Monday, April 29, 2013

How Pandora and Spotify are Ruining Music

Today's topic has nothing to do with health, nor cows. Rather, it's concerning one of my other passions... music. I've always felt a special connection to music. It's not something that I can quite put into words, but the right music just has a way of speaking to my soul. It's been the one constant in my life that never fails to make me feel alive. To quote Stephen Jenkins of Third Eye Blind, "the four right chords can make me cry."

But despite my love for music, I've been unsure how I feel about the direction music is heading... with Pandora and Spotify leading the way, the modern internet culture is taking over the music industry. All of a sudden, for the first time ever, we have instant access to every song ever made. We have the ability to make a playlist based on our personal preferences, without even so much as a thought. These all seem like great things on the surface, but they just don't appeal to me.  Am I old fashioned?  Just resistant to change and new technology?  Maybe.  But there's something else going on here.

It was an article in the May 2013 issue of Esquire magazine, called "It's Getting Harder and Harder to Love a Song", that really clarified my thoughts on this. According to the author, Tom Junod, the internet music culture has changed the way we think about music, and as a result it's changing how we listen. He says, "I have resisted the subscription services because I fear that a diet of songs I don't have to decide upon will in reality be a diet of songs I don't have to engage with, and that music will slip from foreground into background. Whether you listen to music by stream or purchase, whether you listen to songs on Spotify or Sirius, finding new music in the digital universe isn't the problem. Listening is."

It's the classic double-edged sword of technology... with the development of the internet, and Google, and smartphones, we're more productive than ever.  But we have so much information at our fingertips, so much to keep us busy, that we have trouble focusing on one singular thing.  We don't experience music anymore.  We don't even listen to the whole song.  We have music ADD; with so many songs available to us, we can't even wait until the song is over to see what's next.  What happened to listening?  Relax. Calm down. Listen. Appreciate. Feel it.

I've been collecting music for most of my life, and especially over the past 10 years I've built up quite a library.  At present moment, I have 7,602 songs in my iTunes.  Some old, some new, some quite frankly that I've never even listened to.  But they're mine.  And that makes all the difference.

My music collection is the story of my life.  At any given moment, I could put my iTunes library on shuffle and instantly relive the emotions of my past.  It could be a song I used to listen to in the car with my mom as a child (James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend"), a song from an ex-girlfriend (Passion Pit's "Sleepyhead", the acoustic version)... I could be taken back to that moment my train arrived in Rome to meet up with my uncle while studying abroad (Dream Theater's "The Count of Tuscany"), that one rainy Sunday morning drive to work at New Britain General (Portugal. The Man's "Once Was One"), or that night my friends and I video recorded ourselves rocking it (Andrew W.K.'s "She is Beautiful").  And, unlike hearing these songs on Spotify, hearing them on my playlist feels like it's my creation.

My music is my life.  Each song is tied to an emotion, and it plays like my personal autobiography.  I wouldn't trade that for the world.

Having said that, Spotify and Pandora have their place.  I've used Pandora from time to time in social situations if I need some background music. And it's a great way to find new music. But no matter how personalized a computer playlist may pretend to be, it will never be as personal as my own.

More than anything else, I just hope that we as a society won't forget how to experience music, how to sit back and take it all in, how to let it take us over, how to forget about what's next and appreciate what is. But I'm not holding my breath...


  1. This post just made me want to have a serious jam session with Amy haha

  2. That's so true. I honestly can't recite all the lyrics to any song sung within the last 2-3 years. However, if you put on "lose yourself" or "all-star" I can sing every lyric w/ precise intonation. I paid so much more attention to the lyrics of music when I was younger - definitely need to get back to that.