Saturday, February 7, 2015

Spotified Ambivalence

Something is lost and something is found. That's the way it goes, I guess. So I finally got on Spotify, and here's what occurred to me.

1. It's amazing to be able to listen to an artist's entire body of work at will. I had long been wondering about the singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne. I was a bit concerned that she might be a white blues singer. But while her voice can have bluesy tones, she actually covers the range of roots music from country to soul without sounding derivative. I found out all this one weekend on Spotify when I listened to her work over and over for a couple days. An immersive experience. Pretty cool. *

2. And it didn't cost a dime! I chose the free option with commercials, and since those are neatly kept to 30 second bursts, it wasn't bad at all. If you know there's a quick end to a commercial it's tolerable.

3. But this not costing a dime is pretty weird. I figure Shelby Lynne has worked her ass off and is talented to boot, so she deserves to get fairly paid for her music. But I've paid for music for fifty years, so it's ingrained. I have always liked paying for music because it felt like I was directly supporting the artist as well as signalling to myself my commitment to the music. Of course, I mostly listen to music made by artists who are at best "semi-popular," to use Robert Christgau's term, so I know that my dollars are making a difference in their lives. Consider it an implicit Kickstarter precursor. I really need to buy some Shelby Lynne, but an evil little voice whispers, "Dude, you know only chumps pay for music."

4. Plunking down cash for music increases the chance that I'll stick with the music. I can't tell you how many records I didn't initially like that I then returned to and ended up loving. Sometimes the "a ha" moment takes some time. Now, the reason I had purchased a record I didn't like in the first place is because I bought it solely on the basis of reviews. It's been a hobby and sport for me to buy records I haven't heard. Being able to research it and listen first online takes some of the fun out of it, but you won't get burned.

5. I still love the idea of building a collection. In other words, consciously building my knowledge of the music. Kind of like building my own playlist in slow motion over the years. I'm not really into other people's playlists. But I do enjoy listening to the radio, especially the morning jazz show on Harvard's WHRB. I like hearing what the kids are into, and letting them curate my experience that way. I know that in the pay version of Spotify you can build your collection. Not sure if the experience is the same.

6. I need to mention that though I listened to Shelby Lynne all weekend long, I have no idea who her musicians are. As a serious music listener I've always been very into knowing who's playing on stuff. It matters to me if it's Jim Keltner or Steve Gadd on drums. These are musicians' musicians. They do it for the music and not for the fame. I miss the old ritual of getting a new recording, putting it on, and reading the liner notes and credits while the music plays. You can learn a lot at AllMusic, but it's not the same. Maybe there's another way?

7. Speaking of AllMusic, searching (and researching) online is very different than doing it through print matter. I have these huge books of reviews that I love to browse. A couple weeks ago I pulled the Penguin Guide to Jazz off the shelf. That puppy is 1000 pages long. So I was physically flipping through the pages and noticed a big section on the reed man Dave Liebman. Basically I learned about all of his recordings right then and there. Browsing that way is actually more random than browsing online. The online experience is more personalized, which is its strength also its weakness.

Something is lost and something is found.

* There's probably already something newer than Spotify.

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