Joe Sparrow : Music streaming, scarcity and breadth vs. depth

Enjoying the feeling of owning something scarce is a default human trait. It’s why we dumbly covet diamonds – and it explains those eyebrow-raising £200 Limited Edition Deluxe Numbered Boxsets.

It’s also a natural human trait to grab as much of it as possible.

Which of these base desires do you think today’s music streaming services sate?

As a teen – pre-mp3, pre-streaming and pre-Youtube – I used to love the tease of build-and-release that would accompany a new record release.

First, weeks of drip-fed build-up in the Melody Maker; then on the day of release, haring out of school as the bell rang to the record shop (R.I.P. Mike Lloyd’s Music);  then racing back home, reading the sleeve notes on the way, and playing the CD on repeat for the rest of the evening.

When I tell The Kids These Days about this, they visibly cringe at the idea of such limited music at my disposal, and the walk to the shops it entailed. So do I in many ways, and I certainly don’t long for a switch back to the old days.

But: back then I’d dig into an album, listening over and over, mainly because my pile of CDs had a severe supply vs. demand imbalance.

I love listening to an album for the nth time. It isn’t about looking for something new in something old. It’s about happily wallowing in something that brings joy.

The internet’s supply of music is totally counter to that old way of consumption. Now scarcity is dead, it’s easy for our behaviour to default to a land-grab of everything, all at once, whenever.

An (admittedly enforced) luxuriation in a small number of things forces a deep, narrow appreciation.

This is diametrically opposed to the skittering, grab-a-bit-of-everything approach which can – and, I believe on the whole, does – result in wide consumption, with shallow understanding.

The danger is assuming that ‘narrow’ in the first instance is bad; and ‘wide’ in the latter is good. More is better!

Is more better? Do we lose something? Doesn’t it mean that we have less depth of understanding? Isn’t less bad?

I’m sure there’s a way for the internet still fulfil the human enjoyment of scarcity. I guess that’s partly why Snapchat is worth billions of dollars.

Today, my main concern is deciding what, out of pretty much everything recorded, ever, to listen to at any given time.

What if the cost of having everything is losing all of your precious diamonds?