'The Spotify premium user is able to stream from a catalogue of over 30 million songs'DEEPANKERVERMA/PEXELS

The way that we listen to music is being revolutionised. No longer dominated by CDs or vinyl, the world of music consumption today is dominated by Spotify, Soundcloud and Apple music. In 2020, the Spotify premium user is able to stream from a catalogue of over 30 million songs, all merely a few keyboard-taps away from instant retrievability. Last year, it was reported that Spotify has 248 million users. Music ownership, as the prime way music is diffused through society, is dead. But what are the implications of this?

The unprecedented quantity of music we gain access to is undeniably great value for £9.99 a month

For one, artist loyalty feels less vital. Some of my friends don’t know the names behind their current favourite songs; I frequently save songs from an artist without bothering to explore the rest of their music. My dad’s puritanical approach to listening to albums (the whole way through, exactly in order, never skipping tracks) seems vastly outdated. Years of unwavering artist loyalty means that he owns every David Bowie album from 1971 to 1983 (unfortunately including Pin Ups) – and that’s a repeated theme for many more of his favourite artists. Today that seems out outmoded, foolish even. If you know that 70% of an album is going to be filler (as many are), why would you buy it?

Suddenly, the album is second fiddle to the playlist. Mixtapes, once described as ‘the most widely practiced American art form’, have been around since the 80s, but are now rendered obsolete in the wake of hordes of Spotify playlists. Songs are hand-picked by well-paid content creators and constantly updated. These playlists can make or break an artist today; if your song makes it onto a big one, you’re basically in. Unsurprisingly, they seem to favour the bigger artists. My Spotify homepage was inundated with images of Drake on the day that Scorpion came out because he was the cover photo for so many playlists.

The victors of the musical revolution are the big players: the Ed Sheerans, the Taylor Swifts (lest we forget how Swift pulled her music off Spotify in protest against the service in 2014, then put it all back on in 2017).  The victors are the record labels who back the international megastars and who can afford to fling money about to create sponsored content. The victors are the smaller artists who just about make it onto a well-liked playlist and get more streams, revenue and clout than they ever would otherwise.

The rise of streaming (in areas beyond music) means that the media we consume is less personal to us

But we shouldn’t forget that there are plenty of losers in this game. Although the rise of music streaming is said to have caused gross profit to rise in the industry, a disproportionate amount of money from Spotify goes to big artists. An individual artist’s revenue is directly related to the number of streams they get, and it’s thought that the top 10% of songs make up 99.2% of streams. That doesn’t leave much room for the minor league players, who are often forced to tour extensively to make enough money to live on. If you care about supporting smaller artists, it’s worth buying the albums of those you listen to a lot.

It’s annoying – and unsettling – that Spotify algorithms have evolved to the point where they can pick music I genuinely enjoy. Call it the gripes of an audiophile who is losing her edge, but I avoid listening to Daily Mix and Discover Weekly as far as possible, because the notion that a computer can predict my music taste distresses me (using software which constantly collects data on my listening habits definitely doesn’t help). I secretly worry that Spotify is conspiring to homogenise the world’s music taste. In the presence of the wealth of music that streaming services can offer though, maybe music nerds need to get over themselves.

‘Streambait’ pop is on the rise – a mix of faux-EDM drops, trap beats, hip hop-style vocals and easy-to-remember lyrics

But a more universal concern is that the rise of streaming (in areas beyond music) means that the media we consume is less personal to us. In the days where one had to build up their own record or CD collection, that collection was a glimpse of their inner self. It spoke as to which music they cared about enough to invest in and, in a way, illustrated a narrative of their life through the records they had bought over time. If you went to someone’s house and perused their records, it would reveal another facet to them. Now that we are no longer as committed to our ‘collection’ of music, what do our listening habits say about us?

Of course, the eminence of music streaming isn’t the first thing that’s had an impact on how we listen to music – the invention of vinyl let the album come into being, and today the viral power of TikTok is behind the rise to fame of many songs. Perhaps the most momentous consequence of the rise of streaming services, though, is they are changing how artists make songs. ‘Streambait’ pop is on the rise – a mix of faux-EDM drops, trap beats, hip hop-style vocals and easy-to-remember lyrics. The streambait song has little or no intro, and often jumps quickly into a chorus to avoid that pre-30-second-skip. If it’s skipped before then, the artist won’t get paid. Songs have become shorter, too – the average song length on the Billboard 100 is 20 seconds shorter than it was 5 years ago.


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Spotify is a good deal. The unprecedented quantity of music we gain access to is undeniably great value for £9.99 a month. It’s vital to support your favourite smaller artists by buying their albums though. Don’t give in to the algorithms too much – use online music publications to find new music too. Don’t let your taste be ruled by the big record companies. And always, most importantly, remember to put your Spotify on Private mode if you’re going to listen to the High School Musical 2 Soundtrack.

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