How Spotify Ruined Christmas

The digital music revolution has created something of a Christmas shopping conundrum: what do you get the music fan who has Spotify?
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The digital music revolution has created something of a Christmas shopping conundrum: what do you get the music fan who has Spotify?

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The music streaming service, along with iTunes, 7Digital, Amazon and the like, has given us instant access to almost every song ever recorded. We have more music than we know what to do with, and we don’t need or want any more for Christmas.

That’s a shame, because for the past 25 years or so, CDs have been the ideal no-brainer Christmas gift. They’re cheap, come in varieties to suit the tastes of any friends or family members, and (as a handy bonus) they’re readily available from supermarkets and petrol stations last thing on Christmas Eve. The trouble is, digital music has pretty much killed physical formats stone dead. No one wants CDs any more – and digital music is much more difficult to wrap.

I’m aware, by the way, that the CD is technically a ‘digital’ format, but its time has undeniably passed. I consume almost as much music as I do oxygen, but I'd rather not find a CD in my Christmas stocking, thank you very much. I'd only have to stick it in my computer, fire up clunky old iTunes, burn the tracks to MP3, and then sync them to my iPod before I could listen to it. What a chore. If I'm honest, I'd probably just leave the CD in its cellophane wrapping and stream the album on Spotify.

I'd rather not find a CD in my Christmas stocking. I'd only have to stick it in my computer, burn the tracks to MP3, and then sync them to my iPod before I could listen to it.

The all-conquering rise of digital means I’m not alone. Even my parents, both pensioners, are unlikely to appreciate the traditional gift of CDs this Christmas – both are now converted to streaming and downloading. Thanks to my relentless evangelising, every one of my family and friends now has Spotify. Some younger members of my family probably don’t even know what CDs are.

Some readers will point to the enduring appeal of vinyl, and it’s true that there are folk out there who would greatly appreciate being presented a 180-gram heavyweight re-issue of Dark Side of the Moon on Christmas morning. But the majority of music fans, even those of us who loved vinyl, have moved on. We’ve stuck our record players in the loft and sold our albums on eBay. We don’t want physical music, so what are the digital alternatives?

iTunes and Spotify Premium gift cards represent the obvious answer, although giving vouchers of any kind does seem to be only one step removed from handing over cash in an envelope. Emailed gift cards seem particularly unsatisfactory, although physical iTunes cards (made of real plastic) are widely available, and similar Spotify cards are now stocked by Morrisons and Co-op supermarkets. Amazon and Tesco gift cards can also be used to buy digital music.

It’s also possible to personalise digital music Christmas presents. iTunes, for example, lets you gift playlists, so you could send someone a handpicked selection of tracks. Admittedly, that lacks much of the romance associated with old-school analogue mixtapes. So how about buying a pack of C90s from your local pound shop, chucking away the cassettes, hand-writing the inlays, and using the boxes to wrap up a Spotify gift card and a link to a personalised playlist? On second thoughts, that handmade approach might be a bit too Kirsty Allsopp.

How about buying a pack of C90s from your local pound shop, chucking away the cassettes, hand-writing the inlays, and using the boxes to wrap up a Spotify gift card and a link to a personalised playlist?

It’s worth pointing out that not all music is available on Spotify, and some isn’t available on iTunes either. Artists such as Coldplay and Snow Patrol, for example, have chosen not to make their latest albums available on Spotify. But surely any music fan would rather find a lump of coal and a satsuma in their Christmas stocking than those two dead-eyed releases? Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits or the Beatles’ red and blue compilations might be more suitable gift options for Spotify fans to plug the gaps in their streaming catalogue.

As music sales plummet, live revenue is becoming increasingly important to the music industry. Gig tickets could be a more tangible music present, although advance sales could scupper Christmas shopping plans. You’re too late for Stone Roses tickets, for example, and the fact that physical tickets aren’t usually sent out until a few weeks before gig dates means it’s likely that all you’ll have to gift wrap is a printed-out confirmation email.

Music merchandise is another option, although it’s an unavoidable fact that not every member of your family will look good in a Ramones T-shirt. Then there are headphones and other music-related gadgets. HMV, the last remaining bastion of high street music retail, has pretty much abandoned selling CDs and has instead shifted its strategy towards pushing us a multicoloured array of eye-wateringly expensive ear ornaments. But at up to £280, a pair of ‘Beats By Dr Dre’ headphones hardly represents a last-minute stocking-filler.

Beyond that, I’m stumped. Suggestions for music-related Christmas gifts are welcome, but, if any of my family or friends are reading this, best just get me socks.

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