Why paying for music matters

Hard as it may be to visualise the scene, the other day a senior Herald executive who shall remain nameless stopped me on my way out of the office to show me Spotify on his iPhone.

I know – a man with ink in his veins singing the praises of music streaming on a smartphone. My legs buckled and I collapsed, though that may have had more to do with the half-litre of single malt whisky I’d scoffed for lunch.

Upon regaining my senses, I remonstrated with my colleague, deploying the unequivocal lingo of a stevedore to inform him that I take a dim view of Spotify and similar services, especially when they’re bundled into a phone contract. The way I see it, the music makers get a mere nibble of the money generated while Spotify and the provider of the mobile phone contract feast on the financial equivalent of larks’ tongues, cockentrice and caviar.

Speaking from the perspective of someone with many friends who at one point earned enough to call rocking out a job, besides a few who still make music for a living, the rise of streaming and concomitant decline in sales of physical product have changed how we value music for ever. The dinosaurs had their meteor; musicians, or at least those operating in fields that can be found far, far down the rock family tree, have, by way of the internet, Spotify.

Uncountable are the occasions in the course of my work and life where a musician has bemoaned the lack of reward for their endeavours. Not angrily, but with resignation. A rubicon has been crossed.

But if, like me, you still think an album – often but not exclusively the sum total of years spent following and honing creative impulses, endless outlay on equipment and the attached upkeep, and the costs of recording, manufacturing and distribution – is worth your hard-won cash, I urge you to use services such as Spotify prudently and focus on ensuring your dough takes the most direct route possible to the creators of said album.

By using Spotify prudently I mean viewing it as a shop window or a listening post (remember them?). Give Glasgow acoustic ensemble Sound of Yell a spin; dedicate a few minutes to the lucid guitar work of Sir Richard Bishop; investigate the ambient splendour of Anjou. Then, if you’re so minded, buy a digital download, a CD, a vinyl record – anything, really, because anything is better than nothing. For a world bereft of investment in its greatest art form will be a world not worth living in.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

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