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Round Table: How Has Spotify Changed The Way We Listen To Music?

Spotify_IconGuest post by Kyle Bylin of

Nowadays, we can simply search for an artist on Spotify and add their entire discography to our library. With a single click, we can listen to their songs and not have to wait for a download to complete. Rather than collect our favorite songs with diligent care, we capture them using the “like” button with pure ease.

We used to listen to music on our mobile devices in private. Now, we share our listening activities to Facebook and show our friends what songs we have playing right now, and if they want to, they can tune in and listen, too. Thus, rather than listen to music alone, we can now listen together.

And of course, we now listen to playlists over albums; unprecedented access to curation may displace the format.

How has Spotify changed the way we listen to music?

Paul Resnikoff, founder of Digital Music News (@digitalmusicnws):
The question will take years to really understand, if Spotify has years of a runway. The reason is that the first three million subscribers are going to be a lot different than the next three million: the newer people will probably be less engaged, less fanatical, etc. (assuming there's another 3 million...)

Bas Grasmayer, Head of Information Strategy at Dream Industries (@Spartz):
I don't think it's about Spotify necessarily. It's about on-demand streaming libraries in general. I think that trend's irreversible, even though a lot of business models based on that right now seem unsustainable.

Obviously instantaneous access has changed the way we listen to music compared to the age of vinyl (or CD, or it taking 30 minutes to download 1 MP3). Vinyl, even if you made a bad purchase, had a much higher intrinsic replay value. Now I don't listen to a release twice unless it's really, really, really good.

Refe Tuma, founder of Creative Deconstruction (@RefeUp):
Spotify better facilitates the kinds of listening and music discovery that have always existed. We have always discovered new music through recommendations, now we can act on those recommendations immediately. We have always had favorite artists that we like to listen to frequently, and others that we might only want to hear once or occasionally. Now we can pick and choose like never before. We have always shared music in various ways — certainly since the ability to create playlists has existed — now we can do it through just about any medium we prefer, across any distance, without any delay.

So has it changed how we listen? Not fundamentally, but it certainly has on a practical level.

Darren Hemmings, founder of Motive Unknown (@mr_trick):
As others have highlighted, I think referencing Spotify specifically is a bit misleading as it is simply the current #1 streaming service. MySpace was the #1 social network once, but its demise didn't spell the end for social networking as a concept; that just migrated over to Facebook and continued to evolve. The same goes for Spotify; yes it is dominant at present, but that position isn't assured indefinitely.

For me the biggest change is in the attributed value to an album as an art form. We can now access so many releases so immediately that an ADHD-like response is inevitable. That erodes the "repeat-play" factor to all but a key few albums and in some respects makes people less inclined to persevere with an album, which is a shame.

Kyle Bylin (@sidewinderfm):
Certainly, there are other companies in the sector in the US, and there are many more worldwide. But if you analyze Spotify in terms of behavioral shifts and technology adoption, it is clear that the service has changed the way we listen to and discover music more so than anyone else.

  • Last.FM pioneered scrobbling, but Spotify and Facebook are on track to made "social music" a social norm. 
  • Music URL and Play Button allow for frictionless music sharing inside and outside of the platform.
  • Shazam and Spotify enable us to identify songs and add them directly to our library.
  • Spotify apps provide us with unprecedented access to curated music and playlists.
  • Soundrop will likely reach more users with group-listening than Turntable.FM did.

Darren Hemmings (@mr_trick):
What you've outlined though is what most of those platforms (or certainly the more recent ones anyway) aspire to — not what they've achieved. Whether they've sufficiently penetrated popular culture is up for debate; personally I don't think so.

I have access to Spotify apps, Soundrop etc etc. Do I use them? No. They've not affected my discovery process whatsoever. Having it there isn't enough; its whether people actually use it — and despite the high numbers these platforms bat about (e.g. Last FM and their scrobbles), I think in real terms they've barely dented the way in which people consume or discover music. Which I realize contradicts my last post, but I've run out of space to expand on that. ;-)

Paul Resnikoff (@digitalmusicnws):
On a broader note, I've been thinking about how disruptive, or simply great and elegant, solutions really affect behavior. Sometimes, their effect is sudden and shocking, for example, Napster. But even with Napster, it took 10+ years for the devastating disruption to really occur. And even right now, there are billions still being made on CDs, there are still CDs you can buy in places like Walmart and Target (I've checked).

My point is that broad sweeping change takes a lot of time — it does happen, but I think there's this fantasy that on January 1st, 1916 everyone set their horse to pasture and hopped into a Model T. It didn't happen that way, and that's one of the biggest and most referenced disruptions of all time.

Kyle Bylin (@sidewinderfm):
My take is definitely idealistic, and in some ways, futuristic.

What I’ve outlined is, perhaps, what Spotify and its partners aspire to do, not what they’ve actually done; it’ll take us a long time to gauge their impact. And you’re correct: Access does not equal adoption. Without active user metrics, it’s difficult to tell if people are using Spotify apps.

As Paul suggests, behavioral change is hard, and often slow. In reality, subscription services have been around for a decade, and only now has Spotify risen above the water. Users decide what innovations become mainstream, not Spotify or anyone else for that matter. In many cases, the resulting user behaviors from a new feature are different than developers may have intended and imagined.

Bas Grasmayer (@Spartz):
Kind of reminds me of something Rick Falkvinge recently said about the legal side of all of this.

"Viewpoints of society change because people defending the obsolete viewpoint die out."

Anyway, the ramifications of always-available universal music libraries are huge. Not just for the music business, but for mankind — because music is culture.

Sometimes in the weekend, before getting out of bed, I watch some videos on YouTube and it's actually amazing that this is possible. An infinite amount of human creation, at our finger tips, before even getting out of bed!

Kyle Bylin (@sidewinderfm):
The reality is that music services change the way each of us consumes music differently, and that life experiences we bring into that equation will diverge drastically.

Generationally, my interactions with commercial radio, big box retail, and MTV are not unique to me, but how they influenced my behavior are. Today, kids are growing up in a different media environment and that could play a huge role in shaping their perception of music and listening habits.

As Paul suggests, how engaged with and interested in Spotify these users are will likely differ, too, along with the concepts that inform and organize their musical experiences.