Technology and Its Discontents

The Spotify Effect

Music checks in, but it doesn’t check out

Don’t you believe it. This music ain’t on Spotify anymore.
Don’t you believe it. This music ain’t on Spotify anymore.

Who has made me a stranger to my iTunes music library? Spotify, it is you. Who has made it possible to summon full discographies of interrelated musical artists in a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon hopscotch that I Just Can’t Stop Doing? It’s you again, Spotify. And who lets me wear out a novel and perhaps ill-fitting musical flavor without the pesky need to obtain a copy of the song and have it hanging around the house or hard drive to remind me of my poor judgment later? Again, Spotify, there is only you who has done so for me.

But there are the downsides to this relationship. Oh boy are there. For one, all this music I’ve been listening to could vanish without warning, and has. Like Malá Morská Víla, a creepily sad and beautiful soundtrack to a Czech Little Mermaid film I will now have to obtain in the extra-Spotify world. And the bonus tracks from the 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy Stardust. Man, those were nice to have. Spotify giveth and, well, you get the point.

The more serious problem with Spotify, however, is that it doesn’t want you to leave its little walled garden. Ever. If you want to know more about an artist, there are no links out to the wider Internet of interesting things. You can’t even copy a band’s name and paste it into Google (although Spotify has no issues with accepting pasted information, it’s totally uncooperative about copying). And whenever a computer makes me retype something that’s already on the screen, I realize that there really is evil loose in the world.

Sketchy third parties have figured out how to liberate Spotify playlists but not other way-more-useful stuff like “your music” or “your artists”—which is how Spotify pushes you to use its service in the first place. And all you’ll get is a plain text file of a playlist you have to manually build on the Spotify side. That’s a lot of work to bypass something Spotify should allow inherently: the ability to interact with the world outside its borders. Spotify lets you in, but it won’t let you out.