THE New Yorker’s classical music critic is one of the least stodgy and most forward-looking of writers; he got in on blogging early and thinks classical music and digital technology are natural allies. But even he has reservations about the disappearance of records and CDs into the cloud. His new piece, about “The pleasures and frustration of listening online,” is well worth reading.
The idiosyncrasies of aging critics aside, there are legitimate questions about the aesthetics and the ethics of streaming. Spotify is notorious for its chaotic presentation of track data. One recording of the Beethoven Ninth is identified chiefly by the name of the soprano, Luba Orgonášová; I had to click again and scrutinize a stamp-size reproduction of the album cover to determine the name of the conductor, John Eliot Gardiner. A deeper issue is one of economic fairness. Spotify and Pandora have sparked protests from artists who find their royalty payments insultingly small. In 2012, the indie-rock musician Damon Krukowski reported that his former band Galaxie 500 received songwriting royalties of two hundredths of a cent for each play of its most popular track on Spotify, with performance royalties adding a pittance more.
Then comes my favorite line in the piece:
Spotify has assured critics that artists’ earnings will rise as more people subscribe. In other words, if you give us dominance, we will be more generous—a somewhat chilly proposition.
He concludes this way, talking about a record label that has put out a Leon Fleisher (pictured) recital he quite likes:
Bridge Records, a family-run concern, has placed most of its releases on Spotify and other streaming services, and you can have equally intense encounters there. But only by buying the albums are you likely to help the label stay in business.