Ian Harris: Why I don’t believe in media socialism

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 - 5:26pm

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Spotify. Pandora. Apple Music. What do these things have in common? They are all music streaming services that have become all but omnipresent across the entertainment landscape. Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and the forthcoming Disney streaming service are gaining an ever larger foothold on the way we consume media. I try to avoid taking part in any of it. Oh sure, I mooch off my family’s Netflix account and occasionally log into my roommate’s HBO Go app on my laptop, but when it comes to music, for many years now, I have done what most of my friends are convinced is insane: I’ve remained firmly rooted in the past.

I have never had a Spotify account. Ditto for Pandora or Apple Music. When I was in middle school, I would occasionally dabble with Grooveshark, which to the ill-informed was kind of like a free Spotify before Spotify was a thing (it was also totally illegal and got shut down eventually), but I never made the jump to the trendier music platforms that have come to dominate our culture. There’s a very simple reason for this, the same one I give whenever I am questioned on this point by any of my understandably incredulous friends: I don’t believe in media socialism.

There’s an analogy I like to use whenever I end up on this particular soapbox. Imagine a world where there aren’t any bookstores. The only way you can read books is by going to a library. Now imagine that public libraries don’t exist. The only libraries that are around are ones privately funded and owned by corporations that have become increasingly stringent about giving the authors of those books the proper cut of the profits from their work. These authors have no choice but to go along with this system because if they don’t put their writing out through these privately owned libraries, then there will be no real way for them to get it out at all. That is the world that I believe we will soon be living in with regards to music.

What will I do if, say a decade from now, I decide I don’t agree with something that the Spotify company is doing, or, for whatever reason, I no longer want to pay for the service and decide to leave it? Suddenly, I no longer have access to any music from the past decade and a half of my life, having not purchased an album since around 2013. I already feel trapped in the technological prison of Apple. In the past two years, both my phone and laptop have broken and have required replacement, and both times I felt forced to pay a new Apple product even though I felt strongly that I was buying what was essentially an inferior product to what I had before (the lack of ports on the new MacBook Pro is especially detrimental to a film major’s lifestyle). I fear that many of us will soon end up in this same trap with music.

I still download songs (or albums from CDs I’ve purchased), load them onto my iPhone and manually choose what playlists and songs to listen to whenever I leave class or go for a run. Many have called me insane. I can only get away with this because I don’t listen to a lot of modern music, so it’s not like I’m constantly having to go out and buy the new Travis Scott or Kanye West album. Those people might be right. But I don’t think I’m entirely wrong either. Much and more has been written about how bad the move to streaming is for artists, and while it seemingly creates a more diverse marketplace, it also minimizes the number of outlets that new music can be successfully distributed through.

I’m a slow adapter. I still frequently use my external disc drive. I’m not at all opposed to purchasing DVDs or Blu-Rays of movies I intend to frequently re-watch. I never took much to e-readers or e-books and like to read front to back a copy of the New Yorker that comes to my door every week (thank you, Grandpa). Before I joined The Daily, I would always pick up a copy on my way up my dorm at the end of the day. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something about actually having a physical copy of a piece of entertainment or work of literature that helps me to connect with it. I find that screens create a distance between us and the material we are trying to engage with, or at least they do for me. That’s why I’m against media socialism. I live in fear of the idea that one day, the only place I will be able to find new music is by paying $10 a month to Spotify or, god forbid, giving even more money to Apple. So join me. Drag that song from your iTunes to your iPhone. Pop that CD into the player in the car. Bust out a cassette tape every now and then. You might find yourself rediscovering an old favorite, or finding new meaning a song you’ve heard a thousand times. You might also realize you haven’t been missing anything at all. In that case, no problem, I’m sure Spotify will have a few suggestions for you.