From Adele to Zeppelin: now that's what I call music overload

Sat, Nov 24, 2012, 00:00

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.

Highly recommended

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.

Yet, even when armed with these recommendations, there is still room for discontent. When you’re faced with endless choice, there is always a strong sense that something better is out there waiting for you to find it.

We’re about to enter the season when those who write about and talk about music highlight their albums of the year. Your trusted hip sources may well be urging you to check out 2012 releases by Miguel, Metz, Andy Stott, Dr John, Kendrick Lamar, John Talabot, Bat for Lashes, Merchandise, Adrian Crowley or Rebekka Karijord. Even if you trust the person recommending those releases, are you willing to stick with these albums until they stick with you? Or will you take the easier option of clicking, for the rest of your days, in search of an instant high or that perfect song or artist?

The old routine of selecting an album, investing time and money in it and sticking with it is over. Many albums were never as good as they sounded in the shop, or even lived up to the hype that caused you to pick them up in the first place, but there were plenty that revealed their charms only after many listens.

There are still music fans who will give an album the time the artist who produced it thinks it deserves, but mainstream fans will already have clicked away shortly after the second song has begun to play if the music fails to hook them. The fact that they now have millions of places to go in search of musical thrills makes breaking this new habit all the harder.

Three of the best Where to listen online

spotify.com

The go-to streaming service with more tracks than you will ever get around to listening to. Also see Deezer, which is sort of the French for Spotify.

hypem.com

Hype Machine’s excellent website keeps track of the acts and tunes music bloggers are covering and allows you to hear the highlighted tracks.

youtube.com

Music with pictures: why didn’t anyone else think of this first?

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