How I listen to music

This post was originally published on Medium and was part of Help Me Write.

There was a time when I didn’t see why anyone would want to pay for Spotify; why would anyone want to pay for music without owning it? A simple explanation by a friend opened my mind to the idea:

Instead of paying for music you’re paying for access to music. It’s a TV license but for music.

You don’t own all the TV shows you watch; if you stop paying your TV license you stop watching TV. The same logic applies to other subscription-based services. The same person suggested I buy myself a three month Spotify gift card and see how I get on and that’s now the same advice I give to others.

Before going further I want to clarify something: When I say ‘using Spotify’ I am referring to being a paying customer, and generally using it offline on a phone or at least in the environment you predominately listen to music as opposed to just looking up the odd song, which is how my Dad ‘uses Spotify’.

I’ve been a Spotify subscriber for a couple of years now and it has dramatically altered the way I listen to music in both a good and bad way.

Firstly, I listen to a lot more music now. It’s really effortless to chuck something in a playlist, keep Spotify open for a minute while it syncs, and be on my way out the door listening to it. I’ve discovered a lot more music, and listened to genres and artists I possibly wouldn’t have discovered (I don’t pirate music). If I bought all the music I’ve listened to I’d be much poorer, which perhaps implies I am supporting artists less (?).

I use monthly playlists; I add albums as I find out about them throughout the month and then when the month is up I make a new empty playlist. I only sync the last 2 months of playlists to my phone which means they contain pretty much the only music I can listen to at any time. I also star songs I like a lot, and all of those are synced to my phone. This is primarily to keep my space usage down (I buy the smallest iPhone) but also has interesting side effects: I don’t really have favourite albums, and I listen to very few tracks more than 2 months after I first hear them. I can’t recall names of tracks, albums, even artists. I know very few lyrics. I can usually recognise a melody again but I’ll rarely know who or what it is.

I get bored of music easily. I listen to my starred tracks repeatedly but that is more out of laziness when my new month playlist is fairly empty and I want to listen to something I know I’ll like. This is happening less and less as Spotify fleshes out its Discovery feature, making it super-simple to find new music at the start of each month (though their recommendation engine tends to keep you in the same musical circles). The concept of listening to the same playlist of a few hundred tracks over and over is very alien to me now.

Maybe this isn’t unusual, but my limited observations suggest otherwise. A colleague at work regularly puts the same playlist on the speakers. Most people I know have stagnant playlists on Spotify. My parents rarely change what’s on their iPods: if we visit their house we are guaranteed to listen to some Seth Lakeman, Oysterband, and maybe whatever young folk group they saw at the last festival they visited.

Are there parallels with other unlimited subscription services? Is this how we will consume media now; once? We play games once, watch films once, watch TV shows once. Or is that how it’s always been for most of that kind of media? Are there others who used to buy CDs the way I stream on Spotify? Is this less about subscription services and more about my behaviour and priorities? And is it a good or bad thing? I don’t have the answers, but I do love being able to listen to anything at any time and I’m excited for what it suggests the future of content consumption will be.

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