Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Spotify Issue: As “simples” as it seems?

1 Spotify

It’s the music streaming app which essentially grants immediate access to a hitherto-unthinkably broad library of music, either for free or for a low monthly fee. It’s also the enemy of countless musicians and industry figures who bemoan the devaluation of their hard graft. The debate surrounding Spotify – which began upon the company’s conception in 2006 – is as agitated as ever.

Personally, I can’t pretend to know all the answers. I won’t claim Spotify is perfect or that its critics are completely misinformed. This is a huge issue which varies in terms of benefits and liabilities depending on who / what is focused on, and such a hornet’s nest can’t be adequately unpacked in a single stroke. However, it is absurd to damn Spotify as an irredeemable antagonist of the integrity of musical creation.

Lynchpin detractors like Thom Yorke seem to think the issue is “simples”: a case of The Man crushing the little guy into penniless submission. But it’s this dogged insistence on binaries which is so flippantly unhelpful. Spotify need not exist in opposition to traditional forms of accessing music; instead, it is a springboard which allows greater access and distribution in economically limited times. Especially for earworm-hungry students who are already attempting to scrimp and save in every other facet of their daily lives.

Consider the benefits which have been wrought by the advent of legal streaming sites. There has been a downshift in music and film piracy in recent years, and while legal businesses such as Spotify and Netflix aren’t wholly responsible for such a shift, the 1 Thommycorrelation is interesting to observe. Furthermore, isn’t assuming that Spotify will bring about the death of the industry rather insulting to the loyalty of listeners? Has Yorke himself forgotten the successful response to the honesty-box release of In Rainbows? Even though a good proportion of customers did pay bobbins for the new material, let’s not forget how many copies of the £40 deluxe discbox also got shifted.

Essentially, if the quality is high, real fans will do more than simply listen – and this also applies to Spotify. Just because I use streaming sites to discover music for free does not mean that I refuse to fork out altogether. As of writing, I own upwards of 250 physical CDs and 30 records on vinyl. My bedrooms – both at home and in Leamington Spa – are plastered with music posters and promos, and I go to live gigs as often as is financially viable. Gifts and press commissions notwithstanding, this library has been paid in full. I’m sure the case is the same for many music-lovers: our contributions to the industry and its artists are not merely restricted to how we access albums.

Instead, if there is one problem which must be addressed, it’s the same issue which afflicts almost all avenues of distribution: the cut taken by labels and managerial companies. Spotify allegedly works on a meritocratic basis, with 30% of total revenues distributed to Spotify itself, while the 70% bulk is doled out to those in possession of the music rights. Of that percentage, the cut which goes to the artist depends on his/her particular contract with a label. Some labels offer as little as a 5% share, whereas others (such as Beggars Banquet) offer as much as a 50:50 split.

While the debate rages on about how beneficial / detrimental Spotify is to the music industry as a whole, it’s clear that there are more integral issues elsewhere which must be addressed; namely, in how fair the relationship is between artists and their parent labels. Perhaps this is what should be evaluated in full before we attempt to judge the value of Spotify and its own business model.

Look Further:

This article was originally published as part of a debate piece for The Boar.


25 Masterworks – Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career

My Spin on Masterworks: 3 of 25

Camera Obscura

My Maudlin Career

4AD, 2009

1 My Maudlin CareerIn ‘French Navy’, Glaswegian quintet Camera Obscura composed one of the most delightful pop songs of the noughties. It’s infectiously giddy with excitement, stirred into a controlled fever of strings which skip around the song’s indie-pop chassis with increasing zest. “I wanted to control it / But love, I couldn’t hold it,” Tracyanne Campbell calls, as her rapidly-fluttering heart is mimicked by the whirlwind of violins which punctuates every line of the refrain. Rarely does music sound so thrillingly effervescent without throwing in the whole kitchen sink.

‘French Navy’ tees up My Maudlin Career something wonderful, instantly ushering listeners into the sumptuous domain of Camera Obscura’s fourth album: a real treasure trove of golden harmonies, intimate theatricalities, and earworms galore. A little less lo-fi (and organ-bedecked) than 2006’s Let’s Get Out of This Country, here the group’s identity feels more assured than before: the production crisper, the songwriting sharper. In the intervening years between both albums, Campbell’s voice ripened into an even more sinuous croon, exhibiting a burgeoning artistic maturity, which is nicely counterbalanced by the supple naivety which runs through her perspectives as a lyricist. Likewise, her fellow bandmates invest their performances with fresh life, keeping proceedings breezy and free of clutter.

One of the major secrets to Camera Obscura’s success is their relative modesty. Even the orchestral flourishes which fan across several of this album’s highlights refrain from toppling into blustery frenzies. The excitements and pangs swirled around here are tastefully executed, remaining breezy and light-of-step, thereby allowing all eleven songs to unfold in a well-paced sequence which never sags. By restraining from flat-out exultancy all the way through, My Maudlin Career feels consistently vibrant: even the novelistic romance of ‘French Navy’ is tempered by allusions to dietary restrictions and disappointed looks. At the other end of the album, the big, brassy ‘Honey in the Sun’ serves up the brashest five minutes of the record, yet even the swooning trumpet crescendos feel earned, rather than overwrought.

That’s not to say that the album buries its finer attributes. Quite the contrary: these songs are about as far from inaccessible as seems possible. Check out the marriage of swooping guitar with twinkling glockenspiel in ‘Swans’, the delicacy of centrepiece 1 Camera Obscura‘James’, and the penultimate fragility of ‘Other Towns and Cities’. ‘Careless Love’ is nicely spacious, nuzzled by a repeated string motif which eventually blossoms into a ballroom-baiting treat for the ears. Perhaps best of all is the title track, which sets itself apart with curtains of towering keys, crowned by a weeping guitar solo and Campbell’s finest moment on the album, delivered with grace and restraint: “This maudlin career must come to an end / I don’t wanna be sad again.” From the openness of that statement, and the gentle ache which clings tightly to her performance, it’s easy to see why the album has that particular title.

Campbell may not be an outstanding lyricist: her couplets are lovely but mostly kept simple; familiar themes and endearments which can be plucked from memory without much fuss. However, her presence is utterly indelible, given that such heart-on-sleeve recountings are twinned with her utterly magical vocal tones. Her breathy, personable voice rings with earnestness, imbuing every one of her sentiments with a disarming sincerity. For all the sumptuousness of the arrangements on My Maudlin Career, it’s the presence of Campbell herself which keeps replay value so high.

“You challenged me to write a love song / Here it is; I think I got it wrong,” Campbell sheepishly proffers during the final verse of ‘The Sweetest Thing’. Such self-deprecation is charmingly dispensed throughout the record as she examines her own relationship follies, but in reality, such a self-assessment is way off: every single one of these songs is captivating. The band members would go on to tighten their instrumentation and toughen their skins for 2013’s excellent Desire Lines; an equally charming offering with more than its share of earworms and riches. But it’s My Maudlin Career which presents Camera Obscura in excelsis: every moment here is heartfelt, relatable, and filled with light and warmth.

My Maudlin Career
1 – French Navy
2 – The Sweetest Thing
3 – You Told a Lie
4 – Away with Murder
5 – Swans
6 – James
7 – Careless Love
8 – My Maudlin Career
9 – Forests and Sands
10 – Other Towns and Cities
11 – Honey in the Sun