Law in the Internet Society

They're Listening to you Listen

-- By CasidheMcClone - 04 Nov 2016

On the off-chance you can’t tell someone’s political leaning before she gives you a playlist, you can figure it out using the songs she listens to. A lot of George Strait on there? He's probably a republican. Beatles? Democrat.

Of course, those are obvious examples, and we don’t need data science to come to those conclusions. But because we have it, we can spot behavioral trends in less obvious spots. Like how conservatives tend to have less diverse taste in music, or that Johnny Cash is more often listened to by liberals.

Obviously, this data is collected by Facebook and Spotify.

Its pretty easy to see where Spotify’s interests lie. As of 2011, Facebook and Spotify are formal partners. Sean Parker, Facebook’s ex-president, has invested over $15 million in Spotify and served on Spotify’s board. Further, Echo Nest CEO Brian Whitman is pretty upfront when he tells us that Spotify is making note of listener’s Facebook activity. And the goal isn’t just to factor in what bands you “like.” They want to consider your relationship status as well.

Putting aside the argument that making your own break-up playlist is part of the healing process, things are getting a little creepy. On one hand, taste in music is considered by many to be a very social part of their preferences, something they want to show other people. But on the other hand, music can impact each of us very deeply. Giving away data about what you listen to is essentially handing away the keys to your own emotions.

Music’s effectiveness is largely situational. Even if “the four right chords can make [you] cry,” chances are that doesn’t work all the time. One of the most important factors to playing good music is changing it to match your audience, perceiving where they want the music to take them. The best musicians can do that, but it isn’t a very conscious process. At least not entirely. There’s too many individual factors to run through, so they have to “feel” it. They have to empathize with their audience. But if data on all of those factors was collected---heart-rate, preference, relationship status, etc.---I bet a computer could read the crowd just fine. Maybe it can’t compose the right music, but it could certainly pick the right recordings.

How long then, before campaign ads play background music tailored to your sympathies? Before Gillette sends their suave, clean-shaven model to strut around town along to the playlist you titled “Swagger”? Or, conversely, before liquor companies purchase rights to influence your Echo Nest recommendations, skewing the music to a rowdier set that they hope will make you drink more?

Most people love hearing new music and learning about new musicians. Maybe the best way to do that is still to discuss music with friends and family, sharing favorite artists and songs. Or, conversely, go to a live show- and get your music at the source, where the cost of production isn’t zero.

This leads to the other large criticism of Spotify: that it is keeping alive an industry that really does nothing for us. The record industry was more or less saved by Spotify’s streaming service. And much like the record industry of yore, a common complaint among artists is the nominal pay they receive in exchange for the plays of their recordings. Taylor Swift famously pulled her music away from the service, citing low royalties despite the popularity of her tracks… But of course, smaller-time musicians receive far less than she did.

If we assume Thom Yorke is right, and Spotify really is “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse,” then we might be moving in the direction of musical localization. There’s a strong argument to make that many small time musicians would be better off giving away recordings of their music for free, without ads. No, not like Bono did it- just by making it free to download for anyone who wants it. Sharing then becomes a matter of who you know and what they like. And really, allowing recordings to be available for free isn’t a bad solution.

Ex-drummer for Nirvana/current Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl once presented an argument somewhat in support of Spotify, stating that he didn’t care about royalties because he just wanted to play shows. But if we believe him when he says “give it away,” his argument creates some strong support in favor of artists providing free access to their recordings. If you really want to get your music out there, there’s something to be said in favor of handing it out. And if Spotify is only handing out nominal payments to artists, those who opt for providing free music really wouldn’t be giving away that much.

Soundcloud might come close to providing such a service, but the simplicity of the “upload what you want/add download links if you want to” policies are somewhat complicated by the addition of advertisements and paid-subscription services for uploading account holders. Why don’t we have a platform where artists can just upload whatever they want? Or, conversely, do we need a common platform? Why don’t artists just point fans to a website and say “you can get it for free here?”

Such a system might limit participation in music, since those who were in it for the money would have less incentive. Of course, those artists tend to make worse music anyways. The logic isn’t weak: if you don’t want to perform live, maybe you just shouldn’t be performing.

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r3 - 31 Dec 2016 - 23:56:15 - CasidheMcClone
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