As Facebook is making a play for the music industry, commentators are speculating about how social media is affecting artists and music producers. Digby Pearson argues that social media is making music fans more fragmented, and that being a fan of an artist has gone from being about going to concerts to clicking “like” on Facebook. Vince Neilstein argues for social media in his article, claiming that social media has helped artists to reach more listeners (Source).
The arguments by Pearson and Neilstein are typical of the debate about music in a social media age. On the one side there are those who praise social media as a way to reach a larger audience. And on the other side there are those who think that social media belittles music by changing and simplifying the relationships between artists and fans. But reading Neilstein’s article made me think about another issue: how does the modern music industry, with Spotify as the main source of music for a lot of people, change our relationship to music as an art form? I have no answers to this question other than to reflect on how my own relationship to music has changed over the years.
The first music I can remember owning was a vinyl record by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, handed down to me from my father. Later, when my childhood bedroom was updated with a CD-player, most of the music I listened to was collections: movie soundtracks and rock- and pop collections. I never had a lot of music, and some of it was bad. But I listened to the music I had again and again, until I knew most of the songs by heart. And I appreciated every song, good or bad.
When I got my first computer at age 14, at a time of dial-up modems and a painfully slow internet connection, CD’s (and occasionally a floppy disk) with Mp3 files were traded amongst my friends. I remember having a collection of about 150 Mp3 files, including rock, rap, pop and some comedy songs. Just like with my earlier CD collection, I listen to these few songs so many times I can still remember the lyrics to many of them.
As internet speeds improved, and I discovered torrent sites, my music collection started to increase. For the first time I couldn’t listen to all my music in a day. I had to start organizing my files into folders. My collection of music, although not dramatically large, became something I had to manage. And even though all the music in the world was now easily obtainable, I built a carefully selected collection of music – I only wanted to have music I liked.
From my first vinyl record to my collection of less then legally obtained music, one thing was always true: I knew my music. I knew what music I had, what I liked and I knew some of it by heart. Today, I don’t own any vinyl records. My CD collection is very limited. And I don’t have a collection of downloaded Mp3-files, because I eventually grew up and wanted to get my music legally.
Today I have a Spotify subscription, and all the music in the world has never been so easily available to me. But what does that mean for my relationship to music? Unlike before, I no longer know my music. In stead of CD’s or folders with Mp3 files, I now have a collection of playlists on Spotify, many of which are labeled “something something – check out later”. Ironically, I felt more of an ownership of the music I previously downloaded from torrent sites. I at least had to work for that music – I had to battle sleazy ads for magic pills and dating sites, search for and find the right files, and risk getting a computer virus or a Scientology documentary instead of music (yeah, that really happened once).
On Spotify I don’t have to do anything. And everything is there. And yet, I never feel like there’s anything to listen to (talk about a first-world problem). There’s too much music to browse through, too much to feel any kind of ownership over. And Spotify is filter-bubbling me the same music suggestions all the time, so even when I do try finding something new, it’s still the same.
Of course I enjoy Spotify, and I’m not going to end my subscription anytime soon. But I can’t help feeling that, with the massive music library Spotify offers, something has been lost. And yes, I am spoiled – complaining about too much and too easy to find music. I guess if I have to find some sort of moral to this rambling, it’s that the more you have of something, the less it is worth.