Last week saw the fifth birthday of the popular music streaming service Spotify. This half-decade has seen radical changes in how we access music, with pay monthly streaming sites now becoming more favourable than downloading individual songs and albums.
In this time Spotify has rapidly developed. When it reached the UK in 2009 it was a small, free music database that few people had heard of, but by 2011 the service was so widely used that the amount of free music had to be limited and only those who paid a fee of £9.99 a month could fully enjoy all of Spotify’s benefits. Interestingly, this did not stunt the growth of the service but rather aided it. As of 2013, Spotify has more than 6 million monthly subscribers and over 24 million active users. The world is obviously very happy to pay for unlimited music.
When asked why they paid the £9.99 a month, my friends gave pretty similar answers: “it’s amazing because there’s unlimited music and no ads”, “you can get any song you can imagine and as many as you want for a tenner”, “there’s so much music on it, it’s a great way of discovering new bands”. These opinions all bear a frightening similarity to Spotify’s own manifesto: ‘let Spotify bring you the right music for every mood and moment’.
And therein lies the problem; the service promotes a passive attitude towards the enjoyment of music, a mentality first established by the invention of licensed radio stations. Spotify, however, adapts radio for the consumer by providing users with the power to pick and choose what they listen to and the ability to organise music through playlists. The attraction is understandable: users accumulate a personal music collection worth hundreds of pounds and gigabytes of storage with a mere click of their mouse, getting the music they want, when they want it. It’s the epitome of supply and demand.
This becomes a problem when the user’s power is taken away. Many overlook the fact that the music they listen to isn’t, in fact, theirs. ‘Starring’ your favourite song doesn’t mean you own it, nor does adding it to a playlist entitled ‘my favourite songs’. Naturally, users have received nasty shocks when the curtain of implied ownership slips. A quick trawl of the Spotify help forums shows many users have logged on to find up to 20GB of their music gone, all because they abused one of Spotify’s limits or broke one of their rules. Spotify giveth and Spotify taketh away.
Since the rise of the internet there have been many music streaming services: Napster, Rdio, Rhapsody, Pandora, to name a few. Spotify is not the first, nor will it be the last.
As a music lover myself, I worry about the impermanence of the service, especially as millions of people depend on it as their only source of music. With reports of increasing licensing fees and failure to make a decent profit margin, anything could happen to Spotify in the next five years. It’s time to take an active role in music streaming that ensures our music can not be taken away, as otherwise that £9.99 a month was all for nothing.