Spotify’s Slippery Slope

(Craig Campbell)– In my first (of many) posts complaining about social networking, I pointed to Spotify as one of the more irritating examples of oversharing on the Internet. Why is music the piece of cultural capital so many of us it find necessary to share? The service, now restricted to users with an active Facebook page, will post all the songs you listen to in real time to your timeline. For those of you who haven’t heard of the relatively new Cloud-based music platform, Wikipedia explains:

Spotify is a Swedish music streaming service offering digitally restricted streaming of selected music from a range of major and independent record labels, including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group, and Universal. Music can be browsed by artist, album, record label, genre or playlist as well as by direct searches. On desktop clients, a link allows the listener to purchase selected material via partner retailers.

“Ping” on iTunes was the first memorable attempt by a major music provider to integrate a social experience into users’ everyday listening. And Ping didn’t even have the ads that Spotify does. But CNN listed Ping in the top ten technology fails in 2010. What makes Spotify so successful, then? Part of it is advertising. It was news that Spotify was extended from the hip European community to consumers in the US. And you needed an exclusive invite from someone on the inside, making it so much more seductive (read: marketing strategies of Gilt, Pinterest, And it was cool (Ping, not cool) – Spotify is sleek, sexy and Swedish; it’s appearance is even the dark, stormy antithesis to iTunes’ spartan, white interface.

Despite my vehement reservations, I’m coming ‘round to Spotify. It IS so convenient to easily send mp3 files directly to a friend’s inbox. It IS nice not to have to hunt for music in the deep recesses of the Internet. And as a platform it IS more conducive to discovering new artists. But while Spotify is more convenient than my default iTunes, I’m certainly more self-conscious about the music I play while using it. Though I’ve disabled the default Facebook-sharing feature (though it sometimes seems to forget) anyone else using Spotify can see what I’m listening to in a ticker that’s always on the screen. I’m not totally averse to a social music experience – I have a profile that charts how my music tastes change over time. But I only have four (as opposed to 1200) friends that can see what I’ve been playing. I consider music preferences one of the most telling, and therefore most personal, bits of information about an individual, so I try to be careful about how much I’m revealing.

But maybe it’s a good thing to be self-conscious about the music we play, because then at least we’re sentient of the media we consume. Last week, I decried the state of pop music, arguing that if we think more about the music we listen to, we might make progress to “revitalize” it. If all the music you listen to is seen by everyone you know, won’t you select more interesting songs and artists to play? Isn’t that what I’m asking for?

The problem is the level of pretense contingent to sharing. Especially since it’s a cultural good, making public all the music you listen to risks sacrificing authenticity for approval and reputation. Real preferences tend to fade away when the social music experience becomes a competition to listen to the most or the best music. And yet, I find myself using Spotify more and more.

How many other arenas of our lives can it possibly extend to? In terms of culture, how is the music we listen to any different than the movies we watch, the food we eat, the poems we read, or the art we see? The iPhone commercial ominously rings “there’s an app for that,” and increasingly, there are or will be social media sites for each of those things. Which, I’m finally beginning to consider, might not be so terrible. Time will tell.