By Fiona O’ Connell
It is a point that has been made many times over and will probably continue to be made by every middle-aged person in the country in regards to where we are with our music consumption in the present day; “Sure noooobody’s buying music anymore, not with that Spotify craic or whatever it is”. And to an extent your uncle Mick is bang on. The way we consume music has changed drastically in the last ten years – even in the last five years. It’s not just the idea of streaming platforms either, it’s the way we consume albums; we tend to not really digest them. We hear the singles, pick our favourites, add them to our playlists, and ditch the rest of it. In times past you wouldn’t even be able to skip a track, let alone add your favourite track to your own personally curated playlist. Technological advancements have allowed for our musical horizons to be opened and expanded hugely and in an entirely revolutionary way. However, the argument must be made on behalf of musicians all over the world – why you really should buy their music this Christmas, whether as a little present from yourself to yourself, or for any of your loved ones.
A common misperception about musicians is the idea that they’re all minted; absolutely rolling in it off of all of those sweet airplay and Spotify royalties. Well the harsh reality is Spotify streams really don’t equate to the kind of money professional musicians need to keep themselves afloat. Now I’m not talking about the likes of Ariana Grande and the royalties she sees from her streams on the platform – I get the feeling she’s doing just fine (queue chants of ‘I want it, I got it!’). For many of our favourite artists as well as more local musicians however, the money they receive from streaming platforms such as Spotify is nowhere near enough to cover the costs of recording studios, tour budgets, as well as equipment and sound gear. Whilst the power of Spotify as well as the probability of its longevity in terms of practicality and popularity cannot be denied, that is not to say that there is still a certain beauty in actually purchasing music. There is something quite lovely about physically holding a collection of music of one of your favourite artists, meticulously crafted and curated over a series of months or in some cases, years.
Something that I think is worth noting in the argument about modern music consumption is the idea that an algorithm is selecting and playlisting all of our weekly favourites. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with that, there is the same feeling of unease that comes with the realisation of why all of the ads on instagram are from the exact same site you just bought from. Why is this playlisting machine of a sort collecting our favourite genres, curating playlists full of what we already love, and recommending music collections based on the mood they think we’re likely to be in? This attempt to tap into our emotional needs is something that I don’t think is often considered when we tap into the Spotify app. A writer named Liz Pelly has written a really insightful article on this topic entitled ‘Big Mood Machine’, which explores the idea of the streaming platform’s attempt to tap into our deepest emotions in an attempt to literally soundtrack our lives. The whole concept is a little off-putting but entirely fascinating so I would definitely recommend giving her piece a read, especially if you need a push to put the phone down and give a CD a spin this Christmas.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t just have to be physical copies of albums that make a difference to musician’s pay cheques. If you prefer to listen to your music on your computer, out of a speaker, or even through your headphones on your smartphone, purchasing your music on Tidal or iTunes is just as viable a way to enjoy your favourite music whilst supporting the wonderful musicians behind it. In saying that, some artists would argue that there is still little money to be made in the selling of their actual music. It’s easy to see how in this day and age, musicians would view the selling of tour tickets and merchandise as a more viable way of making a living. With the growing emphasis on branding, musicians have begun to produce more quirky and uniquely crafted items of clothing to entice their fans to support them and their product (which goes beyond the realm of just music – see: Billie Eilish’s luminous beanies and baggy basketball shorts). So if you can at all, buy those concert tickets for you and your Mam, buy that Billie Eilish beanie for your little sister, and grab a record for your Dad’s dusty vinyl player; I’m sure he’d be only glad to give it a whirl again.