Streaming Killed The Music Star
I have no idea who is in the Billboard Hot 100. I’m not sure I could name a single song. I listen in a tiny Spotify-curated world, equally driven by the artists and albums I fell in love with five years ago, the taste of my playlist-sharing friends, and Spotify’s machine learning algorithms.
Every once and while an album breaks through, and I did have a brief affair with Apple Music. Driven by the time-windowed acquisition of the latest Frank Ocean, I returned to my old lover after he learned the new tricks. I listen in a palace whose rooms are being architected and constructed for me as I wander.
If you squint at Pandora in 2007, you see the future: personalized radio for everyone, delivered via the internet. But you look at the details and they’re all wrong. Building Pandora today, you don’t need to pay under-employed musicians to tag every song. The machines do it for you. Building Pandora today, you provide the allusion of choice but know better than to listen to every thumbs up until each song sounds exactly the same as the one before it.
Spotify has started playing music of its own choosing after a playlist ends. It doesn’t really matter to me if Spotify is sorting through the best hits of one hundred thousand one-hit-wonders or is creating new songs on the fly; the listening experience is of a endless playlist of nameless artists.
In other words, how many more Beyonces will there be? Apple Music and Spotify are now bigger brands than Def Jam and Universal Music Group. While we conceive of Apple Music or Spotify as the sum of their interfaces, they are actually the sum of their total experiences. Like Netflix, the content of our past might just be the initial catnip to pull us into a thousand virtual or real bands generating customized singles for a thousand sub-categorized audiences.
Streaming killed the music star, and her label. Kanye understood this better than anyone when he released The Life of Pablo only to keep editing and re-releasing it for weeks afterwards. It was the album as the object of subscription rather the music service; if Kanye had kept editing, you could have listened to the single morphing album for the rest of your life.
This sound? We are listening to the disassembly of the common audience. Just like the invention of the train necessitated the creation of a common time standard in order to make the schedules work, the scale and customizability of internet-based software is doing the same in reverse, and ending primetime.
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