“I have the world’s largest seashell collection. I keep it scattered on beaches all over the globe.”
–Steven Wright, the deadpan and philosophic comedian
I recently thought about this joke while reading about the the long-promised, yet still not U.S. available internet music service Spotify. The cloud. No need to collect songs, albums–anything. Everything can be stored on the ‘net. You no longer pay to own songs, records, movies, books etc.–you pay for access to all songs, records, movies, books etc. The goal for the business is to create a mechanism to retrieve that information that will maximize the number of paying customers.
As the creators of Spotify state: “To us, music is everything. Our dream is to have all the music in the world available instantly to everyone, wherever they are.”
The ultimate dream of music geeks like myself, right? Able to tune in any song you wanted, at any time. It’s a double edged sword. It will kill off many of the things I love about music, while simultaneously giving me more music than I could ever listen to.
1) Any individual piece of music will be devalued. When I buy a CD, I have to decide what to spend my money on. Is the new album a continuation of this band’s winning streak . . . or have they run out of ideas? Should I take a chance on a new band with good word of mouth? Should I instead go back and fill in the holes of my collection with the known back catalog of established groups? I have a vested interest in making the right decisions, since I am wagering my hard-earned dollar on the outcome. Those that pass the test take on a sheen. The CD takes a prized slot on my shelves, gets into heavy rotation on my stereo on in the car. With a 24/7 internet service, I risk nothing since I’m generally just paying a standard monthly subscription fee.
2) Remember when you stumbled across a new band and got to turn all your friends on to this newest wonder (and/or bore them to death with your endless proselytizing?) Now, any and all bands can be discovered at the turn of a dial. If anyone can discover any band at any time, no band really needs a champion.
3) No real need to read detailed reviews of new bands–either in magazines or online. Just dial ’em up and figure it out for yourself. But I liked reading reviews and figuring out whether the person knew what they were talking about. Often, the reviews would give a striking new interpretation or reference another artist that was an influence on the band that I had not heard of previously.
In the end, the Spotify model will probably win out–but I wonder what we will lose. Will we run into the paradox of choice? According to thinkers such as Barry Schwartz, consumers given too much choice become paralyzed–and often fall back onto a limited, yet understandable, sub-set of the entire smorgasbord. Thus, the promise of unlimited choice actually stifles wide-ranging choice.
As for me, I’m going home tonight to listen to my two latest CD purchases, from my friendly neighborhood indie record store Sound Garden: