The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Black Sky Thinking

Does Free Music Service Spotify Offer Hope For The Future?
Luke Turner , January 21st, 2009 14:44

Is record label-backed music streaming service Spotify the best response yet to the issue of illegal filesharing?

Add your comment »

For a few years now the music industry has been desperately scrambling for a business and distribution model that would go some way in persuading the panting stallion of illegal downloading/file sharing/torrenting to, if not get back behind the stable door, then at least to agree to stay in the nearby paddock. Thus far, there’s been little success, and the recent news that 95% of all online file transfers were illegal surely caused no small distress in the already vexed headquarters of the major labels.

Could new service Spotify, currently in an invite-only, beta phase, be the answer to their prayers? Spotify works not via file sharing or downloads, but by providing reasonable quality (around 160kb/s) streams of music via a simple to use interface not dissimilar to iTunes. You can listen to streams for free, with the occasional advert (about once every album, at my reckoning) funding a pool of revenue that then goes to recompense the labels and artists. Further revenue is generated via a membership scheme whereby, for a daily or monthly fee (99p and £9.99 respectively), the user avoids the advertisements and gains invite privileges.

I signed up last week, and since then have had a rare old time ploughing through bits of old back catalogue that I’ve missed, following recommended artist links, rediscovering records I’ve not listened to in years, or treating it as a try-before-you-by service – something that the struggling independent record shop sector would do well to work on embracing.

Spotify might lack the social networking aspect of last.fm, but this to me is a strength, rather than a weakness – especially for us users who doesn’t care two hoots about being more of an Animal Collective obsessive than username P4KsBumChum. The sort of refined gentleman who reads the Quietus eschews such showing off, content to gather his closest confidants together to discuss the works of Mayhem in his club over a port.

Yes, there are the occasional technical glitches and gaps in the catalogue, especially in the less-travelled parts of the musical landscape. This will no doubt be addressed as the service develops. You might complain about the adverts, but the monthly sign-up fee answers that. And anyway, there's something weirdly satisfying about Moira Stewart telling you to pay your tax halfway through an afternoon of Front 242.

Spotify works not merely because it is a carrot, rather than a stick. For the first time, record labels have understood that MP3s are ephemeral, unquantifiable things entirely divorced from the idea of the artefact that so many of us still cherish. You can feel no pride of ownership over an MP3, they merely take time to download and clutter up computer hard drives. Why download an MP3, legally or otherwise, when Spotify provides such a simple way of accessing and listening to it? You might argue that you can’t take Spotify with you on the daily commute, but there’s always fast-developing mobile phone technology to plug that gap.

It’s clear that the current rate of illegal file-sharing cannot be sustained. I’d like to think that most music fans see the need to contribute towards the music-making process if they’re to continue to see artists receive at least some recompense for their labours. Early indications are that Spotify might well be the what record labels, musicians and, most importantly, music fans have been waiting for, for so long. The hope is now that the take-up is not so fast as to impair functionality, and that some of those artists who've thus far said they won't allow their tracks to be featured realise that their ostrich approach is no longer viable, and get involved. Yes Metallica, yet again, we're talking to you.

badspelling badspelling
Jan 22, 2009 11:10am

hahaha... Moira Stewart. I know what you mean about that. She interrupted my Throbbing Gristle the other day. arf arf.

I am loving Spotify too, it's a revelation. I believe my current musical enthusiasm is down to the amount of stuff I've been able to check out recent. Great article - thanks Luke.

Right i'm off to check out some contemporary classical now... Hmmm... Nixon In China... interesting...

Reply to this Admin

Chris Jennings
Jan 22, 2009 12:22pm

It's not strictly invite only:
https://www.spotify.com/en/get-started/

Reply to this Admin

Samir Eskanda
Jan 22, 2009 12:24pm

Been using it for a few months now and banging on about it to anyone who'll listen. It's incredible: legal, free and fast. I agree entirely that it provides a model for the future.

"For the first time, record labels have understood that MP3s are ephemeral, unquantifiable things entirely divorced from the idea of the artefact that so many of us still cherish."

Spot on. Music is information, and this program is the best way to access it.

Reply to this Admin

adam lacey
Jan 22, 2009 12:37pm

It's not available in Ireland yet is it?

Reply to this Admin

The Schnack
Jan 22, 2009 1:11pm

Yeah pretty slick. If they can get this working on my iPhone then I'd consider it. I don't know, however, if people are not now so conditioned to the idea of "music = free" that even £10 a month will seem steep to them.

Reply to this Admin

jonny mugwump
Jan 22, 2009 1:41pm

i didn't know about this at all and it sounds really interesting- i'm going to check it out right now.

i'm also intrigued that from what's written here, moira stewart only seems to be intervening in industrial-flavoured music. what an awesome career move :)

Reply to this Admin

hobbes the tiger
Jan 22, 2009 3:28pm

"I’d like to think that most music fans see the need to contribute towards the music-making process if they’re to continue to see artists receive at least some recompense for their labours."

Yeah and I'd like to think that we could all live together in peace and harmony if only we'd put down the guns and give each other flowers.

It's not true though. 95% of music downloaders are filthy thieving bastards who would nick their Nan's walking stick if they thought they'd get away with it scot free.
Ahhh, safety in criminal numbers. It's a beautiful thing.

Reply to this Admin

Luke Turner
Jan 22, 2009 3:39pm

There has been some research done that suggests that people are perfectly willing to pay for music online, but can't be chuffed with iTunes and whatnot. Were it Edith Bowman doing the tax adverts and not Moira Stewart, I'd certainly cough up a tenner a month to use the service.

Reply to this Admin

Samir Eskanda
Jan 22, 2009 3:47pm

"I’d like to think that most music fans see the need to contribute towards the music-making process if they’re to continue to see artists receive at least some recompense for their labours."

I think you're right, people understand this... the only reason people steal music so profligately is because they're getting away with it... increased pressures on ISPs and viable alternatives (like Spotify) will inevitably bring an end to illegal downloading.

Reply to this Admin

hobbes the tiger
Jan 22, 2009 4:04pm

"only reason people steal music so profligately is because they're getting away with it"

Which is what I said.

"There has been some research done that suggests that people are perfectly willing to pay for music online, but can't be chuffed with iTunes and whatnot"

You could say anything in that case. I mean, you could say "I wouldn't bother nicking cars if I liked car dealerships."
It's still abject thievery, whichever way you look at it.

Reply to this Admin

Samir Eskanda
Jan 22, 2009 4:52pm

In reply to hobbes the tiger:

Agreed, stealing is stealing.

'Yeah and I'd like to think that we could all live together in peace and harmony if only we'd put down the guns and give each other flowers. It's not true though. '

would be a good start though don't you think?

Reply to this Admin

Pair O Sickles
Jan 23, 2009 2:46pm

"Were it Edith Bowman doing the tax adverts and not Moira Stewart, I'd certainly cough up a tenner a month to use the service."

You fancy Edith Bowman?!

Reply to this Admin

Luke Turner
Jan 23, 2009 3:58pm

No. I was saying I'd pay a tenner a month to not have her on. I like Moira.

Reply to this Admin

Amy Liptrot
Feb 6, 2009 3:07pm

Re: Mayhem/port. I think you will find that some ladies as well as gentlemen read the Quietus.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Feb 7, 2009 7:32pm

Amy: we're actually remorseful about this. We've been roundly bollocked by about three ladies each now; and one of them was one of our writers.

Luke likes port. I like Mayhem. We'll try not suggest that this place is like a gentleman's club in future. We would like it to be an open gender club where the bar to entry is actually stupidity and anyone regardless of sex can enjoy extreme Norwegian death metal and a glass of port (or if you're me, a strong mug of tea.) Cheers.

Reply to this Admin

Luke Turner
Feb 8, 2009 1:33am

As the 'chap' who wrote this piece I must admit I am surprised, and more than a little upset, at the hoo-ha that line seems to have created. I have been roundly chastised for it. In was actually written in a sense of self deprecation against the idea of a bunch of fellows sitting waffling on about music. As John says, we believe The Quietus is open to anyone, whether they choose to sup port, ale, v8 or Lady Gray or pure local authority water with their Mayhem, and the last thing we want is to be overrun by boys and their Pitchfork-approved, stolen MP3 collection rantings.

Reply to this Admin