me, and I want to be the one who decides which changes are allowed to happen.

Am I over-thinking this?



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8 responses to “Spotify: Joy, Wariness

  1. Not overthinking at all–I’ve found myself doing a lot of nostalgia listening with Spotify, listening to things I didn’t deem worthy to keep on the record shelf or on the harddrive. I’ve always come face to face with moments where I just stare at my screen unsure what to search for because there are too many choices. Or I’ll start a song, get a better idea and just skip to something else–five times in a row. I like Spotify a lot, but it is a bit unnerving.

  2. Erm, should read “I’ve ALSO come face to face…” not “always”.

  3. kstedman

    Thanks for backing up my gut feeling, James. As you can see with my list of artists, I’m clearly doing a lot of nostalgia-fishing too. And while there’s a lot of awesomeness to that, it’s a little scary, too.

    I also thought later about how I never felt this way about the old Lala service (which Apple bought), which let you listen to any track all the way through once for free. There was tons of freedom there–I was learning so much about so many albums that I wanted to hear!–but also a built-in restraint that somehow kept me from wanting, and wanting, and wanting.

  4. nselikoff

    I also agree – you are not overthinking this. It’s important to think about these things. I read an article recently – maybe in Wired? – about the effect of the preponderance of “ratings” on how we interact with the world. If we know there’s a crowdsourced rating of something – be it a song, a restaurant, a movie, etc – are we more likely to take on the opinion of the masses than to form our own opinion? We even have ratings for our ratings – “was this rating helpful?” I see similar themes in your post – more choices, more access, more instant gratification…

  5. Pingback: Solidifying Sound « Transmedia Me

  6. Mike

    So, 6 months later, how has it turned out for you? I’m in the same boat and am contemplating arbitrary limits on my own Spotify usage … But then again that seems silly.

    • kstedman

      Sorry to go so long without a reply, Mike! Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

      In short, I would say that I’ve continued to use and love Spotify in these 6 months, but less often than I expected.

      I think my usage has fallen generally into these categories:

      1. When I want a particular mood of music that I don’t have a lot of on the harddrive. Lately, that’s been ambient stuff like Brian Eno; I crank up Spotify, pick a random Eno album or someone who Spotify is “like” Eno, and then ignore the program.

      2. When I have ideas for crazy playlists. It’s been great to see a song (even in my physical music collections) that, say, has a color in its title, or is about “endings,” or has the same title as a Star Trek episode, and then have the immediate ability to open Spotify, search for that track, and add it to one of those (or other) playlists.

      3. When I hear about new music that I probably wouldn’t check out otherwise. These days, if I read a post from a friend about a band, I’ll often find the album in Spotify and save it to my playlist “Don’t forget to listen to this album later.” It helps me keep track of mental notes I made a long time ago.

      But it’s true I still have some doubts. I have days where I say, “Forget it! No more new music! I want to enjoy the music I already have, whether on the harddrive or somewhere else!”

      So I guess I’d say I’m more comfortable with Spotify, but I still don’t completely trust my comfort–or put differently, I don’t want to always be comfortable with it. Shrug?

      • Glad I’m not the only one who over-thinks this :). My current rule of thumb is similar to your #3 — I’m only using Spotify for experimentation. My “real” listening happens elsewhere. If I tried to do everything through Spotify, I think my brain would explode from all the choices.
        The paradox of choice…

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