Ian Harris: My conversion to Spotify

Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 5:15pm

Ian Harris

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For as long as music streaming services have existed, I have resisted the call to join them. I’ve argued with friends, family and in this column that streaming music is bad for artists, bad for the consumer and bad for listening. In many a long car ride I’ve ranted against what I call “media socialism”: the idea that no individual should purchase songs or movies and instead should subscribe to an ever growing number of media streaming services. The whole thing has always made me uncomfortable and left me imagining a 1984-esque dystopian future in which there are only a few conglomerates with sole control over the distribution of all media. It would be as if there were no copies of books outside of libraries, and all of the libraries were privatized. That future could still come to pass and still scares me. But after two back to back road trips with friends in which Spotify was used almost constantly to recall practically any song one could think of, I began to feel, at long last, the allure of the music streaming service.

The truth is that sticking to my archaic ritual of manually dragging songs from my iTunes library to my iPhone like it was 2006 has become less and less feasible as time has gone on. This summer Apple announced that they were planning to phase out iTunes entirely and while this news shocked me at first, when I looked around and realized I was literally the only person I knew who still used the application, it began to make a bit more sense.

Faced with the death of iTunes and the increasing feeling that I was depriving myself of quality listening time by having to look up songs on YouTube and listen to ear-splitting YouTube ads while biking around campus, I began to think that joining Spotify might not be the worst decision I’d ever make. Why had I fought against it all these years? Was it really because I hated “media socialism?” I’d had a Netflix account all these years, hadn’t I? It’s not like I was buying every song I listened to, I was ripping them from CDs or YouTube videos. I was nothing more than a stubborn hypocrite, too lazy to switch from my old ways and too stubborn to admit I was wrong once I’d committed to the “media socialism” bit. I stuck it out with my archaic ways out of nothing less than ignorance. All these years I’d deprived myself of the ability to listen to whatever music I wanted, whenever I wanted. And at a student price of 4.99 a month with Hulu included? I must have been truly insane to not sign up the day I decided to come to Michigan.

So I did it. I got Spotify. I’m one of you now. I’ve given in to media socialism and allowed myself to become just another person in the crowd. And within just a few short weeks I’ve found myself wondering how I ever lived without it. To think that I was once concerned with storage space on my iPhone and whether or not new updates to iTunes would mess up my sync settings. I mean, Spotify has practically every song ever. It’s actually insane. It’s amazing what the human brain can compartmentalize and twist to suit its own purposes. For years whenever I heard of Spotify my first thought was just “oh, I don’t use that,” and I never once considered why I didn’t use it, what I was missing or if I was making a big mistake. But I’ve changed. I’ve fully converted to the church of Spotify, and never again will I irritate my cousins, friends or club members by insisting that physical media is the only true path.

And yet there is still something. A vague discomfort that I barely acknowledge, save in that liminal space between waking and sleeping. Perhaps my intuitions were correct, perhaps Spotify is in fact the work of the corporate devil, designed to entice and entrap. Or perhaps I’ve simply spent so long decrying it that I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance now that I’ve joined. I listened to Spotify the entire time I wrote this article. They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. They also say that human beings struggle to choose when faced with a multitude of choices. In this new media landscape, where any song, film, or television episode ever made is accessible to us at every minute and every moment of every day, do we still appreciate art the way we once did? In gaining access to everything, have we lost something along the way? I wonder about this, and so many other things, and then I go ahead and add a few more songs to my queue.