The world is finite even for music streaming: why we should all be slowing down

Robert Henke’s Facebook post about the usefulness of CDs prompted me to reconsider the notion that music streaming is bad for us. I release my music on Bandcamp and also with the big players Spotify, Apple Music, and so on. For me, it is important to have the music available in as many places as possible. However, on the other hand, this issue does not sit well with me. Some people claim that streaming services are bad for artists since they don’t pay well. That might be true, but it’s not the whole story.

I started my musical career in the early 1990s. At that time, if you wanted to listen to music, you had two options: you either bought a CD or you downloaded a file from the internet. If you wanted to listen to a specific song, you had to buy the whole CD or download the entire album.

With streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, things are different. You can listen to any song any time anywhere. They offer a huge catalog of music, and you can find almost anything you’re looking for. You can also create your playlists and listen to them offline. And if you’re a musician, you can upload your music and share it with the world. Too good to be true? Yes, because the issue with them is not simply that they pay little to no money to musicians. They adhere to the principles of economic development, which is a double-edged sword.

Because each time you want to listen, you must stream again, streaming is a misconception when it comes to on-demand listening. It’s possible to save music for offline playback and reduce your power consumption. Nonetheless, acknowledging that ecological concerns have two edges is one thing; believing you can have everything at your fingertips at all times is sheer nonsense.

What’s more, streaming services are based on the principle of infinite growth. They rely on ever-increasing numbers of users and ever-expanding libraries of music. But the world is finite, and there are only so many people in it. And while the number of songs in the world is also finite, the pool of potential listeners is not. Sooner or later, these companies will have to come to terms with the fact that they can’t keep growing forever.

The other problem with streaming services is that they’re controlled by a handful of giant corporations. Apple, Google, and Amazon are all in the business of selling music, and they all have their own streaming services.

CD collection

When I was young I recall how difficult it was to have music on the go.

The portable Discman’s Anti-Shock mechanism wouldn’t work, and the batteries wouldn’t last with my old Sony DD Quartz Walkman. If you wanted to have music on the go, you needed a lot of preparation. You had to put all your CDs in cases, label them, and remember which ones you had with you. But despite the technical difficulties, the good thing was, that one had to choose the music you wanted to listen to on the go before leaving the house. This way one learned to love certain music pieces which weren’t so hot for the first listen. I recall listening to music for example on train rides and having extremely deep listening experiences. Because I had no choice but to listen to the same pieces over and over again. With Spotify or Apple Music, you just need your phone and an internet connection.

I’m always struck by how many individuals I see using their cellphones with earbuds in their ears, and I wonder if they’re simply seeking a diversion or if they’re getting a real listening experience. For me, listening to music is a time-consuming pastime. Music has lost its depth for me while I’m streaming it on my phone.

I got rid of my smartphone internet access. I no longer have a smartphone. When I still had one, I never succeeded in listening to music the same way I did with my Sony DD Quartz. Call me nostalgically, but I’m simply more liberated now that I quit thinking about having every possible song at my fingertips, no matter where I go.

I still remember a bus journey to Vienna with an orchestra when I was in my early 20s, playing the double bass. On my discman, I was listening to the Kruder and Dorfmeister K7 mix.. We drove through the night and I could not sleep listening to that CD over and over again. I’m certain I would’ve switched to another playlist at some point if cell phones with music streaming access had existed at the time. This bus ride was why I began making electronic music in the first place. (And a DJ set by Jeff Mills at Grosse Halle in Bern).

I know that it’s hard to let go of all the conveniences that streaming services offer, but I believe that we need to start valuing music more. If you’re a musician, please don’t give up on your art. Keep making music and sharing it with the world. And if you’re a listener, please do your part by buying CDs or downloading files from artists that you love. Let’s work together to keep music alive and well. Thank you for reading!