Taylor Swift and Spotify are friends again.
The mega-star musician is allowing her music back on the music streaming service, to the delight of her fans.
Swift has had a long-running and highly publicised feud with the music streaming service, accusing the industry of failing to properly value musicians’ art and pulling her library from the platform back in 2014.
She is now burying the hatchet to mark 10 million sales of her album “1989,” and 100 million song sales. It’s news that should delight any music lovers — but it still illustrates a fundamental problem with music streaming.
What is it? In a word: Permanence.
Let’s imagine for a second that Spotify goes on living for another 30 years. That’s a pretty long time for any company to stick around — especially in an industry as volatile and prone to disruption as the intersection of music and technology.
Then, three decades from now, it closes. And just like that, tens of millions of people’s music collections, built over dozens of years and countless hours of careful listening — gone forever.
Music, unlike any other media, provides a tangible link to the past. You revisit the songs you love hundreds of times, often evoking specific memories and moments — a teenage gig, a doomed relationship, a move to a new city, a fleeting fragment of your past.
But when you “rent” your music, as you do on streaming services, you have no control over it. You could lose it at any time, through no fault of your own. In 20 years, the next CEO of Apple could decide to cut costs and kill off Apple Music, wiping out tens of millions of people’s libraries overnight.
That uncertainty undermines one of music’s most powerful qualities — that it’s a concrete link to the past.
Swift’s on-again-off-again spat highlights that a company doesn’t even need to go under for users to lose some of their music. At any moment, the whim of an artist, or a licensing negotiation gone sour, or a quirk of copyright law, could quietly erase vast swathes of treasured music collections.
It took years for Radiohead to agree to put its music on Spotify in 2016, after frontman Thom Yorke once called it “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” Meanwhile, Jay Z pulled his library from Spotify and Apple Music earlier in 2017. Streaming libraries can shift without warning, and users are powerless to stop that.
Owning music has its own problems, of course. It’s expensive, and takes up significant storage space. You can lose physical hard drives storing music libraries, too. In contrast, music streaming offers powerful convenience — tens of millions of songs in your pocket, anytime and anywhere.
In short: Owning music isn’t perfect. But as you grow older, and spend more ever-more time looking backwards rather than forwards, having a music collection you can treasure and revisit will be more important than ever.
Custodianship of that is not a responsibility I’m willing to grant to Spotify, or Apple, or anyone else.
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