Spot the Boat

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

An observation: That nursery rhyme might be the first music composition you ever performed. You probably sang it as a round, with other children joining in. It taught you that rhythmic things (like most music, and like rowing a boat) are as natural to life as your heartbeat. It also taught you that music can be a terrifically cool way to interact and communicate with others.

Which brings us to Spotify.

As has been widely stated, you could probably live life without music, but who would want to? It’s not for nothing that for more than 100 years, business and technology have devised ways to make more and more music more and more available to us. And the latest Borg-like effort to assimilate all possible music into everyone’s everyday life is from Spotify, based in London.

As with other music cloud streaming services, Spotify offers a wide range of music over many genres, from both major and independent record labels. It boasts a library of 15 million tracks (and supposedly adds 10,000 more every day). You can sign up for one of several plans. The Spotify Free plan limits your listening time, has advertising, and is by invitation only during a promotional period. Spotify Unlimited costs $5 a month, offers unlimited listening, and is ad-free. Spotify Premium is $10 and adds offline listening, mobile device support, and a higher bit rate (320 as opposed to 160 kilobits per second) for better sound quality.

All streaming services incorporate some kind of social networking angle, but Spotify, significantly, seems more tuned to socializing. You can create a personalized playlist and share it with other subscribers by dragging the playlist to an e-mail message or using instant messaging. The other users can add your playlist to their Spotify page and see and hear it. If you add or remove tracks from your list, their copy is automatically updated. Collectively, you can also edit playlists with them after you invite them to search yours. A news feed lets you see and hear the Facebook posts of your Spotify friends, and you can subscribe to public playlist feeds that automatically update as their music rotations evolve.

Many streamers provide an “automated discovery” feature that can analyze your tastes and push music tracks to you that it thinks you’ll like. At least for now, Spotify doesn’t offer this to U.S. subscribers. Instead, its emphasis is on its music-socializing features. Sure, it has the usual search engines, but it clearly hopes that music lovers will discover new music by interacting with other music lovers. That’s quite unlike the traditional technique (repurposed to Web pages) of pawing through the bins at a record store and perhaps consulting a knowledgeable employee. Instead of browsing for new music, you and your friends are sharing music.

With all due respect to all the incredibly savvy (and unemployed) record-store employees, my friends have great taste in music and know a lot about my tastes, too. Plus, connecting with friends through music is just plain fun. An emphasis on music socializing for music exploration is as profound a paradigm shift as streaming is from brick-and-mortar record stores. I predict that just as downloading and streaming made the stores obsolete, socializing will eclipse searching as the preferred way to discover new music.

Two final observations: Why would you row a boat down a stream? Why not just let the current do the work for you? And, more darkly, if life is just a dream, then it’s a profoundly nihilistic experience, since everything you do is illusionary anyway. Nursery rhymes: merrily proving that it’s never too early to rock a person’s boat.