By ELI JACE >
How I learned to stop worrying and trust streaming music.
A few weeks back I was gifted a spot on a friend’s Premium Family Spotify Plan. Streaming music wasn’t something I seriously considered until recently when I finally started using a Bluetooth speaker. Having this account has opened the overhead roof to a whole new head-spinning world of sound. My head is a top in motion on the floor as Sly & the Family Stone plays.
Logging on is alchemy. Most all the available music in the world sits perfectly catalogued, spelled, track-listed and plugged into the algorithm for all to hear. The Universal Jukebox is live. It’s goddamn bonkers to have instant access to so much music, so many genres and sub-genres, lost albums, experimental throwaways, side projects, one-off collaborations, live concerts, undiscovered legends, fads, soundtracks, remixes, EPs, singles, diss tracks — plus whichever unknown act you discover just because you like their name or album cover, or went down the rabbit hole and somehow ended up there.
Spotify’s algorithm, so far, has done a pretty decent job directing me towards music I’m interested in. But it’s not only that similar artists are suggested. Beyond that are an unending number of playlists from users, labels, musicians; and the Radio feature, which takes the song, album, or artist and creates a complete “radio station” based off it.
When it comes to music I have always been a completist --
— a blind worshipper to its thick current that runs through the room, and its physical form. For the bands at the top of my list, I make sure to get every release possible in some form. First was CDs. It’s a habit first employed when all of Led Zeppelin’s 8 studio albums, plus Coda, BBC Sessions, and The Song Remains The Same, were mine by 11. Going to Best Buy and scanning rows and rows of new compact discs every Tuesday was the highlight of any week. Those CDs still sit in my collection today in two 5-foot CD towers, empty jewel cases cracked and caked in dust. (The discs sit idle in a 200-disc-changer that still plays. Except there’s a piece of dust in the teeth of the gear that causes the track to skip around every few seconds.)
When our computers opened their lower jaws and we were able to rip the MP3 files off the discs every hard drive loaded up. I’d been a serial downloader since, maintaining a near-complete discography of all the favorites, and even some that aren’t. Then the iPod came along and all those loose files had a home. Keeping up with each technological shift has always been difficult.
-Now none of it matters a drip.
Any Joe P. Simp Regular can listen to the Japanese-only EPs and remixed singles that I’ve squirreled away from shoebox to shoebox for 25 years. Just sign up for an account, link up payment and slide your fat fingers across the screen. Jock Jams Live Aid Jamiroquai Motown Woodstock ’99 Aaliyah MTV Unplugged pre-Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac Lulu Big Band era Lil Peep Danzig Million Dollar Quartet Four Tet (and all corresponding aliases) Osees (and all corresponding aliases) Nu-Metal Boy Band Shoegaze K-Pop Grunge
I felt I had amassed a substantial enough collection over the years and didn’t see the immediate need to sign up for any streaming service. Another reason I resisted so long was the fear of a sudden buffering silence that hits mid-song because the Wi-Fi can’t make ends meet for that single moment. Nothing can ruin a song more, leaving you staring blankly in the room while your own nostrils whistle in silence. If it happens right at the emotional apex of a song, or just before a beat drop I’m liable to throw the device at a wall. But this can only be a minor new inconvenience of evolving technology. The needle jumping is the tape bunching is the CD skipping is the burned MP3 blasting white noise.
What the streaming phenomenon proves is the resilience of music, of songs, of emotion by way of melody and rhythm.
That all this music has been digitized, accessible and engrained into the cloud database gives me hope that it will live on for as long as humans should live on. Music will travel on the wing’s of technology’s progress.
For fans who only know streaming as the way to hear music I wonder about their lack of ownership to it and if that affects their fandom. Is everyone really just a fan of everything now? Will people still be identifiable by their musical tastes like the Goths, Emos, Punks and Metalheads? With so much to choose at the buffet it’s much easier to be a casual fan of all things than a diehard for one.
Spotify users can add me @elijace and @IMP. I’ve shared some old burned CD mixes I made in high school. The hours I spent collating these songs together, checking the integrity of their transitions, the fade-ins and -outs could have been spent on better, more practical things like gardening, or practicing plaster-casting found objects in the desert, but at least they’re digitized now and not just broken fragments underneath the car seat.