MFor example, Lethem was working at her bakery job one morning in Boston when she had an epiphany. Tasked with choosing the soundtrack of the day, she opened Spotify, then flipped and flipped, constantly looking for something to play. nothing was perfect for the moment. She watched some more, through playlist after playlist. An uncomfortably familiar loop, it made her realize she hated the way music was used in her life. “That was the problem,” she says. “Using the music, rather than making it your own experience… What kind of music will I use to set the mood for the day? What am I going to use to enjoy my walk? I started not really liking what that meant.
It wasn’t just passive listening, but a utilitarian approach to music that felt like a creation of the streaming environment. “I decided that music would be this tool for [create] an experience instead of an experience itself was not something that interested me,” she explains. So it cut its Spotify service, and later Apple Music as well, to focus on more “at-home” listening and less of a background experience.
Such calculations have become increasingly common in recent years as dedicated music listeners continue to grapple with the unethical economics of streaming companies and feel the effects of engagement-obsessed business models. and forming habits on their own listening and discovery habits. In the process, they look for alternatives.
“With streaming, things were starting to get pretty disposable and disposable,” says Finlay Shakespeare. Bristol-based musician and sound engineer Shakespeare recently deleted his streaming accounts and bought a second-hand iPod on eBay for £40. With streaming, he says, “If I hadn’t latched onto an album or an artist’s work at first, I tended not to come back to it. But he realized that many of his all-time favorite albums were the ones that grew with him over time. “Streaming was actually contributing to a degree of rejection of new music.” Even with digital downloads, he tended to give music more time and attention.
Jared Samuel Elioseff, a multi-instrumentalist who records as Invisible Familiars and has a studio in Cambridge, New York, also felt the streaming environment generally hampered his musical curiosity: “I’ve been without Spotify for two years now. . My music experiences definitely feel more dedicated and focused. It’s not as convenient. I reluctantly admit that I listen to less music. Even if on Spotify, I didn’t necessarily listen to stuff. I checked the first 15 seconds and pressed skip. Now I have to work for it and I like it. I can use the Internet as a research tool, but I don’t use it as a means of listening. I really have to look for things and do research.
“Streaming makes the listening experience much more passive,” he continues. “The word ‘streaming’ is one of those things that is gradually assimilating into everyone’s vocabulary. Before there was music streaming, what else was streaming? This idea that you can just turn on a tap and the music comes out. It’s something that leaves everyone taking it for granted.
Conversations about how digital markets shape listening have long focused on album unbundling. For some, however, it has been clearly linked to streaming. Nick Krawczeniuk, a music fan and network engineer who recently moved away from streaming, felt his listening habits were particularly affected by Spotify’s ‘liked songs’ playlist: “I found myself selecting more and more unique songs from an artist, whereas before I was inclined to save an entire album.
And Milesisbae, a 23-year-old hip-hop artist from Richmond, Va., who recently canceled all streaming subscriptions after learning how poorly paid musicians were, noted something similar: “I will listen to a song 100 times in a row, but I won’t give the rest of the album a chance. Before using streaming services, I listened to everything.
Miles says he sees more and more artists selling CDs and downloads at shows; indeed, for some who have deleted Spotify and Apple Music accounts, quitting streaming has meant a wholesale reimagining of their relationship with MP3s. For Shakespeare, downloads are now his primary mode of consumption: He replaced his iPod’s hard drive with a microSD card docking station to increase capacity, and loaded it up with Bandcamp purchases and ripped CDs. .
For Krawczeniuk, quitting Spotify after eight years was partly inspired by the realization that by using open source software, a home server and a VPN on his phone, he could build something similar himself. . He now uses a project called Navidrome to create a self-hosted streaming library that he can stream from anywhere, to various devices. “It’s a little box that sits on my desk, plugged into my router,” he explains. The server contains all of his music, including Bandcamp purchases and ripped CDs: “It’s just a music library.” He sees the move away from Big Streaming as tied to a broader movement toward small-scale technology projects and open-source services that don’t consume a lot of resources or energy.
Almost everyone interviewed for this piece pointed to the need for systemic change in the music industry, from rethinking how royalties are paid by streaming services to increasing public funding for artists. Still, quitting streaming has led to a more meaningful everyday music experience.
Jeff Tobias, a musician and songwriter who finally unplugged Spotify for good in early 2022 as the company made headlines over its deal with podcaster Joe Rogan, has a streamless approach to listening that’s simple: records, tapes , Bandcamp, Mixcloud. As for discovery, recommendations come from friends, Bandcamp editorial, and things he encounters in his job working at a local record store. “It’s almost a pre-internet style relationship with music,” he says. “I kind of go back to thinking, ‘Oh, I wonder what this album looks like’ until I really take it upon myself to seek it out.”
“I love music because it’s a community art practice,” he adds. “And anything I can do that allows me to listen to music in a way that connects me with the artists or my friends, that’s what I want to get involved in. Spotify and streaming in general n have absolutely no connection with this relationship.
Wendy Eisenberg, a musician and teacher who recently deleted her Napster Music (formerly known as Rhapsody) account, explained it this way: “The only thing I’ve noticed since I gave in is that the music Looks better to me because I put work into it to locate it on a hard drive or download it from a friend’s Bandcamp or something. And every time I listen to it, even if it’s just on the way to work, I can hear the spiritual irreverence of that choice. And so I don’t feel like I’m getting music from a distant tastemaker. But I seem to have a certain relationship with the music, the ritual, and that’s where I’m coming from as a practicing musician.
“Taking the extra step of loading it onto my phone, or the extra step of flipping the tape or putting the CD in the car, it feels like something I do, rather than something I get, ” They continue. “And that sense of agency makes me a more dedicated and involved listener than the kind of passive listening without listening that streaming made me do.”
Lethem reported something similar: she now mainly listens to records, Bandcamp downloads and a small radio she set up in her kitchen. “The choices are very limited. But it’s actually liberating. [With streaming] there’s endless accessibility, but you’re really not listening to anything. At least, that’s how I started to feel. I listen to so much music, but do I really listen to it?”
DIY Discovery: Six Ways to Find New Music…
The Bandcamp online music store is a key revenue driver for many artists, with a small cut in sales compared to streaming services. For fans and listeners, the Bandcamp Daily blog is a treasure trove of independent gems and curiosities, and a few hours spent browsing other users’ profiles or the site’s Discover feature is always sure to yield a new favorite or two.
The human algorithm
A great way to discover new music can often be simply to send a message in your favorite group chat: “What’s everyone been listening to lately?” Even if your friends have the exact same tastes as you, there’s bound to be some sort of variance, and those small differences are often where you’ll pick the kind of lead an algorithm could never show you.
Your local record store
There are few better ways to find new music than simply going to your local record store, telling the staff member at the counter what you like, and asking them what they recommend. If you’re shy, don’t worry: many stores have a staff picks section to browse through.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the repetitive cycles of streaming services. Online radio stations such as NTS, Worldwide FM, The Lot and Hope St Radio offer bespoke, extraordinarily specialized and often breathtaking radio programming. Heavy hitters such as NTS have multiple channels and deep archives; newer and more numerous DIY operations might have only uneven, ultra-lo-fi streaming and no track listings. Either way, it’s a great way to hear something you’ve never heard before.
Musicians can often provide the best recommendations, and even if you don’t have most pop stars on speed dial, interviews are usually the best thing to do. A Björk profile, for example, might lead you to wild techno experimenters Sideproject, while a podcast chat between Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama might lead you to discover your new favorite diva.
If Spotify’s algorithm is disarmingly fine-tuned, YouTube’s is surprisingly loose. You almost never know what’s coming next when you listen to music on YouTube (which many people, especially Gen Zers, use as their only streaming service). Sometimes it’ll be another song by the same artist, other times it’ll be something extraordinarily unlikely, like that 1994 performance of Fade Into You that for about a year was ubiquitous in many people’s algorithms. . Either way, it’s a trip. Shaad D’Souza