Radio is not dead – you can still turn it on and listen to a baseball game or NPR or someone yelling at the top of their lungs about how unfair they think life is. But as a way to find new music, radio just ain’t happening.
With the demise of radio as a way to find new music, various hopeful substitutes have come along:
In the 90’s there was Hear Music, a store with dozens of listening stations all with soft cushy headphones. It was dreamy, just put on a pair of those headphones and enter a magical world of great music. Everything sounded good on those headphones. And, of course, standing there on a concrete floor you weren’t going to listen to a whole album, or give a song 3-4 consecutive listens to see if it held up under scrutiny. You’d listen to maybe 30 seconds, skip ahead and try another 30 seconds here and there, and, lured by that wonderful headphone sound, make a snap judgment to purchase that CD for $16.98. Only upon getting it home and giving it an unhurried listen would you realize that the thing didn’t have any musical legs, and that you didn’t like Country Music after all (unless it’s 30 seconds at at time on headphones). Nope, Hear Music got me to buy a lot of music I never grew to like.
In the past decade, the ability to hear 30 seconds of a tune on iTunes or Amazon or wherever has been a boon, opening my ears to much more music than Hear Music ever could. But those 30 seconds snippets are still misleading. Just about any music can sound good for 30 seconds. But 3-5 minutes is the true test of a song – does it have structure, melody – does it have Legs? Even when iTunes recently upped the snippets to 60 seconds, it’s still not enough. I’ve downloaded a lot of albums that worked great as excerpts, but turn out to have very little substance when played in their entirety.
And there are the services (Flyfi, etc.) that allow you to download individual songs for free, so you can spend time with them. The great songs reveal themselves over repeated listenings, and that’s truly fine. But I’m an album guy. And purchasing an entire album based on one good song just doesn’t fly. It turns out there are an awful lot of albums that have only 1 or 2 good songs on them.
Which brings me to Spotify. It’s fantastic. You can grab whole albums and listen to them. For free. There are commercials every few songs (just like in the golden days of FM radio). So what? Like in the days of great radio, I’m finally getting to spend time with an artists’ work and see if it’s something I want to spend money on. I hear the songs over and over, and either gain an appreciation for what’s there, or move on.
I don’t know how the revenue stream will work, but ASCAP, the society I belong to that collects airplay royalties, signed an agreement with Spotify, and they are the ones that sent me the invitation. I’ll soon see what the royalties from Spotify are like. Who knows, maybe it’ll be better than radio ever was (for me, at least). And meanwhile, I’ve finally got a way to explore new music that suits me. I’m loving it.