Surrender to the Digital Revolution

By Rob Patterson

Let's face facts: The digital revolution has changed how we consume music. Sure, I could make a case for the merits of the seven-inch 45 RPM single and 12-inch vinyl record album that were essential to my love affair with music. But times and the world change. And even when all of that change might not be for the better, if the the positive outweighs the negative, the sensible option is to go with it.

And after a few years of subscribing to the music streaming service, Spotify, I must largely sing its praises. The main reason why is enchanting me as I write this: The debut album released earlier this year by The Lumineers, a Denver-based roots music band with wonderful songs and a sophisticated sound with sincerity and emotionality to match. Good stuff I would highly recommend to any music lover.

I saw on Spotify that my old friend, Steve Athanas in Toledo, was listening to them thanks to Spotify's interactive link with Facebook. The name Lumineers struck my fancy. And I trust Steve's tastes. (During the mid-1970s he was the singer with one of the most popular rock bands in the Midwest, The Raisins.)

So I clicked on the Lumineers and started listening. They charmed me from the first notes. Now I have a new favorite I might not have otherwise.

Just before I checked that band out, I was listening to something else I had yet to hear: John Sebastian singing songs I love by his 1960s pop group The Lovin' Spoonful by one of my most beloved bands of all time, NRBQ, at a live concert.

So after digging the Lumineers, I went back to that and the idea came to create a playlist with alternate and cover versions of songs from my youth (titled "My Back Pages Revised"). And that take on "Do You Believe in Magic" seems a perfect place to start. I have loved making song mixes since the introduction of the cassette tape. Spotfy makes it easy for me to do so.

There was once a time in the late 1970s when I enjoyed having the vast majority of new popular music delivered by mail to my home, much of it before its public release, a perk of being a nationally syndicated music journalist who also wrote for a number of national music magazines. Digital technology has made the notion of that downright scary – teetering piles of CDs I'd never get to spinning all over my home – as the amount of music being issued today has increased exponentially. It is simply impossible for me to keep up as I once did.

At the same time, yes, as one grows older (and I am coming up on age 60), musical tastes do tend to become firm, even ossify. Yeah, I know what I like. And with Spotify I can hear much of what I like (okay, yeah, no Beatles or Led Zeppelin) from the past among the 18 million songs in its database; not just with a few clicks as I sit at my desk but from my iPhone when I am out and about.

After I set up that start of a playlist, I glanced over again at what my friends were listening to and clicked on Bruce James, an exceedingly talented pianist, singer and songwriter with a natural born affinity for classic soul music. It was DJ Big Band + AKA Moon by DJ Grasshoppa's DJ Big Band. Now I am digging on a fascinating mix of jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

Yeah, I am lucky enough to have many hundreds of friends on Facebook who are music fanatics, musicians and music critics, some of whom share what they are playing on Spotify, to tip me to new stuff and music I don't know. But the service's marketing pitch that it is all about discovery doesn't mean that you need such resources to make good use of it.

At $10 a month for full service, you can't argue with the price. Yes, musical artists don't make what they should from Spotify play, but that's a function of the injustice of the old school music industry system as much as anything else. But if you love music and want to renew that love and expand your listening like I am, Spotify is a great way to do so.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2013

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