CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

CMU Weekly – Friday 15 Apr 2011

By | Published on Saturday 16 April 2011

Andy Malt

A question people have often asked me, shortly after they’ve discovered Spotify for the first time, is: “Is it legal?” Such easy access to a huge catalogue of music for free seems too good to be true. Illegal it may not be, but too good to be true it indeed is. Well, sort of.

We’ve known for some time (possibly since the day it was launched) that one of Spotify’s original business models, of charging users nothing but a bit of their time to listen to some adverts, was probably unsustainable. And as the service has subsequently attempted to draw more users over to its paid, ad-free version, that freemium model has been restricted a little – listening time was limited to 20 hours a month for new subscribers last year.

But this week Spotify announced the biggest cuts to its free service yet; as well as listening to increasingly frequent and irritating adverts, cheapskates like me (every single one of us) will be limited to ten hours of listening and only five plays of any one track. You want more, you’ll have to pay for it. Which, to be honest, and contrary to what swathes of rabid commenters online this week may have told you, seems pretty fair. Will it turn me into a paying subscriber? I’m not sure. I don’t know how often I get close to ten hours of Spotify listening each month, nor how many tracks I’ve listened to five times via the service. I use it more as a preview tool, filling in gaps in my musical knowledge left by albums and artists old and new that I’ve not yet heard (or not yet fully absorbed, I guess). And it’s great as a reference tool, when you need to hear something right now but don’t have it otherwise to hand. There are playlists I listen to over and over (particularly several of our Powers Of Ten playlists), which I may find myself locked out of, but on the whole, if I really like something I’ve heard on Spotify, I’ll still go and buy it.

Yeah, I know we’re all supposed to be into access rather than ownership these days, but there’s still something I quite like about actually owning stuff. I like knowing that no record label is ever going to get upset and take my CD or vinyl (or even MP3) away and put it out of reach on a high shelf until I give them a bit more money, or they sort out a dispute with someone else involved in making the record.

Also, I’ve always liked flicking through the shelves of record shops, and that’s something the internet still hasn’t managed to replicate satisfactorily. Back in the days when towns had several record shops, I’d spend hours walking between each one, checking out what each had and working how best to spend the few pounds I had in my pocket. And I particularly like shops whose staff take care to make personal recommendations – Reveal Records in Derby was always good at that. Back when I used to go there, they wrote little notes on their favourite albums which always seemed to be directly written to me. They weren’t, obviously, but those recommendations tended to match my tastes perfectly.

I’m not aiming to get all nostalgic here, though. I have nothing against the instant gratification of downloading music – it’s how I obtain much of my collection these days, but my preferred method is to pick something out of a rack, have a debate with myself over whether or not I can actually afford to buy it, put something back, find something else, and then think up some spurious excuse for buying both of them.

Partly I think I just enjoy the slower pace of getting music in this way. The internet is a sea of music waiting to be explored and I am in the privileged position of having a job where I constantly have CDs, MP3s and streaming links thrust at me. But sometimes it’s nice to spend an hour selecting two or three things to enjoy at a more leisurely pace and, of course, to hand over some cash for it. But today (this edition of the Weekly coming out a little late) is the day that things really slow down, and we’re all asked to spend a whole day perusing the shelves, it being, of course, Record Store Day.

As ever, the annual cerebration of the cult of the independent record store will see hundreds of artists perform in shops and sell exclusive releases. You know, I’m all for the digital world. I’m really very fond of it; the internet will undoubtedly be the thing that eventually turns the music industry’s fortunes around (because you’ve got to destroy something in order to build it up again). But that doesn’t mean everything about the old way of working is redundant, and real life record shops, despite being less convenient and less quick than digital services, are still a great tool for discovering and consuming music, and will always feel more personal.

A great tool for discovering the latest music business news (sorry, this is an incredibly weak link) is the CMU podcast, which is back this week a brief absence. In it we discuss the aforementioned changes to Spotify, the impending sales of Warner Music and EMI, the return of the proposal for copyright extension, the looming trial of Dr Conrad Murray, and covers of songs by Pulp and Paul McCartney. What fun.

Next Friday is a Good Friday, and the following week some couple are getting married and the banks are taking a holiday to celebrate. This means there will be no CMU Weekly for three whole weeks now, but don’t worry, the CMU podcast will still be going live each week, so sign up on iTunes or via RSS or favourite our SoundCloud page so you get to check that out.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

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