It’s a strange paradox that the more technology renders old media irrelevant, the more old media seems desperate to force its tongue up technology’s arse.
Minor upgrade of the iPhone software? Here, have a lickspittle story in the Evening Standard or Metro, pretty much copied verbatim from the press release.
Facebook developer’s conference? The results of that corporate nerdfest were reported breathlessly in every broadsheet, the unspoken assumption being that if you’re a billionaire old-school monopolist (Rupert Murdoch) then you’re evil and monstrous, whereas if you’re a billionaire tech monopolist (Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs) then you’re groovy and modern and someone we should all be listening to.
Apple don’t even have to bother with product launches anymore, they just leave prototypes lying around in bars, and let their puppyish army of fanboys do their marketing for them.
So it’s no surprise that the new upgrades to Spotify have been greeted with a tsunami of media coverage, mostly written by people who hadn’t actually used the new features (which only just kicked in this morning), they’d just seen this promotional video:
Some of the knee-jerk praise is absurd. “They’ve made music streaming social!” is a popular comment. Er, didn’t Last.fm pioneer that eight years ago, with scrobbling? “And you can sync it up with iTunes!” Ditto.
Still, even the most cynical Spotify refusenik would have to admit that the changes are mightily impressive. Here’s a summary:
• Sharing playlists
This is now easier since you can set up your own user profile and interact with your Facebook friends, sending tracks and following people’s recommendations. This is clever, since it heads off competition both from streaming upstarts such as mflow, and sharing applications such as Dropbox and Soundcloud.
• Music discovery
The changes fix at a stroke Spotify’s traditional weakness: the unfriendliness of the interface. You’ll never now be confronted with an open search box, thinking, “Christ, what do I want to listen to?”, since all your friends are on there, and you can see what they’re listening to.
• iTunes link-up
You can now import all MP3s on your computer into Spotify (and it’ll tidy up the song data via Gracenote) and make combined playlists. So you’ll no longer have that problem of, “Oh, I can’t include that track because I’ve only got it on iTunes.”
These are all smart, canny innovations. The iTunes link is particularly intriguing, and surprising, since Apple are rumoured to be launching a cloud-based streaming service later this year. When that happens, the iTunes vs Spotify rivalry could become vicious indeed.
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Mainly, though, these changes make sense because they plug Spotify into the wider web. Like mflow, Spotify have twigged that music is not a private activity – it’s always been public. We want to show off about our tastes, be nosy about those of others.
It’s a godsend for us, then, the consumers. It’s just a shame there’s nothing in it for the poor bastards who actually create all this music. Streaming sites, for all the hype, still account for only one per cent of industry revenue.
Spotify is apparently turning a profit. Just as well someone is, because no artist is making money from them.
The site pays a royalty of 0.085p per stream. As this graphic points out, a solo artist would have to rack up 4.5 million plays a month to earn a minimum wage.
So yes, we should get excited about the new, improved, social Spotify. Just don’t expect musicians to join in the celebrations.