Fraser Nelson

In praise of Spotify

In praise of Spotify
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Last night, I met a man who changed my life. Not that he knew it. Shakil Khan from Spotify is part of the team that has delivered what is – to me – the most lifestyle-changing innovation since Sky Plus. For the uninitiated, it has a seemingly limitless database of music all for £10 a month, and it basically means I listen to music again. I had, stupidly, spent days digitally archiving my CD collection but it was so much hassle to play it that I’d given up. Wire up Spotify – from an iPhone or laptop – and you can instantly play a whole load of stuff that you thought you could never afford, or find. True to long tail economics, the greater supply of this free music leads to greater demand – in my case, spending ages discovering albums that I’d never buy on iTunes. But what is revolutionary about it is that its technology – instant streaming at perfect quality – will soon make the concept of music collections obsolete.

Take Alasdair Fraser, the greatest living fiddler. Previously, I’d have to rely on a shop in Edinburgh to stock the latest Scottish traditional music (of which I am a huge fan), and listen on headphones to their selection of new albums to hear the latest releases on the scene. Now, I can do this in Spotify - teeing me up nicely for the Edinburgh festival.


Or the last two concerts I went to: Suzanne Vega and Tango Norte. Being a bit of a boring git, I go there to listen to live versions of the best-known songs – but you know they’ll hit you with their new stuff. Using Spotfiy, you can listen to the new stuff and familiarize yourself with it rather than spend the concert wondering what’s going on.

God knows how much money I’ve wasted over the years trying to find an album as good as Air’s Moon Safari. But again, with Spotify, browsing is free. (I’ve still failed to find an equivalent – I’d be grateful for any suggestions that CoffeeHousers might have). You can compare Tracey Ullman’s version of They Don’t Know with Kirsty McColl’s original (which failed to be properly distributed due to a 1982 strike) and work out which is better (impossible). And all without feeling the guilt of spending 69p on an iTunes indulgence.

It also fuses together the printed word and music. I read an piece about a young British pianist called James Rhodes a while ago. I would not have believed, pre-Spotify, that two professional renditions of Bach can differ that much. For all my interest in Rhodes' story, I certainly would not fork out £7 to download his album on a hunch. But Spotify had his latest, and I leapt from magazine to laptop and heard instantly what the fuss is about. Wowed, I then went to one of his concerts. I just didn't investigate new artists like this, pre-Spotify.

There are, alas, huge holes in Spotify’s collection. No Beatles (due to a dispute they’re having) and no Fern Kinney (but you can always get her on YouTube). When I was doing Any Questions with Billy Bragg a while ago, I asked what he thought of it. Did he get any money? Perhaps a bit, he said, but it’s better than no money – which is the option raised by the success of internet piracy.

If Spotify’s streaming technology is adapted to incoroporate films then the television really will be revolutionised. No more Sky Box Office (and, for those who prefer to pay, no more Pirate Bay either). It’s great to see a technological innovation directed from London, rather than California. All power to them.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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