Streaming music is clearly the future. Here’s why that sucks

Spotify Premium on a computer with headphones plugged in
Guillaume Payen/Getty Images

Music streaming is big business. It’s the music industry’s last hope, according to some, and it’s saving the industry.

And I don’t like it.

Before I get to why music streaming is not for me and why you’re doing it wrong if you’re a music streamer, let’s look at just how big it is.

Spotify, the largest of the music streaming services, is regularly one of the most-used apps in the world. Tracking its usage on Facebook as an app shows just how popular it is. In fact, it’s regularly the second- or third-most used app behind Pinterest.

It’s also good business – with over 70 million paying users, Spotify is a good sign for humanity’s interest in music. Meanwhile, Apple Music claims another 30 million paying subscribers and Pandora, SoundCloud, Google Play, and others aren’t terribly far behind. People really like Spotify, too — 21 million people have said as much on Facebook alone. Music streaming generated $5.7 billion in revenue in 2017. Of all of the music industry’s revenue, streaming now counts for 65 percent of the pie.

In other words, it’s clear that music streaming is the future. And I don’t like it. Here’s why.

Albums are a good thing

It used to be that artists released albums — a collection of songs that evoked a common thread that, when listened from beginning to end as intended, painted a picture of a time, place, and feeling.

If you’re an avid streamer, ask yourself this: When was the last time you listened to an entire album? Then ask yourself this: When was the last time you added an album to your streaming catalog rather than just a single?

If you’re lost in the sound of your favorite musician only to hear the harsh trill of a Facebook alert, you’re not lost at all.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with listening to a catchy single. But let’s be real: very few people are listening to albums from beginning to end, reading liner notes, and basking in the glory that is the album. It’s all because of the non-linear nature of music streaming.

That’s sad – it means music artists are limited to just their music. They no longer have a product you anticipate, bring home, unpack, digest, and keep.

You must be connected

Using a music streaming service means access to a vast catalog of millions of songs at any one moment. That’s awesome and incredibly powerful. It also means that when you’re not connected, you have no music. Ironically, those not-connected moments are exactly when you need music the most: on planes, subways, or remote locations. Try to listen to your Spotify playlist when you’re camping in the wild.

playlists curators spotify apple music rapcaviar rap caviar playlist

Sure, you can download music ahead of time, but that requires planning ahead, which people are notoriously terrible at. It also requires more technical skill than just tapping on a song – some people just don’t know how.

Being connected all the time can also be a distraction. If you’re lost in the sound of your favorite musician only to hear the harsh trill of a Facebook alert, you’re not lost at all.

The record store is dead

Anyone who’s ever shopped at a real record store knows how rewarding that happenstance treasure hunt can be. Coming across an album or single you’ve been seeking for years is a thrill that can’t be replaced by the always-available, always-there buffet that is music streaming.

Having all the music in the world at your fingertip is a good thing. But it also makes people lazy.

Record stores were destinations – places where people once lined up at midnight for a new album drop; places bands played secret sets for their adoring fans; places where you would catch the furtive glance of another music lover an aisle over as you discover that you both enjoy hip-hop smoothed out on an R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it.

Instead, on a streaming service, you see that 34,561 people already listened that new track you were checking out.

Convenience is overrated

Yes, having all the music in the world at your fingertip is a good thing. It’s wonderful when it comes to discovery, sharing music with others, and just letting the playlists take you somewhere new.

spotify apple music booming tradeoffs worth it windows 10 trending

But it also makes people lazy. I get the sense that the quest for new music discovery and hearing that random song is on its final legs, that everything we hear is now recommended by algorithms, sent from digital satellites, and born from an echo chamber, social-media-follower snowball of boring redundancy. With the vastness of available music comes fear of the unknown, and that fear welcomes the comfort of more of the same.

Sometimes too much is just that.

Music has become Facebook (the bad Facebook)

Knowing what’s popular can be good. Quite often, the most popular songs are, in fact, really great tracks. But the social network-ization of music — being influenced by what other people are listening to — is, ultimately, the exact opposite of what music is all about. Music should be about personal expression, finding a tune or an album that speaks to you. It’s something that should be recommended with a loaded look by a very close friend who knows you better than anyone else.

Music should sometimes scare you, challenge you, and make you want to share it with someone else. In person. Unplugged. Just you and the music.

Some of the best recommendations for new music I’ve ever received have come from friends. And I’ll admit, some of the best music I’ve heard was heard on a streaming service. But I wouldn’t trade that for a sit-down, get-into-it, straight-on listening session with my favorite albums.

Wearables

To be blunt, the Vuzix Blade smartglasses just don’t cut it

We tried out the Vuzix Blade to find out if it’s worth shelling out $1,000 for smartglasses. Are these augmented reality, Android-powered glasses really ready for primetime or just an expensive gimmick that no one really needs?
Music

The best new music this week: Robert Ellis, Golden Daze, and more

Looking for the best new music? Each week, we find the most compelling new releases just for you. This week: Brand-new music from Robert Ellis, Broken Social Scene, and Golden Daze.
Home Theater

Hi-res streaming audio service Qobuz arrives in U.S., threatens Tidal’s monopoly

For several years, Tidal enjoyed a monopoly on hi-res music streaming in the U.S. Now, French company Qobuz is here to offer some competition with a variety of monthly plans starting at $10 a month.
Music

The 25 best love songs on Spotify for your wooing pleasure

Valentine's Day comes but once a year, but love is forever. If you're hoping to impress your significant other -- or if you're trying to procure one -- we put together a list of the best love songs for your wooing pleasure.
Cars

All U.S. 2020 Toyotas will have a trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio

This fall, with the introduction of the 2020 model year vehicles, all Toyotas sold in the continental U.S. will include SiriusXM satellite radio installed with a three-month trial subscription of SiriusXM All Access.
Gaming

Where to catch the encore of Marshmello's Fortnite concert if you missed it

EDM star DJ Marshmello performed a different sort of concert today: one held live in-game in Fortnite. The concert was held in Pleasant Park, where the usual football field was transformed into a stage and a massive dance party broke out.
Mobile

Schubert left Symphony No. 8 unfinished. A smartphone’s A.I. just completed it

We all know computers can be used to make music, but can artificial intelligence be used to not only generate music, but complete one of the most famous unfinished symphonies of all time? Huawei has used its A.I. to find out.
Music

The best free music download sites that are totally legal

Finding music that is both free and legal to download can be difficult. We've handpicked a selection of the best free music download sites for you to legally download your next favorite album.
Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which service is the streaming king?

Apple Music is giving Spotify a run for its money, but which service is best for you? In our Apple Music vs. Spotify showdown, we compare and contrast all we know about the two streaming music services.
Music

Spotify could terminate accounts of listeners using ad blockers

Bad news for those who block annoying ads on Spotify -- the company has updated its Terms of Service to explicitly ban ad blockers. Consequences for users found circumventing the rules include suspending or terminating your account.
Home Theater

Apple's new AirPods could arrive within months, pack health sensor tech

Apple may release new AirPods in the first half of 2019. A wireless charging case, health sensors, water resistance, and better Siri integration are some of the improvements rumored to be part of the new package.
Music

Donald Glover is (somehow) first rapper to win a Grammy for Song Of The Year

Donald Glover (AKA Childish Gambino) has become the first hip-hop artist to win Song Of The Year, an award that had illuded countless other popular rap artists for decades.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Cars

Rock out in the carpool lane with Singing Machine’s Carpool Karaoke microphone

Carpool Karaoke fans can count down the days till summer. That's when Singing Machine's Carpool Karaoke microphone will be available. Connect the Carpool Karaoke Mic to your car radio to make your next road trip a mobile karaoke party.