How Can We Get Upstream of of Spotify’s Shit?

There’s real conundrum for the music person in these times of the microprocessor. Right now is that it’s easier than ever for musicians and labels to do things that once required heavy music industry machinery or lots of money — e.g. use synthesizers, master an album, distribute a record to thousands — but they increasingly find themselves at the mercy of corporations. Being independent in the music industry often means depending on a product offered by a massive, capital-turgid corporation all by yourself.

Spotify is a prime example. This will be an essay asking why we so reflexively use Spotify as listeners and distributors, and advocating for an alternative to a cooperatively owned and operated alternative Spotify, where the people making the music have control over servers and revenues. At the heart of this all is a challenge to the assumption that we need start–ups flush with capital to build beneficial technologies since, more and more, it seems like they don’t.

By sheer convenience, lots of people use Spotify to listen to music. Musicians and labels put their music on the platform so that those people using it out of sheer convenience will listen. Kind of like with Facebook, it’s just one of those technologies that lots of people use because lots of other people use it, even though it has a godawful interface, is impossible to navigate outside of algorithmically generated suggestions, and is a notoriously raw deal for creators. Much like with Amazon, it’s one of those sinful conveniences that we’ll get around to cancelling tomorrow.

In turn, smaller operators in the music industry — say, the creative class equivalent of the 99% — tend to feel like they have to forsake rightful access to compensation in return for exposure. We often see tweets by audio engineers or graphic designers razzing prospective clients for wanting to “pay” them in exposure, but it’s rare to hear the same complaints from people making music and forking it over to the algorithm.

Why Do We Put Up with Spotify?

There are three explanations here, as far as I can tell. The first is the most cynical, some form of platform realism.

1. Well, it’s there.

The first explanation is the one people seem to cite the most, often punctuated with a sigh. People listen to music on Spotify, and it’s better that they’re listening to it than not. Hopefully, those listeners are aware that Spotify is a raw deal, and will go on to buy the albums they like. This is a fair take, and I think, much like with the try-before-you-buy justifications of music pirating, it’s valid and does indeed lead to people buying the actual albums. In a way, this model is even a bit fairer to the consumer who, 20 years ago, would have had to buy a CD blind and maybe never listen to it again.

But this is an argument for streaming, not for Spotify. The justification for distributing on Spotify specifically often boils down to an admission that the thousandths of a penny per stream is better than earning nothing — better than the $0 royalty an artist or label gets when someone pirates the album.

For two decades, the majors have been wailing that there’s no way to make money off of recorded music because the market has collapsed. It’s something independents have internalized because, indeed, we’re not making much money off this stuff. Ultimately, many people play ball with Spotify in the off chance it will lead to lucrative opportunity, like a plum tour or someone licensing their music. In other words, music people have swallowed “for exposure” bit hook, line, and sinker, and are just hoping for the best. Again, it’s cynical, and not even half the story.

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Dreaming of Music After the End of Facebook

This post is long, so I’ve embedded some music throughout you can listen to while reading.

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=2419197978 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=f171a2 tracklist=false artwork=small]

We have been disgruntled about Facebook for a long time.

It seems like there are two reasons we’ve used it for this long. The first often rings as an exhausted regurgitation of Facebook’s current marketing campaign, that it connects us to our high school friends, people from camp, so on and so forth. Leaving Facebook, we’d be exiting a community.

The second is, simply, Events. You’ll rarely hear someone more exhausted by the internet than when you hear a music lover, musicians, and organizer say they’re only on Facebook for the events.

In neither of these cases is being happy with Facebook any part of the equation. Imagine if you heard a friend say, “I love Facebook.” You’d probably check their pupils and make sure they knew what day of the week it is.

Of course, Facebook just has to keep us unperturbed enough to stay on its platform so it can continue mining our data. Anyone who has used the platform for this long has continued to be begrudgingly on board with that.

Yet the past week’s leaks and exposés on Cambridge Analytica have underscored that Facebook is indiscriminate with how it doles that data out.

But now we’ve learned that Facebook would rather not know what happens with that data once it’s sold — including if that data is then peddled second hand, surprisingly — and will quickly turn around and tell users we agreed to give the data in the first place didn’t we?

It’s as much a pillar of contemporary American life as McDonald’s, Jordans, or Marvel movies, yet is widely considered a terrible product with strikingly limited upsides. Facebook doesn’t look good, doesn’t taste good, and isn’t even particularly entertaining. At least when you go to Target, you complete a necessary transaction and never have to talk to anybody. Facebook just smugly fucks us over.

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Where Does Mental Health Fit in a Music Scene?

Gemini, born Spencer Kincy, is one of Chicago’s all time finest house producers. Given the mixes of his floating around the web, he was one of the genres most singular DJs too.

Yet, it’s been over 15 years since Kincy has had anything to do with music.

Local house music publication 5 Magazine published a series of articles a few years back about the strange fact that Gemini records were getting repressed at a pretty rapid clip, while Kincy himself had basically vanished from the scene. The last traces of him were paranoid fits of accusations against fellow house DJs, and a series of lawsuits raised against the likes of the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice.

Per a 2012 article, “I tracked down Spencer Kincy to an SRO hotel in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Though I haven’t been able to confirm his location in the past year, it seems likely he’s still in the area – and still in the same state. The moment was fairly painful for a longtime admirer; suffice to say that Spencer was not in any mind to DJ or make music and seems to care little about either.”

Spencer Kincy’s story resonates with a common one that you can come by any time, in any place, in any music community. Everybody is together doing their thing, and then one day someone drops out. Sometimes that person is sorely missed and sometimes that person doesn’t leave on good terms. Perhaps this person gets effectively forgotten about for several years until some music gets re-released, or we see some posts on a new Facebook account, or hear some bad news.

Continue reading Where Does Mental Health Fit in a Music Scene?