Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Spotify is my latest serial obsession. I'm surprised I hadn't checked it out before now, but I guess I felt I had enough music and enough ways to explore new music already. Then a few weeks ago, my daughter sent me a Spotify playlist she thought I would like ("Upbeat Indie & Synthpop"), so I opened a free account, and I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike Pandora, Spotify lets you play just about any song or album anytime (at least on desktop PC/Mac apps and recently on tablets - smartphone apps still have some limitations). If you start playing Yes, you can keep listening to Yes if you like, not to a mix of artists similar to Yes (unless you want to do a radio-like thing). I soon found myself digging for long-lost albums, and pretty much everything is there. I was able to listen to "Tales of Topographic Oceans," a rather overblown 1973 Yes album I had not heard in maybe 30 years (some nice sounds, but that's about the right frequency for that album). I streamed from my iPad to my Apple TV so I could hear it on the living room stereo. Pretty sweet!

Like Pandora, the basic free account has commercials, and at first they didn't seem too frequent or obnoxious. But once I started to spend a lot more time making playlists and listening, I decided it would be nice to not have commercials, so about a week in, I signed up for a Premium account for $10 a month. This also has the nice benefit that you can download a large number of playlists for offline listening (something like 3,300 songs). This is nice for listening in airplanes and cars or wherever wifi isn't available (though it streams quite well in 3G or 4G on an iPhone 5).

So now I'm in spending hours discovering new and old music and building and listening to playlists (my own and others'). Apart from all the cool new music, it blows my mind how many albums and artists from my core interest areas I have missed. For example, Aimee Mann's "Bachelor No. 2" (2000) has been a favorite album for many years. Why did I never check out her previous album, "I'm With Stupid" (1995). It's amazing! And how did I miss so much cool music by Ry Cooder? Neil Young's live acoustic albums? David Lindley's "El Rayo-X?" I am also checking artists I have always wondered about, like Moby, Frank Zappa, the Kinks, the Smiths, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, and even David Bowie and Luther Vandross. Plus many long-lost albums and artists that I had on vinyl in the 60's through the 80's - Poco, Stephen Stills solo albums, Seals & Crofts, John Mayall, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and many more.

It's pretty much all out there (some 20 million songs). What is not out there? Well, the Beatles (of course I've got all their stuff). Bob Seger, AC/DC, Tool.  Pete Townshend's solo albums (I guess Pete is not happy with streaming services - all the Who albums are there, though). Led Zep was added recently (as were all three Bruce Irving albums!). There's more than I can really handle. I have one playlist called "Ultimate Deluxe Extras Albums" which is filled with boxed sets, deluxe versions, alternate takes, etc. You want "Bridge Over Troubled Water - Demo Take 6?" Got it! Some 1,300 tracks and counting. I have a wonderful old (~1996) book called the MusicHound Essential Album Guide that has helped me to identify some 5-star albums I have missed over the years. Most are on Spotify, though a few of the older ones are missing (for major artists, the older albums can often be found collected in box sets and other repackaged formats).

Is Spotify sustainable? Is it good for artists? I'm not sure, but it exists now, and as with every new entertainment technology, artists and the industry will have to learn to adjust. I heard that it doesn't pay very well (I read one quote from an artist who said he made $16 for a million streaming plays - I think this was Roger Waters of Pink Floyd), but it pays better than pirated music. I like to support artists and musicians (I'm a "recording artist" myself, though fortunately I'm not relying on the tiny income from my music sales), and I have bought tons of music over the years. One reason I decided to try it is that I found myself spending hundreds of dollars a year on mp3 albums, many of which I would listen to once (or maybe not even hear all the tracks, especially if I bought several new albums in close succession).

I still plan to try to buy some CD's or mp3 albums from artists I find myself listening to a lot, though with so much music to choose from, it's hard to see how I will listen "a lot" to anything. For now, it really doesn't seem to be a problem that I don't "own" the music on Spotify. I can pick what I want to hear, when I want to hear it, with no ads, and even take selected playlists offline on my laptop, iPhone, or iPad. I really like Spotify and I hope it continues and that it benefits artists as well as listeners.

Someday I do hope to return to blogging about space, science, and education. But as the profile says, whatever the obsession of the moment happens to be...