A pox on both their houses

How hard is it to just listen to music these days?

Spotify has crammed in all sorts of crap in to the app lately. Lyric videos, those weird interactive art things that are turned on by default, podcasts (so many podcasts), Netflix tie-ins, and audiobooks. It wants to be the app that opens when you plug in your headphones (not that we’ll be doing that for much longer the way things are going). But I just want to listen to music!

Worst of all is just how much the Spotify app pushes all its algorithmic crap in my face. Albums for today, albums for people who listen to Saint Etienne (but not different albums by Saint Etienne because that would be far too easy), a horizontally scrolling list of our supposedly cool playlists that probably shaft artists on royalties.

I cheered this week when Spotify announced that they would play albums in order by default. We have Adele to thank for this. I wasn’t a fan of her before, but I am now. At any rate, the backslapping that has accompanied this low effort move on Spotify’s part will probably embolden them to add further crap that no one needs because, well, everyone will praise them when they take it away. I predict a minimal UI to be offered as a major selling point by about 2027: Spotify will be a music player once more, and they can start adding crap to it again.

Moreover, despite Spotify having very publicly called out Apple for anticompetitive behaviour in its space, it has done precisely nothing to help their customers integrate Spotify into their lives. It’s still not actually used the integrations into Apple’s hardware that it lobbied for. Instead, it’s been building all the aforementioned crap (and paying artists lower royalties, and screwing over podcasters, and preventing users from exporting their playlists etc and so on). If you click through to the link at the start of this paragraph, you’ll see Spotify’s beef with Apple is mostly whinging about having to pay the costs of doing business.

And yet, my other option is Apple Music. It’s not quite as bad as Spotify for unnecessary jank — podcasts left the boat a while back and audiobooks are off causing a fuss in the books app instead. However, there’s still something unsatisfying about using the Apple Music app. I think it’s the way that it elides your personal music collection with the streaming service, creating a sort of anti-Goldilocks zone where you can eat all the porridge you like as long as you can put up with the bed being the wrong size. Occasionally, I would like to listen to my rare remixes that aren’t on streaming, but now and then a few more of them end up inaccessible (or rather less accessible than the physical media I have in storage).

And there are still unnecessary features in Apple Music. I do not need to be reminded why my favourite bands never compelled me to watch MTV, nor do I need lyrics sync’d to each song karaoke style. It is intriguing for some songs, but it’s not by any means essential. A lot of the social stuff is completely unimportant to the day-to-day needs of someone using a music app: it feels like it’s all pitched to someone who very much isn’t like me or anyone else I know.

Little wonder then that most days I just put a good old-fashioned record on instead. Well done Apple and Spotify, you’ve turned me into a luddite!

· Music, Spotify, Apple, Twenty One

⇠ If anything, make it weirder