Access to the vast majority of recorded sound all in one database is definitely incredible, but it comes with a downside that people too quickly dismiss as a minor inconvenience - the commercials. While the commercials may seem trivial, they actually cause a significant detriment to the listening experience. There is a certain magic intended by the artist in listening to an entire album front to back, uninterrupted. In my opinion, this is the only way to listen to music, because any other way doesn’t provide the full experience. A few commercial interruptions take enough away from the intended experience for me to stop using Spotify to listen to albums altogether.
Spotify ruins the immersive album experience and distorts the traditional way we listen to music in general. Take Boards of Canada’s latest release, Tomorrow’s Harvest, for example. The duo is famous for meticulously crafting soundscapes evocative of landscapes - and their latest release is no different. Hearing a commercial during Tomorrow’s Harvest is like walking alone on the moon of an undiscovered planet, light-years away from society, only to look up to see a giant billboard advertising $1 Whopper Juniors. It’s a real bummer to be reminded of the world from which you’re trying to escape just as it starts to fade in the distance.
Artists put a lot of thought, energy, and creativity into what emotions they wish to conjure up for their listeners. When their music is streamed on Spotify, none of these emotions can be fully realized as they often compete with a lingering feeling frequent Spotify use can give you - anxiety. Towards the end of a song streaming on Spotify, I become so fixated on the anticipation of a commercial, and so anxious about whether or not the next song will play uninterrupted, that I subconsciously reject any other emotion that the song may intend for me to experience. The feeling is a lot like that of traveling through a cave in a Pokémon game without having used a repel beforehand. With each step comes the crippling anxiety of not knowing whether a wild Zubat will interrupt your journey or not. The only difference is that a Zubat is sort of cute and can evolve into the much superior Golbat, while Spotify commercials can only evolve you into a version of yourself with less money, less interest in the music you were listening to before, and an ugly dent in the mood you were trying to create with whatever music you put on.
Trying to give music listening a social platform by connecting Spotify to Facebook is truly a progressive concept. People identify with music and want other people to know what they’re listening to - this is why people have band shirts and record collections prominently displayed where they live. Back when I peaked in 8th-9th grade and girls would constantly add me on Myspace, I would determine if they were suitable mates in an instant by clicking on their pages and hearing their Myspace songs. If you were bumping NeverShoutNever, sorry girl. But if I clicked on your page and I heard some Shins or some OLD SCHOOL Jimmy Eat World, then hay mayb u got a comment on ur pic ;). This resonated with people because they were able to select what music they wanted others to think they were listening to, while they were then able to listen to whatever they truly wanted to in private.
Theproblem with Spotify is that there is no separation between the private and the public, which makes for self-conscious, inauthentic music listening. I’m sure people could argue that they are proud of what they listen to and are never ashamed of people seeing it, but the knowledge that whatever you listen to is going to be publicly broadcasted does affect what you choose to listen to - whether consciously or not. Music, once an experience that allowed us to reconnect with ourselves privately, has just become another charade that is used to reinforce the character we present ourselves to be to others. Maybe you really aren’t embarrassed by what you listen to, but the fact that you can never listen to it truly alone makes it almost impossible to create any sort of intimate bond with music.
The main problem that Spotify presents is that it takes sound that is produced in a traditional format, and distributes it in a non-traditional, modern way. This creates an imbalance and a dissonance that disturbs musical consumption and hinders listeners from reaching full potential enjoyment. People should listen to music in a way that compliments the manner in which it was produced. So, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with how Spotify makes us consume music, the problem arises when we are listening to music intended for an ad-free, singular listening experience. Until an artist comes out with music that is complimented by the way Spotify broadcasts music, I wouldn’t sacrifice the experience of listening for convenience.
Kevin O’Brien is a New Jersey native who is studying film production at Emerson College. He is a Pitchfork Historian, accomplished musician, and aspiring Internet celebrity. Girls love him, boys want to be him, you’re just jealous because he’s famous. You can find Kevin on Twitter (in fact, he insists you do).