Friday 26 December 2014

Just another old codger left swimming up stream

Published 15/12/2013 | 18:05

'He would cycle home with a new New Order 12- inch under his arm that he had had to order in specially to Golden Discs.'

SIX months or so in, I am having mixed feelings about Spotify. For those of you who are even older than me, Spotify is the new way of listening to music. You don't actually ever own it. You just stream it, like water. It flows through all your devices, wherever you are. All the music you could possibly think of.

In fact, you don't even need to think of it. It tells you all the time. This is new. If you liked that you'll love this. You can even search other people's playlists for the kind of thing you are after. Strangers with online handles who make you endless mixtapes. People you might not even like if you met them. Casual online intimate encounters. I don't think they even know that I am listening to their mixtapes, that they are hugging my soul sometimes.

The kids went through a ska phase recently. So I just typed in "ska" to Spotify and instantly we were skanking around the house to a playlist with hundreds and hundreds of old ska music, lovingly "curated" by some ska freak, who had searched all the obscure compilations that it would have taken a lifetime to accumulate in the real world and put together his selection.

Even the artists I thought I had exhaustively collected down the years -- every obscure version and demo and remix and B side, have more stuff that I never knew existed, and it's all just there at the touch of a button. Sometimes, I find something, get excited, and then don't listen to it more than once, because there is so much other stuff. I'm the classic Paddy at the buffet. Loading up the plate with everything in case I don't make best use of the free unlimited food. Thinking of my next plate while I am busy with the current one.

And the new stuff is all there, too. You don't even have to hum and haw and read the reviews and decide whether to buy a new album you might not be sure about. It's all there. On my phone, on my iPad, playable through a small but powerful enough thing called a Pill by Beats by Doctor Dre, or a bigger thing by Bose, even through the stereo on my car, which is from the gramophone era, but which now has had something called a parrot grafted onto the walnut dash so it can understand my phone.

It's all there all the time with no effort: connected, wired, flowing freely. Not mine, but everyone's. To be shared. And the poor old artist gets point zero zero something of a penny every time I listen. Except it's not really called listening anymore, it's called streaming. I can experience pretty much all the music in the world, all the time, and it is causing me not to experience it at all. All my fantasies have come true and it has ruined everything slightly. I got what I wished for, and now I feel empty.

So here is the old codger bit: I liked striving. I liked the exclusivity of finding something no one else had. I liked when I was a kid, when my brother would send off to places in England for Virgin Prunes box sets. I liked when the parcels would come, when people had to call around to the house if they wanted to hear it. I liked when he would cycle home with a new New Order 12- inch under his arm that he had had to order in specially to Golden Discs. I liked when I went to London and found more, bigger record stores with the promise of something you had never seen anywhere else, maybe a Japanese import with the wrap around it with the funny writing and a few extra tracks that the record company hadn't chosen to share with us Occidentals.

I have everything now. But when you have everything you can somehow have nothing. Things change, old man. Move on.

Irish Independent

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