Streaming Is Killing the Musical Author
How algorithms are not only changing the way we listen, but are changing the way we write music.
In the online era, curators rule the day. Josh Ostrovsky, the social media prankster known as the Fat Jewish, parlayed an Instagram feed full of other people's jokes into a book deal. We consume the news that Facebook decides to slide into our News Feed and applaud DJ Khaled's prowess in cannily pairing hot rappers and producers. This reality is particularly stark in the world of streaming music, where we no longer pay for individual albums but for access to an all-you-can-eat buffet of nearly every recording ever made. Within a sea of musical information, the entities that hold the most power—like Spotify and Apple Music—are those with the resources to organize and control the flow of it. As these powerful curators turn music into a kind of public utility, they're upending our very understanding of what it means to be a musician.
"We're not in the music space," Spotify founder Daniel Ek told the New Yorker in 2014. "We're in the moment space." While Ek's statement seems counterintuitive, it's important to remember that Spotify makes monthly payments to rights holders in exchange for the right to stream their catalogs, from which its data-driven algorithms draw when recommending songs to users. It also uses this raw material to populate its hyper-specific curated playlists, which center on microgenres ("Christian Dance Party," "Coffee Table Jazz"), moods ("Melancholia," "Confidence Boost"), and activities ("Coping with Loss," "Williamsburg Brunch"), and often have hundreds of thousands or even millions of subscribers.
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