Put A Clamp on Cloud Music? Village Voice Insists Yes
Music writers have rung in the New Year with cloud complaints.
A recent edition of New York City’s “Village Voice,” America’s largest weekly newspaper, finds head music columnist Maura Johnston picking away at premium music-listening services for the dearth in their artistic content. Her article, “New Year, New Rules,” advises readers on several cogent ways to improve their appreciation of fine music in 2012. Among her recommendations is to refrain from the cloud as a source of comprehensive music listening.
Johnston specifically maligns Spotify, one of the most popular streaming music providers in the cloud. She claims that it offers an “illusion of completeness” that is only revealed when searching for an obscure track, such as “Caramel’s ‘My Tailor is Rich,’ [released by] microlabel Harriet Records in 1996.”
I concede that, by pinpointing the lack of completeness in song availability, Johnston has correctly identified a notable annoyance in cloud music apps. True, these apps function on popularity: you’re more likely to find the full track listing of a Rihanna album in the cloud than a single song from Caramel or from Jonathan Batiste, an up-and-coming jazz musician also featured in the “Village Voice” that week.
However, Johnston doesn’t consider the full arc of her critique on cloud music. Finding obscure tracks to obsess over is a key element of any hipster music lover’s modus operandi, and it’s likely that Johnston has tailored her article to these extreme, slightly snooty readers — all too prevalent in New York City. But just because finding the latest indie hidden treasure on Spotify isn’t easy doesn’t mean that locating an unsung composition from Beethoven or Louis Armstrong or Fleetwood Mac will be any simply either. The cloud brims with music choices. But not every music choice can be found on the cloud.
Johnston claims that “crappy payouts” and “anti-digital” elitism are two primary reasons why current musicians and bands fail to upload their music to the cloud. Speaking of older music, Johnston believes that because rare tracks don’t appear “on Spotify,” they don’t appear on the Internet, which essentially means they “don’t exist.”
Rubbish! Instead of directing her readers away from the cloud, Johnston ought to have leveled with them. Yes, the cloud can’t contain every musical trifle. But a number of outstanding music apps other than Spotify can significantly improve a music connoisseur’s experience of the cloud.
Applications such as iCloud, Subsonic, and mSpot allow music lovers to curate their own listening: they stream tracks from a user’s own music collection to an array of devices, from a desktop computer or laptop to an iPhone or Android.
Grooveshark has long been a favorite cloud application for those dyed-in-the-wool music aficionados who crave access to a near-infinite range of songs, running the continuum from ubiquitous pop radio hits to esoteric little gems and bootlegs known only to indie/rap/jazz cognoscenti.
Musicians or bands irritated by the cloud’s acknowledged lack of complete control might find their distaste reversed with nifty cloud applications like SoundCloud’s Music XRay, which directly bridges artists to professional industry contacts, and ReverbNation’s Control Room, which pools info on fans and updates them on new releases and gigs.
I agree with Johnston that the cloud isn’t perfect. But abstinence ain’t answer. I cede the floor to the Beatles, who best summarize what’s happening with music in the cloud right now. “You have to admit it’s getting better. Getting better all the time.”
By Jeff Norman