Wednesday, September 16, 2009


In a month that's seen the Spotify app adoption go through the roof, it's interesting to note the pluses and minuses attached to what initially seemed a benign and liberating phenomenon. Already noted by my friend, the Estimable Bass Player here, the main problem for us lucky, lucky (ish ) early UK adopters is the strange reverse psychology of ad funding that's so annoying as to drive users to the subscription button. In past weeks they've quite obviously employed the same psychologists who felled Pinochet using music. The intense irritation factor seems to have gone off the scale, wherein twenty minutes of aural balm can be scrubbed clean away by some (usually) self-voiced ad by an 'artist' who, even if you were ambivalent about them beforehand, you'll probably hate after you've heard their lousy promo. Sigh...
But following a 'talk' (read: propaganda speech) from their UK Sales Director at my old place of employment, pre-their attempt to stump up the cash to launch in the US (has anyone noticed how, like showbiz acts in the 60s and 70s, you can only claim success in new media if you've 'cracked the States?), several things became clear:
1) The plucky Swedes peddle the same 'we all love music' schtick. While whole books could (and are) written about the way this post iTunes pick and choose/everything all the time attitude devalues and corodes ideas of taste, individuality or worth. Being deliberately snarky about how competitors such as the (still wonderful) are 'finished', highlighted the deficiencies of the model in terms of cultural worth. An app that allows a blanket fee to access millions of tracks while apeing their commercial download rivals' interface is akin to taking some great original ideas and squeezing revenue, rather than adding or furthering the industry of human happiness. Don't get me wrong, I use Spotify (esp at work) and it's a useful tool to share and point people at things they may have missed or love. But compare it to Last's genuinely peer-driven database which connects and recommends, or allows discussions and networks to be established. Charts? Stats?? New ways of approaching something which, in commercial terms began to look shaky ten years ago??!? No, Spotify just keeps on squeezing because , well, someone had to. Which is kinda grim...

2) Their attitude to artist rights is a tad 'swiss cheese', at least if you actually listen to any artist who's in the lucky position of owning their own rights, as opposed to letting their label handle them.

3) For 'deep' musicologists the database holds some real oddities, but also is as full of holes as it is surprises. And is it really helpful to put release dates as the date of reissue? No, it isn't.

In the end this is the test for Spotify. With little increase in take-up of subscriptions it appears that their model hangs on a knife edge. Wave free stuff at people and they won't thank you. They'll take it and leave as soon as something cleverer comes along. Too much too soon, maybe?


Peter said...

nice post. you is absolutely right. their data modelling is essentially a bit shit, but it is a v. difficult nut to crack ( have similar issues, but at least the community can have some input there). what really bugs me though is the financial implications for artists. i'd like to know if anyone's made any money from spotify hosting their music. i think it's about time the DCMS weighed in and made sure all streaming services dealt with PPL rather than forging their own label deals ( go through PPL). then at least there could be some consistency at work and then possibly slightly more than a cat's chance in hell of getting a couple of quid thrown at you once in a while.

but as you say, it's unlikely to be around too long. so let's cop those classic alan white licks while we can...ahem.

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