Spotify is amazing, isn’t it? And undoubtedly the best part is being able to share tracks with your friends (or enemies? After all, I don’t know who’s on your Facebook friends list).
The lack of a ‘sent’ folder is a well-vocalised gripe amongst users and I’m sure Spotify will rectify this soon enough, but I just can’t shake the feeling that this sharing tracks willy-nilly conceals a more worrying issue – and which has nothing to do with the Spotify business model/royalties discussion; that’s been covered elsewhere many times. No, I’m getting back to basics, to the very essence of emotion conveyed by music.
Believe me, I’m sorely tempted to rattle out an essay on emotion and music akin to the ones I wrote at university, but instead I’ll just say that there are a few notable academic pieces on said subject, should you be interested – for instance, Derek Matravers’ ‘The Experience of Emotion in Music‘ (The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 2003). If you’re after long words and complex sentences, go there. In the meantime I’ll carry on with this subjective posturing.
Let me start by asking you a question: Do you like any music? Oh you do? That’s good! Why do you like it? Oh I see! You like music because it [delete as appropriate] makes you feel good / gets your toes tapping / indulges your mood / cheers you up / makes sense of the drugs / really *connects* with your soul / other. I thought as much. You’re just like me.
My day goes much more brightly when I have music to listen to and – most times – it’s an excellent decision. If I’ve been made angry by irresponsible Government plans to raise revenue by selling off 99% (exaggeration – just) of England’s woodland then a spot of Daft Punk on the train back to London really does the trick to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. The danger only comes when the emotion is rooted more personally, when it turns out 18 year-old Scandinavian pop stars can sometimes express my feelings better than I can (sort of).
In the olden days, if you wanted to impress someone who was on your mind you’d make them a mixtape, recording songs off the radio or copying them over from well-worn albums – the pleasure was all in the making, despite the lossy format.
I received my last mixtape in 2005, not really that long ago in the digital scheme of things. It came wrapped in a piece of silver fabric tied up with black ribbon and included early Knife tracks as well as an utterly romantic (..) ditty from this bunch. I didn’t like all the tracks and it was a major pain having to hijack old car stereos to listen to the thing, but that wasn’t the point. It had been put together with care and thought, had taken time and effort. It had also required an envelope and a couple of stamps (plus an airmail sticker) to get it to me. And more than that: every song meant something.
I don’t need to rewrite High Fidelity here – go and read it for yourself if you’re not so lazy that you’ll only watch the film – but I do wonder: what would Rob make of all this immediate music sharing and what does it mean for the art of the mixtape?
Perhaps I’m just an old soul, but even in this age of immediate sharing, I tend to view this as a more fluid mixtape, ebbing and flowing with emotion and excitement as whimsy directs. If I send you something, no doubt there’s a message to be eeked out – though eeking suggests rather more subtlety than there usually is – and that the choice has been considered. However, this is the worrying part: I may have only considered it for a few moment before I sent it. And you know what? You might have only spent a few seconds deciding to send me something back, too.
This is where the danger lies.
The thing is, if you send me something, I’m probably going to read into it. In the same way that if I send you a song by XXX – because I remembered it was the first concert you went to – if you send me something by XXX, I’m going to think it’s because you’re trying to convey the sentiment of the song to me and not because you’ve just seen the cast of Glee do their own version.
But who’s to say that it can’t be both? Perhaps I have just seen the cast of Glee sing a particularly stirring version of P. Y. T. and maybe I do think of you and want to let you know that you popped into my head. But quick as it’s sent, the moment (and thought) is gone. At least with a mixtape you had something concrete, some evidence of the person’s intentions – and it was probably unique.
Ah, Spotify. You offer me the means to express my love / vent my anger / share my dancing mood at the drop of a hat, or, more accurately, the click of a mouse. But do I really want this?
I suppose the future lies with playlists – considered playlists based on notes I’ve written in the back of my diary, left on post-it notes and sent to myself via sms in this country and others, collected over days, weeks, months. And then, only then, when it’s finally been composed and succinctly expresses the entire gamut of things I want to say, will I definitely not send it. Why? Because Plato would be proud.
However, let’s not be hasty here. I know I’ll keep dropping them into various inboxes. After all, the urge to dance surpasses all others. Sorry, Plato…