By Daniel Jonas
Let me begin this post by saying something that a lot of musicians might find distasteful. I am a Spotify subscriber. I pay what I consider to be a paltry monthly fee to have access to millions of songs from my computer and phone from almost anywhere. I willingly and gladly pay this fee – I LOVE Spotify. And anyone who loves music should love it, too.
There are two reasons many people might find this distasteful. The first is the fact that artists are basically not compensated by Spotify at all when people listen to their music. The second is one that is outlined quite eloquently by Dr. Grant Larson here on Dizzyland (http://dizzylandjazz.com/2014/09/05/digitized-digestion-of-jazz/), that streaming music in this manner diminishes and devalues the listening experience as a whole. I disagree with both positions, and let me tell you why.
First off, as a working musician, I understand better than most the inherent frustration and futility that goes along with trying to make a living in this business. All of us have heard stories about the glory days of music, about the days when gigs were plentiful and audiences were respectful. Having a conversation with any musician who’s been in the business for awhile inevitably turns to how hard it is to find decent paying work. And I know firsthand – I’ve played my fair share of bar gigs for the door and walked out with $8 in my pocket for three hours of hard work. I don’t blame bar owners or those who book musicians for this, I don’t blame musicians for this, and I don’t blame audiences for this. This new economic reality is a fact of life and a result of the incredible technology that we have access to.
If you step back for a moment, it is truly amazing that for a small monthly fee through Spotify, and another through Netflix, you have access to a significant majority of the totality of entertainment ever created. Hundreds of hours of movies, thousands of hours of television shows, tens of thousands of hours of music is available at the click of a button. As an artist, you can’t turn your back on this. This is the future of entertainment, and it’s the future of entertainment for the most basic of economic forces – people want it this way and are willing to pay for it. Fighting that is the very essence of futility. Instead, we as artists should be trying to figure out how to make the system work for us so that we are fairly compensated for our effort and talent. Smarter people than I can address that – and it is definitely a conversation worth having. Ultimately musicians need to seek control over their own music and how it is distributed. But the reality of streaming music services isn’t going away. Trying to boycott Spotify isn’t going to change anything. So I choose to accept it.
As for the devaluing of the listening experience that comes with streaming music, I again must disagree. I will say that sometimes the audio quality of streaming music leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to jazz. And the fact that Spotify doesn’t provide an easy way get album information (things like date released, other musicians on the record) means that the truly dedicated will have to go to Google to find that information. But that doesn’t change the fact that I now have access to thousands more songs and recordings than I would otherwise.
As a young jazz fan growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was pretty limited in the music I had access to. Albuquerque isn’t a small town, not exactly, but a trip to my local record store did not typically yield a lot of options for the jazz listener. There was a smattering of Miles and Trane, maybe a few “Young Lions”, and not much else. I always wanted more and was rarely able to find it.
Coming from that background as I do, I am continually in awe of the availability of music. I’ve heard jazz on Spotify that I would have otherwise never encountered. If the choice is never hearing a track or streaming it through Spotify, I choose to Spotify. How can this possibly be a bad thing? This is new the reality. This is how our future students are consuming music. They don’t value the lengths that older generations had to go to in order to obtain music. They don’t have to spend hours at a record store sifting through albums. Google and YouTube take care of that. And why would we make them? Why fight it? If I want my students to learn a tune, they now have access to many different versions of it. They can listen to great musicians playing a song in a variety of different styles and time periods. They can hear Ella sing it or Oscar Peterson play it or Coleman Hawkins play it, or Mark Turner play it. Again, I ask – how is that bad? As teachers, we should be thrilled at the resources we have for presenting the awesome history of this music to our students in a way they understand and are comfortable with. We as teachers have a responsibility to guide students through this, because the sheer volume of choices and options can be overwhelming.
There is no way to put this genie back in the bottle. Streaming music services are here and they aren’t going anywhere. So why fight it? As musicians, artists and teachers, let’s find a way to turn this to our advantage. It’s truly an amazing time to love music. This can’t be anything other than good news.
Dan can be found camping out on his webpage – danjonasmusic.com.