1000s of albums, but only one pair of ears!
So, I discovered Spotify … then what happened?
I stopped blogging, for a start. You may have noticed. Or not. I also pretty much stopped listening to music for two days.
I think I got a bit overwhelmed by having such an incredible amount of exciting music at my fingertips, and the knowledge that I could seek out an infinity of new bands without it costing me a penny. It’s the audio equivalent of ‘Blockbuster Blindness’, that unfortunate condition that afflicts me every time I walk into a video store in search of cinematic entertainment. Left to my own devices I could probably think of five or six movies at any one time that I’d like to see, but stick me amidst all those stacks of DVDs and blu rays and I instantly cease to function.
Choice is a wonderful thing for sure, but it can also be quite tiring.
I guess we all approach the challenge of choice in different ways.
The other day a friend told me she’d taken the plunge and activated itunes genius, and she was getting frustrated with it. When I showed her how to use it to create playlists from her current library she was confused and not the least bit impressed. “But I’ve already got that music, why should I be interested in that? I want it to tell me what else I should listen to, based on what I like.” she countered. A fair point, but that was far from my motivation for using genius, as I’ve already explained in a previous post. I always saw the genius sidebar as a necessary evil, an irritating by-product you could thankfully hide in a corner. For that reason I’d never actually seen it until she showed me.
This got me to thinking about the different methods we employ to discover and purchase new music.
For me, I think it’s all about the three Rs.
- Roadtests (from now on, thanks to Spotify)
I find reviews can be useful, especially after years of reading between the lines and applying my own sense and judgement to cut through the hyperbole to ensure I don’t get hoodwinked into buying a duffer. Working in a marketing and PR environment I am naturally wary of taking things at face value or getting caught up in the hype. I mainly read reviews in Q magazine and The Word magazine – after a while you get used to which reviewers you trust; who seem to like the same type of music or appreciate the same musical values. Reviewing is quite a skill: if you don’t believe me, give it a try. Take an album you really like and try and evaluate it in an entertaining way in 300-500 words and not cringe when you read it.
Really well written reviews are often the catalyst for me to find out more and listen to bands I might not have heard of yet.
Word of mouth is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways of advertising, but it is completely dependent on trust. We’re a fickle bunch, us 21st century consumers, and if we suffer one bad experience as a result of a personal endorsement that’s probably the last time we’ll take notice of that particular source. We all have one or two (possibly many if you’re very lucky) friends or acquaintances whose musical taste we have complete confidence in and are prepared to follow, however left field their suggestions may first appear.
My top spotter is my little brother. Years ago, as sibling tradition dictates, we each ploughed our separate furrows and drew up the barricades: these are my bands, those are yours – none shall pass. However, we’re too old for that now, and not quite so competitive anymore, so it’s OK to swap recommendations.
Thanks to Jon I’ve discovered some great music including Grandaddy, Joanna Newsom and one of my favourites, Iron & Wine. The key to his recommendations was to actually play me the music, and I think that’s always far more successful than the ‘you should check out so-and-so’ comment in passing. This method also resulted in me discovering one of my favourite albums of all time, ‘Closing Time’ by Tom Waits, thanks to my friends Jen and Stacy Zosky on a long drive from Toronto to Quebec. The same trip garnered ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ by Cat Stevens and the self-titled album by Lyle Lovett and his Large Band.
Which leads me neatly to:
‘Try before you buy’ has got to be the best method. I was very excited when we first got a Borders store in Oxford, because of their unique CD listening stations through which you could sample a few tracks of virtually any CD in store by scanning its barcode. Sadly it didn’t last, the novelty wore off and the headphones (and most of the CDs) have disappeared completely now.
I guess the itunes store was the nearest equivalent I encountered next, with its 25 second previews, but these have always seemed rather hit and miss to me – I’m sure we all know songs with a really duff 25 seconds segment that are otherwise brilliant and vice versa.
Which brings me back to Spotify, which so far seems to be a faultless roadtesting platform. Although there will always be a slight delay between an album’s release and its availability on the library, they do seem to be fairly up to date – I had a quick listen to a few tracks from the new u2 album the other evening to see if it lived up to the hype of the Q review (it didn’t).
I’ve managed to find recent albums by My Morning Jacket and Los Campesinos! that I was interested in buying, and have been merrily listening to them for the past couple of days. So far, so good.
The only dilemma this final step in the process presents me with is should I bother getting the download, or just learn to be content with listening to these new discoveries for free on my laptop…..