From Spinning to Streaming

By Allison Foster

There are few feelings like slipping a fresh vinyl out of its sleeve, placing it on a turntable, and

dropping the needle down to hear the gravely first turns of your favorite album. Physical music,

like vinyl, cassette, and CD, have been surging in the audiophilic spotlight, boasting better

sound quality and niche accessibility. Due to cost and materials, the vinyl experience can be out

of the price range of many music fans. Besides investing in tangible music at sometimes

exorbitant costs, streaming services allow listeners an easy and inexpensive way to listen to

music.

Platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and YouTube have put millions of songs and

artists at our fingertips, waiting to be played through the speakers of our phones and computers.

Legally accessible music is a relatively new innovation, quite the change from the mid-2000’s

torrenting seen on sites like MySpace. How do such successful streaming services help

musicians, and encourage diverse listenership from their audiences?

Both the fabric and future of digital music relies on streaming services -- artists need publicity,

and apps like Spotify can give it to them. Even without a proper label, production team, or

agency, rising musicians can gain thousands of new fans just through their profile. This isn’t

without help, though. Spotify curates playlists for each user each week, called Discover Weekly

playlists, consisting of 30 song recommendations based on the past week’s listening history.

Including both large and small names, the Discover Weekly playlist is an algorithm, and one that

knows its data well.

In a technologically advanced world, our devices begin to learn our habits and tendencies, able

to predict and feed us what it anticipates we will enjoy. Spotify’s Discover Weekly does exactly

this -- drawing from our listening histories and playlists to determine what we enjoy, which then

is cross-compared with the histories and playlists of other Spotify users. This results in a palette

of songs spanning artists, eras, and genres that an algorithm hand-picked for us.

Kind of strange, right? The future of musical exposure has surpassed exchanging mixtapes, and

then CD’s, and then playlists. Now, we are handed a new set of tunes on a weekly basis by our

own computers. Conveniency breeds accessibility in our current state of media, something that

works in the favor of many small musicians. With the increased traffic comes new fans,

followers, and monthly listeners -- a number that establishes an almost hierarchical system of

classifying artist pages. Small artists can gain traction that they otherwise could not have

attained in an attention economy, with larger artists and their labels succeeding.

Paradoxically, the future of music is both digital and analog. Analog music, specifically vinyl, has

become an incredible force in the music world. In 2017 alone, about 14 million vinyls were sold

in the United States -- a staggering number for something previously considered obsolete. The

tangibility of a vinyl, the art and lyrics sheet, and the active nature of listening to an LP is

something that Spotify or Apple Music cannot provide -- making for a pattern of interest that

doesn’t seem to be swaying any time soon. However, such platforms are steering our culture

towards expanding horizons and consuming more art than ever before. Encouraging diversity

and individualism in music, part of the journey is “discovering” a new artist via your own

computer.

Whether spinning a vinyl or clicking a playlist, the future of music lies in the hands of fans and

critics alike. The accessible and extremely extensive online collections of music allow for

incredible exploration of styles and sounds that can sometimes only be properly heard in a

digital format. The power of technology has ignited musical fires in the next generations, and

lays the groundwork for all artists to blossom and grow into the future.