I’ve been away for a while, but Spotify has renewed my thirst for discovery, bless its mechanical heart.
I could pretend I would have discovered the French singer Camille without Spotify, the new European import streaming music import service. I’d be being disingenous, but I could lie. I go on YouTube all the time. Maybe I would have found her hiding in some dimly-lit, French-speaking alleyway behind the trailer for Midnight in Paris. I’ve used Grooveshark before, and while finding new, interesting music on Grooveshark’s messy interface is difficult, who knows what could have happened, right? Or Pandora. I use Pandora. Perhaps one of her songs would have popped up on “Regina Spektor Radio,” and I would have jumped at my iPad shouting “Who IS this?” and my love affair with her music would have begun.
Any of these things could have potentially happened. But they hadn’t for the past three years I’ve been using those devices, and, I mean come on, the chances of this changing were tiny. So I won’t pretend this could have happened any other place then in the sprawling halls of Spotify, where any music discovery seems possible, and, more importantly, where any great music discovery is probable.
People ask how Spotify is different (if they even know what it is, which few do). This is how it is different. It is clean, fast, friendly and intuitive. YouTube has almost anything you could ask for, of course, and it’s great for discovering new music as well as just about everything else, but its slow load times make it a pain in the neck. I frequently end up closing my computer in frustration when YouTube gets in one of its moods. Pandora tries to be intuitive, and by god, for a computer, it sure is right a lot of the time,but since I have no control over it, I have no real way of steering it in the right direction when it’s totally off, and, worst of all, the more it gets to know me, the less it seems to want to steer me in new directions that could change who I am. Pandora only seems to care who I was. Grooveshark and many other apps like it are fast and moderately friendly, but they are not clean. Finding a song on Grooveshark is really easy if you know what you’re looking
for. Creating a music experience for yourself on Grooveshark is nearly impossible – the massive, unsorted search results and lack of artist homes, the lack of albums and organization and central intelligence, make exploring music migraine-inducing. And of course pirating music is convenient if you insist on owning your own music, except that it is completely inconvenient in every way. Pirating is not clean, it is slow as molasses caught in a vacuum compared to just about everything else out there, it is completely unintuitive because it doesn’t care who you are, and it is distinctly not friendly. Considering all this, I cannot figure out why people keep insisting that they are not looking for any alternative to stealing music. I don’t have a moral problem with it. It’s just, if you were starving for food, and you were going to the drug store and stuffing only what you could conceivably fit in your shirt and pockets away – maybe a bag of chips, a loaf of bread and a candy bar – before dashing out, constantly having to raid new places, constantly watching your back, and this fat cat set up an unlimited buffet full of the world’s finest gourmet right in front of you and said, “You can keep stealing, or you can sit down and eat, because this is all yours for the taking, enjoy,” what would you do? If you really loved the thrill of stealing, I guess you’d keep doing that, even though you could never eat as much taking things illegally, and even though it is inconvenient, messy and inherently not user-friendly. Me, I sit down and say, “Thank you.”
Spotify is like your best friend that knows everything about music, every kind of music, and lets you go through his impossibly large record collection whenever you want. He’s always on hand to give you advice and sort things by artist, by song or by album (I do wish my friend could also sort by genre and date, if I’m nit-picking). He knows you very well, but he’s not locked into an algorithm like Pandora. He just knows how you like to explore music, and not necessarily what you liked that one time. He’s more than happy to hold on to something you said you might want to listen to in the future and hand it over when you’re ready. You don’t own his music, it’s his, but that’s cool because you have him, and he is more than happy to let you borrow whatever you want whenever you want. Good deal! Basically he’s a huge music nerd, but what makes him so transcendently cool is that he thinks it’s awesome that you’re becoming one too.
When I first jumped on Spotify (for once in my life, I was a very early adopter here in the U.S., jumping on the bandwagon almost immediately, buying the unlimited plan soon after that) I went with what I knew best. While amassing all the Pixar soundtracks, I came across a song that didn’t seem familiar. It was the “pop” song that closed out Ratatouille, but it wasn’t by Rascal Flats or Randy Newman or James Taylor or any of the regular Pixar stable. I mean I’d heard the song “Le Festin” before, and I thought it was a great song for the movie, but it was just, you know, French music. Like a stock photo of the Eiffel Tower. (Obviously I should have trusted Pixar more than this. Just as Pixar would never use a stock photo of the Eiffel Tower, they would never just use a stock French musician. They
would use the best, absolutely most awesome French musician they could find.)
Hearing it again I realized how weird and wonderful it was, and wondered how Pixar, obsessed with its American singer-songwriters, had found this Camille character. I wanted to find out more. Next to “Le Festin,” it said Camille. Curiosity peaked. Click.
“French pop chanteuse Camille attracted international attention as a member of the acclaimed Nouvelle Vague before resuming her solo career…” Hmmm… Click a track. No wait time, there it is, piping into my ears. Oh! This is cool! Okay moving on to something else. I starred all her albums thinking I’d probably never come back to them but, who knows, at least they’d be there.
And for three weeks, they sat there as I starred other artists. Old Broadway albums, everything from Show Boat to A Chorus Line. Everything Bing Crosby. Bon Iver. Beyonce. Take on Me. And then today I stumbled across those old stars. Why not give it a listen? Today my soundtrack at work will be French, that’ll be cool.
My God! No seriously… My God! All of it. The music of Camille (pronounced KA-mee, and not ka-MEAL as we ignorant Americans might expect) isn’t stock French music. I think we too often push music off like this. French music is French music, country music is country music, African music is African music. Pshhh. What a horrendously confining notion. Camille’s music is French music, with accordions and whispered nothings and can-can
reveries, as much as Ben Folds’s music is American music, with fife and drums and Yankee Doodle Dandies. Camille’s music is great music, sung in French. It’s kind of the greatest music. It hit me like a sledgehammer. I slipped right into it like I had always known it, even as it was challenging me to hear things I had never heard before in music.
This isn’t me trying to say “Look at me, I can listen to French music, Ooo-la-la that makes me cooler then you!” I readily admit that I am not cooler then you. I have no pretensions. You are probably way cooler than me in almost every way. However, if I stay on Spotify for long enough and you keep pirating music like a dummy, I will probably surpass you. Just sayin’. Liking Camille does not make me any cooler, hipper, or more likely to get a girl. Today, it is making me happier. That is all. I do not claim to understand France, French politics, or for that matter, French. I do not even understand French dressing (it is way too sweet to be a salad dressing!) Do I have any idea what Camille is saying? Umm, no. Do I have any idea what Bon Iver is saying? Also no, and he’s speaking mostly English, sort of. Honestly, I barely understand what anyone is saying when they’re singing. I unabashedly listen to and love Ke$ha and Katy Perry, and I could care less what they’re saying. So
that hardly seems to matter in the end. In my own way, I get what she’s saying, even if I can’t speak French. I know I will never get all the intricacies of her message, but in its own naïve way, what connection I am forging now may mean more. (Note: Her most recent album, which I am listening to now, is in English, and, of course, I like the French stuff better. Strange.)
So what does all this mean for me? It means that I am hopelessly – and happily – lost in an endless wilderness. How can one focus on the music one knows about and has decided to listen to when an artist the listener has never even heard of jumps out of nowhere and blows everything out of proportion? Someone half a world away who has never even come close to registering on any of the “Greatest Album of All Time Lists” or the year-end wrap-ups? Worst yet, what about when that artist is someone you’ve heard in a Disney movie but didn’t even recognize as a game-changer? Well it makes you feel really small. Does any of that matter when you are actively listening to Camille’s music? Nope, not one bit.
Spotify brought her to me, deposited her on my doorstep, waited patiently until I was ready. No other service can do that. I have been shamelessly plugging this service to my friends, because, truly, there’s so much fun to be had when you just embrace this new way of listening to and “owning” music, give yourself over to it, and jump on board. Exploring is fun. Finding yourself suddenly entrenched in a new land, ready to settle down and colonize (as I am now ready to do in Camille’s camp) is downright spine-tinglingly awesome. If music like Camille’s is my new settlement, my home base, then Spotify is the ship that got me there. Long may the good ship Spotify sail!