Spotify Shenanigans

I am an avid Spotify user. I signed up for Spotify as soon as it was available in Canada. When I first signed up, it was an individual account plan, after a while my family started to use Spotify as well so I signed up for the family plan in 2016 and added them on to it to take advantage of the plan’s cost effectiveness.

Most of my music listening occurs in Spotify. I make semi-regular use of their music discovery features like the “Discover Weekly” and “Release Radar” playlists to find new artists to check out and to keep up with artists’ new releases. When I make my own playlists, I usually make them in Spotify.

Spotify is the longest running subscription I’ve had in my life. I’ve not cancelled it since I first signed up for it all those years ago. In February of 2021, Spotify sent me a notice about a price increase for the family plan I was subscribed to: $14.99 CAD/month to $15.99 CAD/month. While I was initially annoyed by the meaningless corporate speak in the email they sent me, I eventually shrugged and moved on with my life. A one dollar price increase was not a big deal for me. It has been the only price increase since I signed up for this plan. Whatever.

What has been slowly bothering me about Spotify is their increased desire for growth beyond just being a music streaming service. It is their encroachment into the world of podcasts. Spotify has throughout the past few years made many acquisitions to bolster their catalogue with exclusive podcasts and to even control the podcast production pipeline with their acquisition of Anchor.

Let me be clear about one thing: the very concept of a podcast being exclusive to a streaming service is extremely abhorrent to me. If it is not available via a RSS feed, it is not a podcast.

I feel like Spotify does not give an actual fuck about podcasting as a medium. They are out here to capture the audio listening market and lock you in further. If you listen to both podcasts and music in Spotify, you are more “engaged” with the service and less likely to cancel and move to a different streaming service.

There is also the fact that Spotify pays artists literal pennies per stream and to be make a living on the platform you have to have some ridiculous amount of streams that’s not feasible for 99% of artists. That is one of the biggest reason I try to buy as much as music on services like Bandcamp where I can support artists more directly.

Buying music like I mentioned is not cheap however, a single album can easily exceed the monthly cost of Spotify’s plan. So I save music purchases for albums I love the most. It’s not feasible for me to buy every bit of music I listen to.

Like Om Malik wrote recently:

The reality is that we are all addicted to convenience — and streaming platforms make it damn convenient for us to not think about the artists and how they manage to survive. As streaming becomes more pervasive, the sad reality is that every track, every artist, every album is reduced to just data, served up by the algorithm. It only continues to devalue our emotional relationship with the creators.

For now, the least we can do is fight the good fight and support what you value — by buying music. It is way better than sending tips to artists via PayPal, as Spotify suggests as a way of support. That, to me, feels like digital panhandling, but that’s just me. Even if you listen to it on other platforms, buying music is a better way of expressing your fandom.

Om Malik, Bandcamp vs Streaming

I also learned today that Spotify had filed a patent for technology allows them to detect emotion via speech recognition and use that for better music targeting.

From Access Now:

The always-on technology claims to be able to detect, among other things, “emotional state, gender, age, or accent” to recommend music.

Access Now, Dear Spotify: don’t manipulate our emotions for profit

This is disgusting behaviour. Even if this technology doesn’t see actual use in Spotify’s service, the fact that this is even something they are investing research and development into should be concerning to every Spotify user. For details on just why this is disgusting, I would recommend reading the letter Access Now sent to Spotify which gets into the details.

All that said, for now I will stay subscribed to Spotify. Cancellation is not a particularly feasible option for me as it will affect the other folk on my family plan and its not really something I want to put them through at the moment. And besides, have y’all seen the state of iTunes on Windows? There isn’t really a good streaming service alternative available.

Spotify’s music discovery tools are still quite a useful tool in the toolbelt but they are not my only source of music discovery. So I will continue to do what I’ve been doing for a while now, keep buying albums I love whenever I can.