Spotify – a paradigm shift in music listening?

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OK so if you haven’t heard of Spotify and you’re teaching young students, you need to get with the program!

Spotify is fast becoming the new way to listen to music and may well forever change the industry. Indeed it may well signal the end of the record store as we know it!

Sound like a big deal? Well, I reckon it is…

What is it?

Spotify let’s you stream any music straight to your smart phone, laptop, iPad or any internet-connected device, bypassing the need to ever buy a track or album again. Put simply, it’s like having your own radio station: you get to choose the music and play it whenever and wherever you want.

For a monthly fee of $12 (or free for basic access), users can listen to millions of albums, CDs, LPs and songs. It has music of every genre (including a comprehensive amount of well-known classical recordings) and you can listen to as much as you want. You can create and share playlists, you can see what your friends are listening to and you can use the one Spotify interface to play all the music already in your library as well. In fact, it looks and behaves just like a iTunes.

Put simply, Spotify users are

…purchasing the right to listen to music that is housed elsewhere and is owned by someone else.

This is clearly a big shift in thinking. Most of us were brought up buying or downloading albums (CDs or even records!) and then owning the content. Spotify completely changes this thinking – all you do is stream the track and listen to it – you never own it.

Any why not?

In his article “Spotify: A Revolution in Music” John C. Dvorak asks:

Why be bothered with the burden of ownership? This is the sociological paradigm shift that Spotify has discovered. …let me assure you that this is a revolution that will change the sociology of the music industry as much as the invention of the MP3 file.

And what about revenue for the musician?

While this unlimited, all-you-can-eat aspect would seem harmful to the music industry, the industry actually loves the idea of listeners never owning anything and essentially having to pay to listen to each song every time. The music is basically sold as a pay-to-play model. Money is continually being spent.

I’ve been trialling Spotify for about two weeks and it’s already changing the way I listen to music. But for those considering the negatives, here’s an alternate viewpoint:

Spotify is hoping to supplant iTunes as the way most people listen to music – on their computers, iPhones, etc.  In fact, for their business model to work, that’s what needs to happen.  This would make the listening platform itself more valuable than ever before.  For instance, if iTunes went out of business tomorrow, I would still be able to play my formidable collection of mp3s on any other mp3 player.  But let’s say that, rather than purchasing new mp3s, I subscribed to Spotify for the next three years and it was my exclusive source for new music (which is what they’re hoping I do).  If I chose to leave Spotify (or if Spotify went out of business), I would immediately lose access to all that new music.  In order to continue enjoying the perks of Spotify (listening to the huge library, having access to my playlists, using all the cool sharing features, etc.), I would have to stick with Spotify indefinitely.  There is nothing you can take from it that can be used anywhere else; it’s a closed system.  As Sean Parker [the creator] brags, “We’ve got you by the balls.”

Who cares?

Whichever way you look at it, Spotify has huge potential for music education. Here are a few ways I foresee its use:

  • Students can complete music listening assignments without downloading any music. They can easily compare different performances of the same piece, or perhaps compare remixes of recent pop songs.
  • For broadening a student’s knowledge of a particular genre or composer. For example, if a student is studying a Chopin Waltz, I like them to listen to as many other Chopin Waltzes as possible to get more of a context. Similarly, if they are studying a movement of a Beethoven Sonata, they should listen to the rest of the Sonata to see how their piece fits in. Rather than download and buy this music, they can just stream it on Spotify.
  • I personally enjoy listening to a broader selection of pieces by one composer/artist without having to buy the whole album. For example, I was captivated (like everyone) when Gotye brought out “Somebody that I used to know” and I wondered what his other music was like. Enter Spotify for an access-all-areas pass to everything he’s previously released. Best of all, if I don’t like it, I haven’t paid to download it anyway.
  • Many more students these days have iPhones, so they can do all their research/listening on the go while travelling to and from school.
  • I often send students to YouTube to watch performances; now I can set up and share playlists (of all the pieces for a particular exam, for example), so they can listen and choose what they’d like to learn. It’s much simpler and faster than YouTube.
  • Finally, given that it links with Facebook, kids will flock to it in the coming months and we need to keep up with the times.

How do I start?

If you’re keen to check it out, you can do so for free for a month with full access by downloading the app or software and creating an account. There are other levels of membership, explained here ranging from free to the $12 per month “Premium” deal.

Whatever you do, give it a go and try it for yourself, I think you’ll be surprised at how it changes your thinking…

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Tim Topham

Lead blogger and coffee snob
Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
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