When Everything Isn't Enough
by Benjamin Marlin
The future of music consumption appears to be streaming services: Spotify, Apple Music, Google Music, and the Jay-Z one. For a few dollars each month, these services allow people to stream millions of songs to their smartphones and bluetooth speakers. It's an amazing innovation, perhaps the best tool ever invented for making music easy to access and play.
That said, I haven't yet signed up for any of them. I still prefer my iTunes music library: a few thousand albums I've bought online or ripped from CD. Over the years, this finite collection has cost me thousands of dollars - compared with the $9.99/month I could pay Spotify to stream nearly every song ever made. Why, then? If Spotify offers me everything - for next to nothing - how could I possibly demand more than that?
I have a few reasons for sticking with my early-2000s-chic digital collection. The first is analysis paralysis. Faced with the possibility of listening to any song in the whole world, I often can't think of a single song I want to hear. It's the same principle that leaves me frozen in the supermarket, studying fifty brands of mayonnaise, unable to choose a single one to smear on my sandwich.
Additionally, I'm not sure I need so many songs. Every year, the list of music I actually want to listen to shrinks just a little more (it's directly correlated to the number of people I want on my lawn). I don't need to sift through millions of songs to find music because I've built a dependable repository of it on my computer, supplemented by occasional new purchases. Most of the time, my collection does the trick just fine, and less bewilderingly.
Perhaps closest to my heart, there's the nerdy joy of having a curated collection of music. I love opening up iTunes and seeing an artist's albums, singles, and EPs in the order they were released, with the original cover art, the way that the artist intended them to look. There's a thrill in experiencing the music of my favorite classic acts just as people did when it was originally released (minus the pops and crackles, and the heady feeling of revolution in the air). The music isn't sold or streamed like that. I shaped it that way to reflect my preferences. And I like knowing that it can't be yanked away whenever licenses change hands or because I forgot to pony up the monthly rent.
It's true that the songs are the same no matter the format and that streaming services allow you to create personal playlists. But music on streaming services mostly exists in a big, amorphous mass.
If, for example, you want to hear the Who's entire discography [affiliate link] you'll need to traverse an obstacle course of multiple versions of each album, grey market releases, and eight hundred greatest hits collections - basically, whatever Spotify tossed in their Who Room and then forgot about. Even then, a number of the band's songs still aren't available on streaming services. It's a frustrating mixture of too much and not enough.
This isn't a screed against streaming services. They offer a world of music for a low price, and that's all that many people want or need from music. And if you're interested in learning about new artists, well, I don't understand you, but streaming services are an ideal way to complement your music collection and inspire new purchases.
But it's important to have a tiny corner of the music world that's irreversibly yours and that reflects your taste and your values. It's a cozy place to hang out when eight million songs come knocking on your door at the same time.