Guest post by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs.
I've had Spotify for exactly one year.
When I first started using Spotify, it sparked an emotion that I hadn't felt since I encountered Audiogalaxy, an early file sharing client, for the first time. I sought out all the music I could think of, amassing a library of 3,901 songs and 848 albums. This is almost nothing compared to the amount of music I used to have, but it felt so exhilarating to collect and curate songs for a library again.
For whatever reason, I’ve never taken the time or sensed the urgency to rebuild my library after I'd lost it. The great irony, of course, is that I didn’t lose my library. Someone stole my iPod, which had a bunch of songs that I never paid for. I bought a brand new one and filled it back up with music from my hard drive, but I ran it through the washing machine days later. Then I believe the hard drive stopped working soon after, leaving me with nothing but a stack of CDs (over 250, that I did pay for) and a few folders of torrented MP3s.
By this point, I had moved to the Twin Cities to start college. Between losing two iPods and an entire hard drive of music, I stopped caring and lost ambition.
When I began writing for Hypebot, I grew introspective and curious, almost like a student who takes up psychology to learn about why they feel so screwed up inside. I asked questions and searched for answers, and thankfully many smart people like John Palfrey and Urs Gasser (Born Digital), Greg Kot (Ripped), and Barry Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice) offered insight and perspective.
But I now struggle with this question: Why don’t I love Spotify?
I’m a paying subscriber, but I never listen to any of the music in my library or open the mobile app. I mostly use Soundrop, a group-listening app, because it has just enough control and serendipity to keep me interested. I pay ten dollars a month, I think, for the privilege of listening to music without ads and for better sound quality. But I don’t access my music, as I hoped, or discover any either.
This isn’t Spotify’s fault though—it’s mine. First off, I never put time and effort into my library or created playlists. Secondly, I still listen to a lot of music on Pandora, in part because I’ve already invested so much time into my custom stations, and I also enjoy newer services like 8tracks, exfm, and Songza.
Every time I listen to music on my smartphone, I open the first app that will entertain me, rather than click on Spotify, where I’ll need to make a decision.
The truth is that Spotify takes a lot of work. There are no shortcuts. You actually have to labor away; sifting through and listening to a lot of “bad” music to discover and hear great music. This is significant, because the digital revolution and the iPod were always paired with the rhetoric of self-empowerment and individual control. As it turns out, however, music listeners may not actually want these things, because it takes a lot of time and effort to discover music, build a library, create playlists, and decide what song to play next.
The relevance of Spotify as a so-called “music platform” depends on their ability to get listeners to come back and use the service every day like Apple or Facebook. But no one gets to become a platform by opening their doors to third party developers and releasing a bunch of “innovative” apps. Spotify now boasts over forty apps, but most of them fail to leverage your library and exist in a silo apart from it. When you like a song in an app, it falls into the cracks of your library, likely to never be heard again. Spotify makes zero effort to expose you to the song again; it pushes the work of discovering and utilizing this music on you. Either you listen to the song again—or you don’t. It's disheartening.
Perhaps, my labor didn't lead to love, because Spotify asks for too much.