Looking down the rabbit hole of streaming services

Now more than any ever we have unlimited access to the art of music

Not too long ago, finding new music took a walk to the record store to ask the employees what they recommended. These audio aficionados were real human beings with ears for music and the knowledge to point out what constitutes art worth listening to. In that same spirit, new music had long presented itself to consumers in the shape of the live show, something we’re generally bereft of in a pandemic world. Opening acts allowed patrons to discover a performer often unknown to them, giving listeners the chance to come to their own conclusions.

With the introduction of countless streaming services, infinite artists and genres are accessible at any given time. These have opened the doors to vast historical catalogues of music from Cab Calloway to Brian Eno, or from swing to shoegaze. There is no doubt that this is a fortunate time to be a lover of music, but at the heart of all these streaming services is something to remember: they are businesses, and businesses love to collect data.

Take Spotify’s privacy policy for example, which outlines their use of user data which includes search queries, streaming history, user-created playlists, browsing history, account settings, and much more. Most of this is used “to provide the personalized Spotify Service,” and “to evaluate and develop new features, technologies, and improvements to the Spotify Service.”

In this sense, the algorithm is always ahead of its listeners, basing recommendations on their digital footprints. Although streaming services offer discovery playlists, they are still generated by the service itself. As a result of this, it becomes easy to fall into a loop of listening to similar artists from similar periods over and over again. You don’t need to know who Cocteau Twins or Car Seat Headrest are to have good music taste, but you can do better than the cheap recommendations produced by your own habits.

All of this begs the question: what’s the answer to big tech mirroring our tastes back to us? Not everyone has parents with a basement full of vinyl records and a turntable waiting to be discovered. In this regard, it would suit us to find and define music for ourselves. With sites like Rate Your Music or Chosic, the experience of discovering new music without any personal data required can be achieved in a time where live shows are sparse. With music so easily accessible these days, it becomes easier and easier to forget that music is an art form — and the act of discovering it should be an art form as well.


Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

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