Caving to Streaming

In October 2018, I wrote an article here called A Lifetime of Listening, which explored all the ways that I had physically experienced music since my earliest sentient days. The article ended by explaining my then-current listening paradigm, as follows:

[This is] the status quo as of autumn 2018: I have an iTunes account on my computer with about 14,000 songs available to me, all backed up on an external 1.0 terabyte hard drive. I manage six iPods for myself and Marcia, making new mixes as new things come in for all of the various players. Apple recently ended their own “gadget era” (e.g. no more standalone music players, since you are supposed to get music on your phone or tablet), so these great little players are on their way out, and I have acquired a stockpile of Nanos and Shuffles to rage against the dying of this paradigm as long as I can. Yeah, I could play stuff on my phone, but I don’t like carrying it around, since I have a big phone, while a Shuffle fits nicely in my pants pocket.

I still purchase all of my music online, album by album and song by song, though more often than not I actually pay for it with points that I can get from my credit cards (rather than getting airplane miles or whatever). I have not yet made the leap to Spotify or any of the other similar subscription streaming music services as I still like “owning” and not “renting” my music — even though the physical embodiment of my ownership is just a bunch of data in a little little six-inch by six-inch by two-inch black box, not the glorious milk crates of musty smelling cardboard and plastic of yesteryear.

At some point, yeah, I know I will have to jump forward again, and Marcia will probably deploy the cattle prod to make it happen at some point. But for now, I’m fighting it, knowing that I will ultimately lose this battle, as I always do.

I continued to fight the good fight after that point in time, working stubbornly to not update my listening paradigms just for the sake of updating them. But as of yesterday, I must confess with chagrin that I have thrown in the towel, and have formally resigned myself to the fact that we live in a streaming era now, and that I have to play along, if I want to play.

It’s been a slow erosion arriving at this point, and Marcia, being less change averse, led the charge as she usually does in such matters. In 2019, when she was taking a yoga instructor class, she needed to create class playlists using Spotify (her instructors’ choice), so she set up an account and got a little Bluetooth speaker so that she could play her mixes from her phone. Then we found that, as we were traveling, hotels and rental homes and rental cars stopped offering music playing devices that could be connected to the iPods that I traveled with, so we started using Marcia’s Spotify account and travel speaker to make trip-specific playlists.

Within the past year, I beefed up our main home television with a really good sound system. Since the TV was a smart one, we could also play Spotify playlists through it, and the quality of the sound experienced there was certainly greater than what we were getting from my 12+ year old iPod docking stereo. So we began listening to various playlists that way, and I began actively curating Spotify playlists in real time, to add new release albums, typically mirroring whatever I was downloading on my computer to play with iTunes. (My catalog of songs hosted on my computer is now at 17,522 tracks, totally about 48 days of total listening time).

While we were in California last week, I went to a local coffee shop one morning, and was most pleasantly surprised to hear Fairport Convention’s sublime take on the traditional tune “Matty Groves” playing over the shop’s stereo. When I got back to our rental house, I made a really, really good (if I say so myself) 100+ song Folk-Rock mix on the Spotify account, and it pretty much soundtracked the remainder of our time on vacation. When I got home, I sat down at my computer and considered recreating it on iTunes, but I found that a lot of the songs I had selected were not available, and it seemed wasteful to spend money on downloading things that I’d already gotten on the Spotify account. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I caved, folded, collapsed and surrendered to the inevitable. Meet the new paradigm. Better (?) late than never.

I formalized this transition yesterday, when I bought a new Bose smart speaker for our house and set it up with an Echo Dot that we’d been given some years ago and never used, so now we can just to talk to She Who Will Not Be Named Out Loud Lest She Order Us Twenty Pounds of Cat Litter (hint: Exa-Alay) and She will play our music for us. I must admit, it sounds good, and it’s easy. Well, it got easy after I renamed all of our playlists to make them simpler to remember and call up, anyway.  And now we don’t have to have the television on to play our Spotify music. Here’s what our home jukebox set up looks like now:

I must admit I found it a bit giggle-inducing to realize how much it evokes my home jukebox from nearly half-a-century ago:

With that new system set up and running, I had to unplug my trusty old Tivoli Audio iPod player that I’ve been using daily since we lived in Latham, New York, well over a decade ago. We certainly got more than our money’s worth out of that modest tech investment, and it’s certainly had a good and productive run. It’s still working fine, actually, though its speakers sound thin compared to more modern ones, and it obviously doesn’t work with contemporary streaming technology. But still . . . I feel inordinately sad seeing it sitting here on my office floor like this, its service complete, ready to be relegated to the big box of wires and cables and adaptors and old tech that sits in my closet, gathering dust:

Poor Old Music Box. You were good to us, and I will miss you, while humming this excellently weird favorite song to myself in your honor and memory, wistfully:

I do note that I am not totally giving up on iTunes/iPod technology, as we still use it in our car, and I’m disinclined to have to be connecting and disconnecting various accounts and phones when we get in and out the Mazda every time. So my 17,522 purchased song library will still have some value, though I don’t expect I’ll add much to it anymore, so that means that car driving time will eventually become more of a nostalgia listening experience that a what’s new and fresh experience. Oh well. I’ll endure, I suppose. And I know that sometime in the future, something new will come along, and everybody will adopt it, and I will cling to my Bose and Spotify and Lexa-Alay system, raging, raging against the dying of that paradigm. Here’s hoping that time is in the long distant future though. I’m just not sure how many more beloved inanimate objects I can euthanize while remaining emotionally healthy and functional . . .

7 thoughts on “Caving to Streaming

  1. As a lifelong musician, I have felt the impact of your ‘paradigm’ from both sides of the proverbial coin (you are correct on Bandcamp).

    That all said, I essentially followed a similar trajectory to the one you outline above–a long, drawn-out slog of defiance in the face of technology. I finally acquiesced when our most recent car was not offered with a cd player.

    That all said, I have shifted my focus to vinyl. The few scattered hours of ‘me’ time that I have each week is typically spent with a record on in the background. My collection consists of ‘desert island’ records, and I think that spending a little time actively listening to my music has really sparked a renewed relationship with some of my favorite artists.

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    • I’m a musician in remission, though in retirement I am finding myself itching to get back into playing and singing again. And I sold or discarded something like 2,000 albums at the original “demise” of the 12-inch record era, along with my great old Bang and Olufsen turntable, though I was very late to the CD party. Of course, right around the time that I’d finally shed my albums and the ability to play them, the format started to come back into favor on the audiophile side of the world. I have a hard time imagining myself going back to those days, alas . . . as reluctant as I am to make a tech change, I do tend to then hew to the one I pick for as long as possibly can. I do love focused listening every now and again, along with just having music playing as background during most of my waking moments. Agree 100% that there’s value to quality time with beloved artists!

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  2. A year after my wife asked me what I’m going to with my LPs and CDs before I die, I’ve actually bought more CDs this year: Steeleye Span, Lucinda Williams, Randy Rainbow, Frank Sinatra, Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt… At some level, it’s because artists get more (I believe) than streaming services. Or maybe I’m just old.

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    • The artist compensation piece has certainly been a big road-block for me in terms of wanting to use streaming services, since I value supporting artists. I never, ever succumbed to the whole Napster-era and beyond practices of pirating or torrenting or whatevering intellectual property. While I can’t say I’m at peace, exactly, with shifting into streaming, I do note that while artists receive a small compensation per song play, they get paid for EACH song play, so in the long haul for stuff I really like, I will (I think) contribute more than I would by downloading from iTunes or wherever, where I pay for the song once, and then that’s it, no matter how often I play it. When I do acquire music in digital format, I try as often as I can to get things from Bandcamp, since I understand that platform to have the highest return on profits for artist (well, beyond merch sales and live shows and touring, anyway). It’s a fraught time for listeners and musicians alike, I think, on these regards. (On a cheerier note, been listening to lots of Steeleye Span of late, along with other great folk-rock artists in the mix that finally pushed me over the hump with regard to streaming).

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  4. We still listen (and buy) CDs. 🤣 I keep saying to my husband to stop buying them and instead stream but he’s simply not interested. So we have CD nights (and sometimes vinyl record nights) just listening to music. It’s lovely.

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    • Music nights are indeed lovely, regardless the format. (As are music afternoons and music mornings . . . we tend to have something playing pretty much continually when we’re not on the phone or watching television!)

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