As anyone over 50 can attest, the single most frequently asked question by baby boomers (besides "Why does anyone think low-rise jeans are comfortable?") is: What music should I be listening to?
Let's face it, Fleetwood Mac had its day -- and a fine one at that -- but do you really want Stevie Nicks to be blasting out your car window when you're stopped at a red light? Of course you don't, sillyhead. Few things date us more than the music we listen to and good old Stevie and the gang should be saved for those days that you really want to embarrass your teenagers when you pick them up at school.
But back to the serious question of what should the generation that was shaped by music -- that used music as a political statement -- be listening to? Rap is annoying, heavy metal deafening, and old rock makes us feel old and reminds us that our knees hurt. Isn't there anything new we might like?
Thank you Spotify for solving the mystery that has plagued a generation for the past 20 years.
Spotify is a music-streaming service that tells you what other people you know are listening to via Facebook. Since we live in a lemming-like culture, the logic is that if some of your boomer friends are listening to Dynamite, you might want to as well. Dynamite, by the way, isn't half-bad -- although I admit I came to him not from peer review but because my 11-year-old had just downloaded it and I was sleuthing for inappropriate language. I've also discovered Gym Class Heroes on Spotify -- that one came from a teenager. But thanks to the listening tastes of an old friend, I was reminded of my love for the Fine Young Cannibals -- a group that provided the soundtrack for one of my summers in Greece.
So how big a deal is Spotify? Sean Parker, who founded Napster, predicted at SXSW that Spotify will overtake iTunes in two years.
Many Americans don't realize is that Spotify was has been around in Europe for four years, having first launched in Sweden in 2008. How do you use it? A six-month free trial period is activated upon initial login through a Facebook account, during which a user can listen to an unlimited amount of music supported by visual and radio-style advertising. After the free trial period, Spotify will let you listen to a track up to five times and will set a listening limit of 10 hours per month before charging you for the service. An unlimited subscription loses the ads and time limits, and the premium subscription includes bonus features like mobile app access.
Lori McCoy, who blogs at Tech Tips for Technophiles, gives the service a qualified endorsement. In the plus column, she said she was able to listen to Bruce Springsteen’s new album "Wrecking Ball" for free. "The whole thing -- not just 30 seconds worth of each song like I could on iTunes," she noted.
Using Spotify’s apps, it’s easy to find a genre you like and then click on pictures or albums to hear the music. Nothing wrong with easy to use. McCoy said it's also fun to see what your friends are listening to -- which can give you ideas for new music worth investigating. The downside, of course, is that not everyone shares the same musical interests. Who knew that Tom from high school is a Metallica freak?
But, added McCoy, it's sharing in the Facebook way. And if you accept that -- and don't really mind those alerts telling you that your friend Wilbur Smith "just read an article on Angelina Jolie in People magazine," chances are, you won't mind hearing about what music they are listening to on Spotify either.
McCoy praised the Spotify selection of music and likes the fact that unlike Pandora, you don’t have to know the name of an artist to find it. You can even create your own playlist and piece together your own “mix tape.”
It's important to note that you are only listening to this music -- you don't own it. With iTunes you technically own the music (except that if I buy the latest “Lady Gaga” album on iTunes, legally I can’t lend it to you because of DRM -- digital rights management). With Spotify, it's more like you are “renting” the music. You can listen to it, but just don't make a pretense of actually owning it.
Spotify is device-specific and limited to three devices, McCoy pointed out. If you add a fourth, one drops off; if it dumps your top choice, that isn’t so good. And if you want Spotify on your mobile device, it’s going to cost $9.99 a month, compared to Pandora, which you can stream for free on your mobile. It’s a huge advantage having it on your mobile because you can then also dock it and play it over your speakers in the house.
So what will you be listening to while you figure out ways to discover new music? I call: Anything but twangy Country tunes.