Some Thoughts on Streaming Music

Streaming music encourages detachment from the music; ownership encourages investment. When you flit around from one album, one song to another, you experience the music as mere entertainment. But when you own music, you’ve invested money in your purchase, which causes you to invest time in it as well. Instead of seeing the music is ephemeral, it enters your life, and you listen to it to see how it can change your life.

You may not like the music you’ve bought enough for it to become important to you; you may never listen to it more than a couple of times. But you may like it well enough that you listen to it frequently, and it may become a touchstone in your life. You can refer back to it easily: either by flipping through your shelves of CDs, or LPs, or by scrolling through your iTunes library, looking at what you listen to most, or what you’ve listened to recently, or just looking at what’s there, allowing each album, each artist’s name, each album cover, to elicit memories. With streaming, you don’t have that history of what you listened to, what you’ve invested your time in. So an album you listen to today may be forgotten in a year’s time.

In the end, it all comes down to how important music is to your life. If music, for you, it’s just a soundtrack, just background music, then streaming music will provide you the variety that you might want. But if music is important to you, if it contains an essential life essence for you, then you need to own the music you listen to in order to get to its marrow.

13 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Streaming Music

  1. Interesting post. I’ve been using Spotify for about 18 months now, principally as an avenue for listening to albums to decide whether I want to buy them (either in physical format or as lossless download). I reckon I’ve had decreasing engagement with music as a physical product from vinyl to CD to download, though I enjoy collecting and listening to music. I can recall the circumstances in which I bought each of my 300+ vinyl albums. Not so for CDs!

    Actually in those 18 months my expenditure on music has soared, so from this listener’s perspective usage of Spotify benefits the artists/labels by far more than the money they earn from Spotify. I absolutely don’t see Spotify as a replacement for a music collection. Maybe that’s a function of my age!

    • But you’re using Spotify to preview music, then, with an eventual goal of buying what you like, rather than continuing to listen to it on Spotify, which you could do. So two things: you do buy what you really like, and you’re not like the average Spotify user who merely streams.

      • Yes, that’s right – I use Spotify to audition albums (and I listen to albums, not individual tracks). But I read so much criticism of Spotify users that assumes all Spotify users *only* stream music. I’ve not found a survey of users that addresses the diversity of use. I have seen a survey of file-sharing that said young people buy as much music as their disposable income allows, then they share files (much the same as home taping in my youth).

  2. You hit the nail on the head! I couldn’t have said it better.

    It’s most common to hear music in the background while doing something else. Some of us love it so much we spend some time focusing in it often with hifi headphones or through fancy speakers.

    I use streaming services and shazam as means to ID music that I want to explore but have not heard before. Works great except for the wallet!

  3. I take it that you’ve never used Google Play Music All Access. One thing is apparent from your editorial; all streaming music services are not created equal. None of the points you make apply to GPMAA. You should really try out a 30 trial, and see what you think. It’s not perfect, but I certainly don’t feel detached from what I’m listening to. It just make it easier for me to access the music I love.

  4. For decades, there have been plenty of people who only consumed music via radio; no record collection, just a handy radio with a constant stream of music they enjoyed. Streaming isn’t that much different. It’s just that streaming allows you to choose music “channels” that have fewer of your unfavorite songs. Oh, and “human playlist curation”? You mean DJs?

  5. I’m not sure I agree with you here… I’ve got a good collection on iTunes, but recently I’ve mostly listened to new stuff on Spotify (the Bach cantatas, most recently). Spotify allows me good selection, without having to buy stuff just to know what it’s like.

    So, there’s the preview function, but even though I earlier used to buy music on iTunes to listen on my phone, these days I mostly use Spotify on my phone, too, so there’s fewer reasons to buy things on iTunes. Especially as artists make buying their music so hard – I wanted to buy Automat’s new album, but the label doesn’t sell a download. Well, it’s on iTunes, so I suppose I’ll buy it there, but I’d like to buy directly from the label or the artist.

    Then again, I am eyeing the Gardiner cantata boxed set, so I’m not a completely lost cause.

    Also, in Spotify, I mostly listen to playlists I’ve built, so the music is almost as closely there as it would be in a physical CD shelf.

  6. When you own music, it is yours forever, whereas the availability of specific titles via streaming could evaporate at any time. With streaming, the cost to listen the music you love could be increased at the whim of the services or publishers. You have no control over the way your listening habits are monitored, stored and shared. Because you don’t own streaming music, you don’t have the same flexibility of sharing it with friends and family. When you die, it is not part of your estate.

    • I have yet to experience a loss of available music. I imagine that, if it ever did happen, I would have to purchase the music. However, I see no reason to act preemptively.

  7. Very helpful insight, Kirk. It’s like the difference between buying a post card and taking your own photo.

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