MUSIC AND SPOTIFY: To be free or not to be free?
IT amazes me how music stores manage to survive in the information age. We are already able to stream music online from websites and radio stations, watch music videos freely on YouTube (and download these), listen to hit singles by our favourite bands via their websites and share music with others using our cellphones, iPods and iPads. The number of songs that can be stored on an iPod or MP3 player is also so high that buying a CD with between 10 and 20 tracks just seems like a disappointment.
It is also not difficult to download songs illegally online. File-sharing websites such as The Pirate Bay and programs such as LimeWire have been under scrutiny ever since their launch, but are still around and remain popular. It has even been argued that people who download music are far more likely to buy original CDs than those who don’t. Being able to familiarise ourselves with a new band or artist by listening to more than just one promotional track allows us to make a more informed choice whether or not we want to support the group by buying their original work. It also reduces the risk of being disappointed and R100-odd poorer, so the arguments go.
There is no doubt that music corporations painstakingly attempt to protect their copywrite material. Using just a few seconds of a dated song in an online video could result in a hefty fine. What often happens in the case of YouTube videos that use copywrite music is that a stern e-mail is sent to the creator stating that the video will not be pulled but that YouTube has the right to advertise alongside the video. When this happens your YouTube channel begins to look like a corporate website with big, flashy adverts unrelated to your video content.
The games industry has already realised the value of offering dated games for free online. With the proliferation of new titles, it becomes nonsensical to try to sell older games. But game companies and developers still want us playing and appreciating their previous work and familiarising ourselves with their brands. Offering older titles for free may also muster new fans and potential buyers of their newer titles. So why isn’t the same done with regards to music?
Spotify – the free music website
Spotify is one of many websites that allow users to listen to and share music freely online. It hosts more than 13 million songs and it is free to share everything you listen to on Spotify through social media sites and services such as Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube. The Spotify application is available for PC, Mac, cellphones and even home audio systems. “Just help yourself to whatever you want, whenever you want it,” it says on the Spotify website.
Spotify openly admits that its goal is “to have all the music in the world available instantly to everyone”. It also admits, however, that it takes time to arrange licensing agreements with record labels, which indicates that its goal is a legit one. Unfortunately, this does mean that Spotify is not yet available in every country, including South Africa. It’s no surprise that the countries where it is available are the most liberal when it comes to freedom of information and the Internet, such as Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
What is great about websites such as Spotify is that they promote the consumer policy of “try before you buy”. Users are able to purchase songs or albums off the website, which can then be downloaded in MP3 format.
But one might ask, if it is entirely free, in theory, to listen to and share just about any song on the Internet, then what difference does it make whether the same songs are downloaded? We may wish to load up our iPod before a jog or create a music CD for our car — whatever 21st-century convenience tickles our fancy.
It seems a bit bizarre that we (or at least people in some countries) are able to consume the music of our choice to our hearts content all for free, but the minute we want to listen offline at our own convenience we have to pay for it — even if they are songs or albums that are no longer stocked in music stores.
Maybe they want us spending that time listening on their websites so they can build up a record of what we like and send promotions our way.