The Spotify Debate: Six Essential Truths

We’re not going back to hard copies. Voguish as vinyl and cassettes currently are, the streaming genie is not going back in the lamp. Any criticism of Spotify that doesn’t involve consideration of how streaming content will work fairly in the future is dead on arrival.

As go recordings, so will go all other media. Right now, each industry is having its own growing pains with digital distribution, but ultimately, distinctions among industries are going to diminish. On the Internet, a “book” is just a collection of information that you read differently than an “album.” All content is moving into the cloud, and it’s going to become more and more difficult to discuss streaming music without also discussing streaming television and streaming text.

Case in point: the universal upfront-cost problem. A major objection being raised by Spotify’s discontents is that because Spotify’s current terms generate higher payouts (both per-play and total) for established artists, it’s hard for developing artists to fund recordings. This objection is a little disingenuous, because it’s not like up-and-coming bands were ever routinely getting fat advances to fund fancy studio shenanigans—but it does speak to the larger truth that in the online era, production companies are a weaker link in the creative cycle, so their profit margins have dropped and they are less able to serve their traditional function of fronting royalties to fund the costs of creating new work. It’s unclear where those funds will come from in the future of music, and that’s also an issue being faced by authors and filmmakers. Will Kickstarter be the future? Will the costs of creation drop so dramatically due to digital technology that artists can fund their own productions? Who knows?

Overall, the online era has vastly widened the gateway for new artists. Yes, new artists were better off in the old system…if they landed record contracts. If they didn’t, they were pretty much S.O.L. There’s a reason why the number of records released each year continues to increase, and the reason is that artists no longer require record contracts to record and distribute their music. That means there are a lot of new artists who are making jack squat, but lower barriers to entry mean that many, many more artists can make their music widely available and have meaningful—if not particularly remunerative—careers.

A pay-for-play differential could work, and will probably happen. Remember when the iTunes store first opened, and Apple swore all songs would always be the same price? Eventually they caved and allowed variable song-by-song pricing, and everybody basically went on about their business. I buy a $9.99 premium membership on Spotify, which means I pay roughly a penny per song-stream. It’s not hard to imagine Spotify getting away with charging twice that (look at what people are paying now for cable TV packages, for God’s sake), with Jay-Z tracks costing, say, three cents a play, and songs by indie artists costing, say, a penny a play. Artists could set their own prices, as they now do when selling their music through their own sites.

There needs to be centralization of some sort, or everyone loses. As more people get on Spotify, it becomes easier for artists and audiences to connect. Whether I want to listen to Pink Floyd or Peter Wolf Crier, I can do so using the same app. New bands can just say from the stage, “Hey, we’re [band name]. You can hear our record on Spotify.” Boom: a hundred people can add the band’s music to their playlists right there on the spot. If online streaming moves in the direction of a fragmented system rather than a consolidated system, it makes it harder to listen to music—and fewer people will. Is Spotify the best possible way to do that right now? Absolutely not, but it’s sure not the worst. If artists and streaming services can come to some reasonable agreements about technology and compensation, life can continue to get better for both bands and fans.

Jay Gabler

Best/realest tweets of the week, 12/22-12/29/12

What You Learn About a Girl from Her Sex Playlist on Spotify

No crunk, except for late-stage Kanye: While lots of girls gain exterior street cred by screen-saving their Spotify playlist when it plays Birdman, this one is secretly girly. Or she’s a Polish lingerie model.

It’s a string of indie bands: Celebrating a bunch of Arcade Fire in a row may indicate she paid savvy attention to the 2011 Grammys. OR, that she spent long hours in studio spaces during high school with other art students, revealing her own penchant and pent-up dreams for being a sketch artist, and correspondingly, her indefatigable boringness.

If She Calls Her Playlist “Sex”: She doesn’t understand Spotify’s privacy settings, AND/OR keeps a fancy white brassiere hanging in her bathroom.

If She Calls Her Playlist Something Fanciful and Covert, like “Stella’s Fancy Rainbow Shimmer Tunes”: She does understand Spotify’s privacy settings and frequently makes love without removing her pajama top.

“Call Me Maybe” is on it: You’ve bought shots for your best friend’s teenage sister, OR she’s like 40 and totally DTF.

The entire playlist is “Call Me Maybe” remixes: She is your best friend’s teenage sister, you sick goon.

She rocks Rufus Wainwright’s Version of “Hallelujah”: She won’t let you go down on her and may be “Christian.”

She rocks Jeff Buckley’s Version of “Hallelujah”: She probably got a minor in theater, slept with some guy who once almost got onto Warped Tour, throws a shaman’s tusk around her neck on Sundays, and might let you go down on her.

She rocks Leonard Cohen’s Version of “Hallelujah”: She will rob from you while you sleep. And totally let you go down on her.

Her playlist lacks Bob Dylan, the Stones, the Band, or Al Green: She probably has never gone a time in her life when going without deodorant seemed like a good idea, she loves vintage things but she doesn’t Pin them, and she has never stood in line for tickets which is good because she won’t love her record collection more than you, which is a serious concern in our post-Cusack world.

She listens to anything country: Let’s dispense with the whole “well is it OLD SCHOOL COUNTRY cuz like that could be cool” or whatever else is the other justification thing. This actually says more about you than her: you started the night debating whether you wanted the nice screen print T from Abercrombie your recently-ex-girlfriend wanted you to wear on the date before you dumped her at the county fair. Instead you go with a black button-down (untucked). Then you drank a 6-pack of Coors, walked two blocks to the nearest sports bar, hit on the blonde with the biggest tits, and then the haze of drunkness overtake. You don’t know what happened, but it’s six years later, she’s crying in the passenger seat of your pick-up, and she mentions both “our kids,” “you jerk,” and “I thought you loved me.” It’s also fairly likely that you are sleeping with the sorta-hot, just-out-of-high school hairdresser who is really into Jack White’s cover of “Love is Blindness” but who secretly makes fun of you to her friends, showing her the photos of your flaccid penis you text-messaged her last week. Or she just really likes the new, poppier Taylor Swift stuff, whatever.

Dunstan McGill

Social Media Psycho Killers

Craigslist Killer
Modus operandi: Lures you in with promise of $100 couch that may or may not have bed bugs.
Motive: Needs to satisfy sexual and murderous instincts built up from sitting on bed bugs couch alone watching Hoarders for the last three months.
Trademark: Portrayed as handsome go-getting blonde man in Lifetime movie.

LinkedIn Liquidator
Modus operandi: Schedules a meeting at Starbucks, and talks the whole time about how impressed he is with the way you’ve leveraged your synergy to utilize your maximum potential. When you’re checking your BlackBerry, slips cyanide into your skinny half-caf vanilla latte. When you start to have trouble breathing, he leans in close to your ear and whispers, “You’re about to be subtracted from my personal network.” Disappears into the crowd as you seize up and slump to the floor.
Motive: Blames his continuing unemployment on your failure to leave a recommendation on his profile.
Trademark: On his way out, passes by the breakfast-sandwich giveaway bowl and drops a business card that says, “MR. DEATH. Vice-President of Grim Reckoning, Hell LLC.”

Tumblr Traitor
Modus operandi: Stabs you repeatedly in the back, yelling with each plunge of the knife, “Reblog! Reblog! Reblog! Like! Like! Like! LIKE! LIKE!”
Motive: You downloaded and uploaded his photo of a cat in a hamster ball to your own blog instead of reblogging, and it got you featured on the Tumblr Radar.
Trademark: Takes photos of the killing and makes a GIF that he posts to

Spotify Slayer
Modus operandi: Waits until you are hypnotized into a relaxed brainwave state from your favorite “chill tune,” and then says, “Have you ever wondered…if you deserve to be alive?” Then a girl and boy in windpants and sweatbands crawl out of your computer, Ring-style, and strangle you with jump ropes.
Motive: Hating on the 99% who don’t give enough of a shit about Spotify to pay for premium subscriptions and think they can get away with listening to copyrighted material for free without dealing with ads.
Trademark: After you are killed, Spotify posts to your Facebook saying you just listened to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Goodreads Grenadier
Modus operandi: Throws a molotov cocktail through the window of your book nook.
Motive: After being rejected from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, plotted to travel the country killing every single person who gave a five-star review to Gilead.
Trademark: Dresses like Oskar Werner in Fahrenheit 451.

Pinterest Murderer
Modus operandi: Lures you into a backroom at Crate & Barrel to give you a sneak peek of the newest spring collection. Then they lock the door, revealing the back room is actually a dungeon. You must now Pin 4 Your Life, posting as many delicious cookie recipes as you can in five minutes. If they are not delicious or wacky enough (no savory surprises?), you get spray-painted pink and mortified into a house accessory.
Motive: Driven mad by unreasonably high bar set in life for how delicious the idea of a cookie recipe could be.
Trademark: Messy bun.

Instagram Executioner
Modus operandi: Leaps out from under your kitchen table with a shotgun while you’re taking a picture of your omelet and cries, “Let me filter that for you!”
Motive: Spent two years as a political prisoner in a remote Tibetan jail where he was starved to the point of death. Was allowed to use his laptop, but the only social network that the government didn’t block was Instagram. Went insane.
Trademark: Takes a photo of your blood-spattered corpse and posts it to your Instagram account with a Kelvin filter and the tag #GPOY.

Path Psycho
Modus operandi: Steals your address book info and then shows up at your house when you are doing one of your favorite things, like enjoying a peppermint mocha, and declares, “It’s time to freeze your moments. Prepare to be paused!” (Yeah, Path talks weird.)
Motive: Jealousy over your devotion and activity on other social networks. “Why not me!? Why not meeeee!?”
Trademark: Leaves a press release for Path’s upcoming collaboration with Nike, signed, “So ha.”

Google Plus Minus Man
Modus operandi: Kills himself.
Motive: Loneliness.
Trademark: Leaves a suicide note on his Google Plus profile. Weeks go by before anyone realizes he’s dead.

Becky Lang and Jay Gabler

Photo by Emerson Quinn (Creative Commons)