Opinion: Spotify and the aural plane of the unreal

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich is a sophomore news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

We are a generation that consumes media that don’t actually exist. Movies stream, books are files on a Kindle and records are just sounds that take up space on a hard drive. It’s part of the democratization of information: Anyone can access anything, and volume is virtually unlimited. The “cloud” is the next logical step in that evolution.

Things become even less “real” as files don’t even have to bother with storage units or tangible reality. In the cloud, files are saved over a network, typically the Internet, but it might as well be thin air.

Spotify is a music-streaming service whose gigantic catalog exists in a similar plane of nonexistence. A quick download and a few clicks are the only thing separating you from, say, Depeche Mode’s entire body of work, or Bob Dylan’s “Self Portrait” album, which probably would have been better off forgotten.

The service, which is free if you’re willing to deal with the William Gibson-y advertisements, has proven to be especially useful to me personally, as a budding audiophile too stupid to back up his files and too poor to pay someone to retrieve the 250 gigabytes of music on my recently wiped external hard drive.

But there is something difficult to reconcile about the service.

Vinyl purists have experienced a resurgence in recent years, with sales of the strange black disks higher than they’ve been in a decade. People who were alive and sentient when Tower Records was still a thing miss that phenomenon that occurred when you were forced to do a physical act in order to hear music — flip the record, turn the cassette, skip the CD, etc. It’s the difference between actively experiencing something and passively hearing it.

The ubiquity of file sharing and the very nature of MP3s allow for massive amounts of downloading; instead of going to a store and picking out a physical item, all it takes for a John Cusack via High Fidelity-esque collection is a number of clicks.

Now, with Spotify, music is even less of a commodity. You aren’t limited by the space on your hard drive; it’s just there, existing, waiting for you to listen. There is something noble about this: More art is available for more people to experience. Ultimately, I think that’s good for people and society as a whole.

The problem is that by having such a vast selection, and by only really existing as words on a screen and sounds from a speaker, there is a lot less room for listening and a lot more for just hearing.

I was 13 when I first heard Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation.” To this day it’s one of my favorite records, but when I first heard it, I hated it. There are a lot of noisy dissonant bits and lyrics that I didn’t understand. But I bought that CD with my own money, so I just kept listening to it until I realized it was incredible.

That won’t happen in the virtual world of Spotify. Anything that doesn’t hold immediate attention can be easily clicked away. The people and the art will suffer for that.