Saturday, April 04, 2009

Rebellious jukebox

I'm late to the digital table, I know, but I've finally gotten around to using Spotify this week. And I'm amazed. My jaw is still on the floor. The digital dream that all those Wired journalists have been touting for a decade, where all music ever made is available on-demand at no cost at all times, is 75% here.

I say 75%, and that's my entirely unscientific estimate based on a few days searching of Spotify, but most of what I've looked for has been available to stream instantly, on demand. Some of what's available is exactly what you'd expect from an online music service. Lily Allen. Amy Winehouse. Sam Sparro. Some of it has been a surprise. Alan Vega's Just A Million Dreams for example. Max Richter's oeuvre. ESG's output. Especially surprising (and welcome) is that an artist's singles are often included alongside albums, so you can listen to B-sides, remixes etc.

Of course, there are some obvious refuseniks, for the time being at least: Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are conspicuous by their absence. And while all the major labels are on board, and a fair few indies (Ninja Tune, 4AD, Mute and Rough Trade, for example), you may be unsurprised to learn that there's no Nurse With Wound, for example. Or any Jandek. And the database anomalies that bedevil any online music service are present and correct, so that anyone wanting to listen to (NY noise merchants) Swans may instead end up with a charming doo-wop group of the same name. Finally, users of the free service have to endure compulsory ads.

But these are minor gripes. Of more pressing concern is the likelihood of artist being adequately recompensed for their work through the service. I can't say whether this will happen. But with the record industry currently looking down the barrel of a gun, services like Spotify offer a model that at least allows users to access music digitally and gives artists an outside chance of payment for their work. In the meantime, Spotify is a bonanza for music lovers and you need to download it now.

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