From Adele to Zeppelin: now that's what I call music overload
The Irish launch of the music-streaming service Spotify is significant, but the CD hasn’t gone away
The choice is yours. And, when it comes to music, there’s a lot more of it than there used to be. The recent official Irish launch of Spotify, the on-demand streaming service, means you can access millions of tracks on your computer or mobile device with just a click.
But choice extends far beyond Spotify. Not only is there a plethora of readily available streaming services, such as Deezer and Eircom Music Hub, that offer similar levels of choice, but the established ways of listening to music are still firmly in situ.
We haven’t waved goodbye to the CD, for example. Digital downloads accounted for 50.3 per cent of music sales in the US last year, but that leaves 49.7 per cent for physical formats. (The Irish record-company trade association, Irma, says the Irish statistics are available only to Irma members.) Add the numbers who still buy and listen to vinyl, and the diehards who stick with cassettes, and you have a landscape of choice when it comes to how to listen to music.
As well as this growth, the amount of music has also mushroomed in recent years. It’s not just about the number of new acts that emerge every year: where once you had “lost” albums or “undiscovered” artists, even the unlikeliest of these cult acts now lives forever in the long tail of a streaming service near you.
Reading that Spotify has 17 million tracks on tap is a bit like hearing how much money was sunk into Anglo Irish Bank, as it seems so outlandish: 17 million tracks equals how many CDs? This huge number explains why many music fans are wondering where to go when faced with the infinite choice that a streaming service seems to offer.
It is understandable that people stick with the acts they know, check out some of the if-you-like-that-try-this options or look at what the service is recommending, bearing in mind that recommendations are often based on the releases the major labels are promoting. But beyond these safety nets, where do they go? You can discount the charts as a reliable barometer of stuff to check out. The sales slump of recent years, preceded by the collapse in trust caused by all those straight-in-at-number-one marketing hits in the 1990s, means few really know or care about what’s selling well. There’s talk of changing the chart system to reflect those listening via streams, but this is a recipe for cynical manipulation by interested parties. It’s time to consign those charts to history, along with Top of the Pops.
But streaming services are very good news for people in the business of providing filters and recommendations. Although there was a strong belief that the growth of the internet would mean an end to the importance of such editing systems, the sheer width and depth of what’s on offer mean filters and curators are now more crucial than ever. It may not be as hierarchical or as top-down as in the past, but it still exists. Be it a music blogger, an online radio channel or even the mate who had the best musical taste of your gang, these trusted recommendations provide a path through the choice.