A week after global protests calling for Justice at Spotify, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers Chicago Chapter sees more action ahead

Members of the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers’ Chicago chapter protesting outside Spotify offices at 225 W. Illinois Street, Chicago, IL on Monday, March 15, 2021.

“We got music. We got rhythm. Don’t exploit us with your algorithm!”

That was just one of the slogans chanted by dozens of musicians and supporters outside of Spotify’s Chicago offices on Monday, March 15. Organized by the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, Justice at Spotify was an hour-long demonstration calling for the streaming giant to pay artists a penny-per-stream, among other demands and material interests, to help build more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive music communities.

Naturally, the group of protestors did what they do best—make noise. With a drumline, tambourines, horns and more, the crowd wasn’t deterred from its mission by the day’s fierce winds and snow. Throughout the day, the events repeated across the globe in cities like San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Stockholm, Madrid, Melbourne, Frankfurt, and others.

The music and live entertainment industries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Performance venues across the United States have been shuttered for a year now, causing a ripple effect of putting touring musicians, sound engineers and lighting technicians, event photographers, DJs and more out of work. Even with Congress passing the $15 billion Save Our Stages Act as part of the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill and continuing efforts helmed by NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) and CIVL (Chicago Independent Venue League), concert halls will be the last to fully re-open once we’ve returned to a shred of “normalcy.” While some venues have recently re-opened for bar service in Chicago, this remains the truth despite optimism toward summer festivals from city government.

According to Billboard, the Small Business Administration hasn’t even started accepting applications for the grants yet—meaning funds won’t arrive before May. And though the SBA recently announced venues would be able to apply starting April 8, open doors don’t necessarily equal packed shows making enough to keep the lights on.

For artists, a year without touring—the way most actually make money—further exposed the way they’d been misled and taken advantage of by platforms that wouldn’t exist without them. Last Spring, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (and soon after that summer, the Chicago chapter) was born out of necessity, fighting for transparency and fair compensation for those who often work multiple gigs to supplement their music earnings and don’t often qualify for unemployment benefits despite the hours dedicated to their craft.

“Companies like Spotify have savior complexes. They will say they’re trying to save the livelihoods of musicians everywhere and that they invented this amazing new way for musicians to make money when they really are not compensating the workers who create that content they offer,” Andrew Clinkman, member of UMAW’s Chicago chapter and its streaming subcommittee, and anchor for last Monday’s event, explained.

Clinkman plays in bands Marker and Spirits Having Fun, and worked as a guitar teacher pre-COVID. Luckily, he’s been able to continue to do so virtually.

Musicians, he argues, aren’t viewed as workers contributing to the value of Spotify’s platform. Similar to the organizing around securing protections for drivers and delivery persons for services like Lyft and Instacart, currently considered contract workers, Clinkman says there’s a clear division of labor that Spotify is either “refusing to acknowledge or completely oblivious to.”

He believes in the former.

“We’re literally asking for pennies,” he continues. “They love to hide behind the opacity of the algorithms; how everything is determined technologically. The money is there. We all know it. Get it together.”

UMAW launched its campaign focused on Spotify’s exploitation in October last year. According to the union’s calculations, each stream is worth, on average, $0.0038. Spotify, which surpassed revenue targets in Q4 according to Variety, is currently valued over $60 billion–with 155 million paid subscribers and 345 million total users.

When announcing the year-end results, CEO and founder Daniel Ek said, “Despite global uncertainty, it was a great year for Spotify.”

Apart from streaming pay, UMAW is asking that Ek and Spotify adopt a user-centric model that recompenses artists directly (akin to Soundcloud’s new “fan-powered” royalties pay system based on overall listening time instead of streams), transparency regarding closed-door contracts, reveal then end existing payola or pay for play, credit all labor in recordings, and “end legal battles intended to further impoverish artists.”

The platform uses a “pro-rata” model, which pools all revenue and distributes it to artists according to what UMAW calls “a complex scheme;” ensuring that acts with the most resources behind them—the household names at the biggest labels—accumulate a greater percentage of streams. No one’s expecting to get checks of the size the top 1% of artists—Ariana Grande, Drake, Billie Eilish, Cardi B—receive. But that 1% often receives 90% of the streaming revenue thanks to the existing model, even if you never listened to them.

In the days following UMAW’s Justice at Spotify action, the streaming platform unveiled a new effort, apparently months in the making, called Loud & Clear. In a series of tweets, CEO/founder Ek explained the new “royalty transparency” site was launched to “shed light on the complicated economics of music streaming.”

Notably, the company’s flashy graphics boast it’s paid over $23 billion in royalties to rights holders including over $5 billion in 2020 (up from $3.3 billion in 2017). It also notes that 1.2 million artists have over 1,000 listeners—it doesn’t, however, say how many artists total have a presence on the platform—and that 15%, or 184,500, of their catalogs generated recording and publishing royalties of at least $1,000. Buried beneath the positive spin and industry jargon, the company doesn’t directly acknowledge any of the specifics highlighted by UMAW or list long-term plans of action.

In response, the union released a statement which reads, in part, “We are pleased that Spotify has recognized the legitimacy of UMAW and the artists around the world who took action this week to demand better payment and treatment from the streaming giant. However, Spotify has failed to meet any of our demands.”

In a Twitter thread, UMAW continued:

“The company consistently deflects blame onto others for systems it has itself built, and from which it has created its nearly $70 billion valuation. We asked for transparency, but this website answers none of our questions about the sources of Spotify’s income in addition to subscriptions and ads, payola schemes for playlist and algorithm prioritization, or the terms of their contracts with major labels.”

Ahead of these developments, Greg Obis, co-owner of Born Yesterday Records, mastering engineer at Chicago Mastering Service, and guitarist in punk band Stuck, further described the trickle-down effects of Spotify’s measly royalty payments. As Obis points out, it’s the independent artists shouldering much of the costs.

“I’d been aware of this very brutal payment structure that exists in the streaming world,” Obis said on a conference call with Clinkman. “Seeing it from the audio engineering standpoint and the record label standpoint has been really formative. This is where the ‘AW’ (allied workers) of the UMAW comes in because… it’s the musicians who are paying the recording engineers, and need to go on tour and hire these people. The music industry is a whole ecosystem.”

With these artists carrying the weight, the idea of recouping expenses feels impossible. If people are seeking out new music and listening, the artist deserves their fair share of that spin. With the battle over the $15 minimum wage at the forefront of the country’s consciousness, debating what a “living wage” is and who qualifies to be paid one, UMAW co-founder Damon Krukowski put it like this in a recent piece for the New York Times Magazine Music Issue’s 5 Notes From a Quiet Year: “In order to earn the equivalent of a $15-per-hour job, you’d need 657,895 streams of your music per month—for each person in your band.”

“The first band my partner Naomi Yang and I were in, Galaxie 500, sees about three-quarters of a million monthly streams on Spotify,” Krukowski continues, “which earns the three members about $1,000 each. That’s for material we outright own.”

In many cases, “rights holders” are more than just the artists. That $1,000 is whittled down by the time any of it reaches the artist’s bank account. Detractors and skeptics of groups and actions like UMAW’s have questioned its expectations; pointing to long-standing abuses of power by major labels and management firms throughout history and suggesting not just anyone should be able to “make a living” off music; asking what “justifies” it. Cultural commentators like Bill Maher have attempted linking coverage of inequities in music streaming to tired talking points conflating merit, talent, and a world where “everybody gets a trophy,” all the while distorting the context and overall goals of the artists involved. Obviously, those invested in the collective consciousness have considered that.

On the phone, Obis points to a regularly regurgitated talking point many creatives, particularly musicians, hear when first realizing the romance of the “struggling artist” myth is anything but. “I think in this country we’ve so internalized, in different music communities, that making money for playing music is wrong or bad,” he says matter-of-factly. “I get into arguments with friends of mine all the time, and not like I’m a fervent capitalist or something, but it’s very wrong-minded for people to say you have to just be in it for the love or you have to always be an amateur. Eventually I realized it’s using the punk ethos for a perverse reason to never expect anything better for themselves.”

“It’s meager asks that we’re making from Spotify,” Obis concludes. “It’s very possible, it’s very reasonable to want to make ends meet by doing what you’re good at and what you love doing.”

Manae Hammond addresses the crowd at the Justice at Spotify protest on Monday, March 15, 2021.

At Monday’s rally, local artists Sophia Nadia of psychedelic rock outfit Cold Beaches and Indigo Finamore from alternative R&B duo Oux echoed similar experiences.

“Is it normal to be homeless if you’re a musician working 60-70 hours a week sometimes?” Nadia proposed to the crowd, to roaring “No’s.”

“Is it normal to have to fight for the bare minimum to be compensated a cent a stream? I think it’s absolutely embarrassing that we have to stand here today to prove a point,” she persisted. “Spotify’s hiding behind their corporation to try to take advantage of us so they can profit off our hard work, while filling the pockets of musicians who are already millionaires, and I think it has to be stopped.”

When Finamore got on the megaphone, they said that after their band was added to Spotify’s “Best Non-Binary Artists of 2020” playlist, streams of their single “Queer Like Me” passed 25,000. They eventually received a royalty check for $45. A penny-per-stream system would’ve paid the band $250, which could cover costs such as a few extra hours of studio time (some of the city’s most noted studios start session rates at $65/hr), or merchandise printing and shipping costs, for example.

“I mean, how are you supposed to put a dollar value on a song?” Anna Holmquist of the group Ester and host of the Bad Songwriter podcast asked on a phone call the Friday before the protest.

“What makes one song better than another? There are some that are ‘bad,’ but people love songs in different ways,” Holmquist points out. “A song or album that was there for me, that’s worth a lot. So the fact that you’re streaming that song and crying to it and that artist is getting .003 cents for your experience, that sucks.”

Holmquist, a member of UMAW’s accountability subcommittee and national steering committee, senses Spotify has artists in a bind – especially smaller acts like theirs. Without the platform’s discovery capabilities, they argue, it’s as if independent artists don’t exist to promoters or booking agents. Spotify’s ubiquitousness and cornering of the market allow its detrimental practices to succeed, and the Taylor Swift move of removing one’s music from the platform could do more harm than good – especially as the future of live music remains uncertain.

“Not being on [Spotify] just cuts out another revenue stream,” Holmquist sighs. “If you’re not going to be on any of the streaming services, then you’re choosing not to make money, which – with the amount of money you make from being a small DIY musician – feels rough. If you’re putting money into albums – albums that cost money to make, that cost money to promote – then you better try to get as much money back as you can.”

As important to the union’s success is reinvestment in what it means to be a music community. Once COVID-19 vaccine distribution increases and scenes actively rebuild, both Clinkman and Holmquist see it as part of UMAW’s job to facilitate access to appointments (as different opportunities may be available to vaccinated musicians) and other protective measures, connect with other localized groups working toward safer, equal music spaces and opportunities, resources on navigating DIY recording and touring, and address the unnecessary sense of competition propelled by Spotify and others.

It’s part of the industry’s “trap,” Holmquist expressed, to make indie artists feel there’s only x-amount of slots for their type of sound despite claims of “giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art” by the likes of Spotify. UMAW insists on lifting each other up.

“We demand moving to something that is reflective of the diversity of artists on the platform and encourages artists to do their own thing,” Clinkman rebuts. “There’s something anti-competitive, in a positive way, about demanding things in that way. UMAW is a symbol of being able to band together and understand this is all affecting us in the same ways. If we’re all pulling in the same direction and working together, we can make it better for each other.”

Monday’s final artist on the megaphone was Manae Hammond, also of Oux and breakout band Hospital Bracelet, who spoke on behalf of the DIY Chi Mutual Aid Fund. Co-founded alongside Zoey Victoria and Sarah Thomas, the group gave micro-grants to artists-at-risk in the midst of the pandemic last year. Hammond said the mutual aid’s efforts are in “lockstep” with UMAW’s mission; what she described as helping musicians and artists through “building dual power” and organized action.

The global shutdown in 2020 put a spotlight on many things taken for granted—one of them being the power the arts, particularly music, have in giving us hope in dark times. Music has always provided an escape from the chaos and acts as a shared language for discussing some of life’s most difficult, complex topics. For some cities, it’s the largest part of their identity and why they’ve become storied destinations. In a year that saw us sheltering in place, unable to travel or ignore what was unfolding in the streets and in Washington, music (as well as literature, film, television, etc.) proved to be vital to our survival. We need all facets of the music industry to work for the artists committed to this understanding, not against them.

“This is just the beginning,” Clinkman told the crowd before it dispersed Monday afternoon. “We’re going to escalate. We’ll be back. They’re going to hear us.”

Follow Union of Musicians and Allied Workers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

LIVE REVIEW: The Best New Artist Nominees Perform at Spotify’s Grammy Party

Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus perform their smash hit “Old Town Road” at Spotify’s pre-Grammy party showcasing Best New Artist nominees. Photo by Suzannah Weiss.

On Sunday, January 26, 18-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish took home an impressive five Grammy awards: best new artist, album of the year, record of the year, song of the year, and best pop vocal album. The week before, I had the chance to attend Spotify’s official Grammy party, which included performances by Eilish and the other Best New Artist nominees. 

The party was held at the Lot Studios in West Hollywood, and getting into the venue was an adventure in and of itself. After standing in a line to get on a line to get on another line, I’d unfortunately missed the first act, hip-hop sensation Lizzo, but I did get inside in time to catch Eilish’s performance.

Only at an LA music industry event could there be such an unfazed crowd in front of an artist who is about to win a Grammy. Acknowledging how many people were talking, eating, and otherwise failing to give their full attention, Eilish joked, “I’m sorry to make you be quiet for this.” 

The audience’s ostensible lack of enthusiasm didn’t reflect the quality of the act, though. Accompanied by her brother Finneas O’Connell on keyboard, Eilish played a mini-set consisting of “I Don’t Wanna Be You Anymore,” “Everything I Wanted,” and, of course, the haunting “Ocean Eyes.” The highlight, though, was their rhythmic yet mellow acoustic rendition of “Bad Guy.”

Next came a very different nominee, funk and soul duo the Black Pumas, who delivered an eclectic meld of rock and R&B on tracks like “Fire,” which was a bit reminiscent of The Black Keys, “Know You Better,” which contained gospel-like harmonies, and the soulful, catchy “Colors,” which featured an animated keyboard solo. 

Singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers then took the stage, giving the night’s most energetic performance. She jumped up and down and danced almost nonstop as she cycled through hits like “Give a Little,” with its gorgeous closing harmonies, and “The Knife,” to which she added a classical piano intro. Singing poppy tracks like “Say It” and “Love You for a Long Time,” Rogers came off like she was genuinely enjoying herself, bending down at one point to give audience members high fives. 

The audience favorite, however, seemed to be Lil Nas X, who opened with his second single “Panini.” Afterward, he accidentally called out to the audience, “What’s up, New York?” Everyone cheered nonetheless. He followed with “Rodeo,” then brought out Billy Ray Cyrus for an infectious performance of “Old Town Road,” leading audience members to sway and sing along to “I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road and ride ‘til I can’t no more.”

Spanish pop artist Rosalía came on next, appearing alongside dancers in Flamenco-like garb for a show that was visually stunning as well as musically catchy. I left before I got the chance to see the other two nominees, English singer-songwriter Yola and funk group Tank and the Bangas. 

While Eilish was the one to take home the award, it’s clear that none of the other varied nominees will be fading from the public eye (or ear) any time soon. The Black Pumas are speaking to a variety of audiences with music that’s poetic and catchy, oldies-inspired and modern at the same time; Rogers is taking over the radio by adding her own original flavor to pop music; Lil Nas X has released several chart-topping songs at the tender age of 20; and Rosalía has a unique sound that’s catching attention worldwide. It’ll be exciting to see what each of them has done by the time the 2021 Grammys air. I’m betting it’ll be quite a bit. 

HIGH NOTES: People Share Their Favorite Music-Drug Pairings

Just as some wines are meant to be paired with certain cheeses and some shoes look perfect with particular outfits, some drugs go inexplicably well with certain kinds of music. Many report that drugs enhance their music-listening experience by drawing out the meaning of the song or helping them get lost in the sound. These effects are different but equally fascinating for everyone. To get an idea of the vast array of strange and compelling drug-induced musical experiences, I asked people for their favorite music-drug combinations. Here are some of their responses.

“When I was first getting to know who and what I wanted to be, I would drop acid occasionally to meditate on it. I would almost exclusively listen to the songs my dad and I would listen to on his old turntable: Joplin, anyone from the British Invasion, anyone who played at Woodstock. While I was tripping on acid and listening to an oldies soundtrack, I felt comfortable in the familiar while able to focus on the visions and creativity flashing before my eyes. I grew up reliving the ’60s through music, movies, and documentaries, so taking acid in that setting makes me feel so much deeper than just popping a tab, but really understanding where we, it, and everything came from. It’s a super therapeutic and connecting experience.” — Melissa, 25

“I smoke weed daily and usually run through full albums while enjoying it, often ones I’ve heard hundreds of times. Top of the list for me are anything by Childish Gambino, Frank Ocean, J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, or The Knocks. I’ll mix these in with Broadway musical soundtracks and a Disney playlist. I’m obsessed with Disney and like that cannabis calms my mind and allows me to memorize much of what I’m listening to. Mushrooms are usually reserved for more outdoor activities, but I’ve found a small dosage is perfect before a party.
While I’d like to say I go for more earthy sounds while on mushrooms, for me it’s more about melodic deep house beats, playlists that have limited words and great bass. I like feeling my body reverberate with the sound on mushrooms and feel the deeper the bass, the better the high. LSD gives you a major energy boost, so I usually find myself dancing when on it. The mix of sounds for my trips I prefer are usually in the synth/techno house/tropical house variety. Morning sets from Burning man are great for LSD, especially mixes by Lee Burridge, NSR, Bedouin.
I rarely find sassafras, but when I do, my sound goes more the direction of sexy, sultry vocals. Kat Cunning is currently a favorite, but I also love Bob Moses and will listen to them whenever I’m rolling. For ketamine, the mixes I prefer fall under a category I call sex house. It’s similar to deep house but with song choices that include sexually provocative lyrics and beats that are just perfect for getting sexy or just cuddling.” — Daniel Saynt, 35, founder of NSFW

“Though there have been many songs that I’ve enjoyed while under the influence of marijuana, here are a few that stand out as particularly gratifying for me. When I was younger and in college, a few that I remember really standing out in that mindset were ‘Dark Matter’ by Porcupine Tree, ‘3 a.m./Voices in the Fan’ by Devin Townsend, and the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Later, when I experienced smoking marijuana years later again, a couple that stood out were ‘Love Letters to the Soul’ by Entheogenic and ‘All That Makes Us Human Continues’ by BT.” — Jason, 30

“Lemon haze / sour tangie / blue crack for the drug, paired with the Young and Free Spotify playlist.” — Steve, 29
“I like a lot of combinations with drugs and songs, but I made the best memory with the combination acid and Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond.’ Acid makes your brain very active, and for that reason, you will hear sounds in this song you never had heard before. The whole song is a big fantastic journey in a fantastic beautiful world.” — Patrick, 24

“Carbon Based Lifeforms. I feel very peaceful and loving when listening to them. Combining it with mushrooms is amazing for me.” — Marianna, 29

“‘Cups’ by Underworld with MDMA and LSD. LSD demands music with long, sustained tones that is packed with subtle sound events. The song starts with electronically-generated violin sounds but very quickly a bass line drops. That is where the synergy kicks in with the MDMA, which wants fast and exciting music you can move to. In combination, you get an explosion of excitement and joy while flying in psychedelic space, forgetting the world completely and finding a unity, blurring of lines between yourself, the music, the space your body occupies, and the universe beyond the physical real.” — Dutch, 43

“It wasn’t until I was 21 that I first tried cocaine, but was instantly hooked. I was in Minneapolis at a SYSTEM party submerged in techno and the genuine community that comes with it. Rather than dancing and enjoying the music, friendly desire consumed me. Towards the end, James Patrick was closing out the night. I remember conversing with a lovely pink haired woman and out of nowhere, I turned against her abruptly ending the conversation. JP was mixing in the track ‘Doin Ya Thang’ by Oliver $, and it was that track that had me getting down for the remainder of the night.” — Brayden, 26

“MDMA — house/techno. Been loving the Cityfox Foxcast 26: Anja Schneider (September 2018) track. Would love to roll to that. Cannabis — seriously that’s too hard. Everything sounds better on weed. A favorite entire album is Nightmares on Wax’s Smokers Delight (top song: ‘Nights Interlude’). I love a good dreamy indie rock song like Blouse ‘Fountain in Rewind’ or Japanese Breakfast ‘Road Head,’ or something more upbeat like Bonobo ‘Kerala’ or ‘Samurai.’ Shrooms I like actually being outside and listening to the sounds of nature. I did do it at a Six Flags Adventure Park… I probably won’t likely do that again, but you never know. Ketamine — music doesn’t sound so good compared to the other drugs to me, but usually it’s an at an afterparty after a night of rolling so the chiller house/techno.” — Phillia, 40

NEWS ROUNDUP: Music Lawsuits, New Music from Marianne Faithfull & More

Music Lawsuits


One of Spotify’s former sales executives, Hong Perez, is suing Spotify and her former boss, head of sales Brian Berner, for gender discrimination, equal pay violation and defamation in New York’s Supreme Court. Perez’s complaint accuses Berner of taking mens-only employee trips to the 2016 and 2017 Sundance FIlm Festival, as well as to Atlantic City strip clubs. Perez also alleges Spotify awarded higher compensation to male employees and promoted employees despite sexual harassment warnings. Spotify denied these claims.


Drake filed a fraud lawsuit against model Laquana Morris (aka Layla Lace) on Tuesday in the Superior Court of California, accusing her of civil extortion, fraud, defamation, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Drake admitted to having consensual sexual relations with Morris in Manchester, England February 2017. In April 2017, she claimed on social media that he dumped her after she told him she was pregnant with his child. The case also alleges that Morris demanded money from Drake and filed a police report alleging the rapper raped her during the Manchester hotel encounter. Manchester police cleared Drake of of sexual assault allegations.

The New New

Nick Cave and Marianne Faithfull released a collaboration titled “The Gypsy Faerie Queen,” which will be included on her twenty-first album Negative Capability, due out November 2nd. Avril Lavigne released first song in five years, “Head Above Water,” which describes her battle with Lyme Disease. Major Lazer and South African singer Babes Wodumo released “Orkant/Balance Pon It” with a video that showcases people of Durban, South Africa dancing on buses, in classrooms and on the streets.

End Notes

  • The Senate passed the Music Modernization Act (MMA), that will modernize copyright protection for songwriters on streaming services and other digital platforms.
  • Paul McCartney has first Billboard chart number one album debut with 18th solo release Egypt Station.
  • A new Amy Winehouse documentary entitled Back to Black has been announced, highlighting the making of her iconic record.

NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Mac Miller, Fashion Week, Pussy Riot Member Hospitalized & More

RIP Mac Miller

Last week on September 7th, Mac Miller died at the age of 26 from a drug overdose in his LA home. Since his passing many celebrities such as Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, Ariana Grande and many more paid tribute to the rapper. Earlier this week thousands of Mac Miller fans held a vigil at Pittsburgh’s Blue Slide Park – the namesake of his debut album. The blue slide had a fresh coat of paint and Miller’s grandmother made an appearance that evening thanking fans.

Fashion Week

Rihanna closed out New York’s fashion week with her Savage x Fenty Lingerie Show at the Brooklyn Navy Yard celebrating women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities. Her runway show included plus sized models and two visibly pregnant models, one of whom went into labor backstage. The line mixes organic and futuristic concepts, and according to Rihanna is “what we hope to see in the future: women being celebrated in all forms and all body types and all races and cultures.” 

Cardi B and Nicki Minaj had an altercation at the Harper’s Bazaar Icons Party. Cardi threw a red high heel at Minaj while yelling that Minaj talked trash about her child. Cardi B was escorted out of the party with a bump on her head. Cardi issued a statement on Instagram, and Minaj responded on her Beats 1 Queen radio show denying she ever said anything about Cardi’s child and claimed Cardi B built her career off of “sympathy and payola.” Cardi responded on Instagram with videos of fans screaming her lyrics at her concerts early in her career prior to radio play as well as the list of 2018’s top Hip Hop Albums (Cardi’s Invasion of Privacy in the top three), with the caption “NUMBERS DONT FUCKIN LIE.”

Listen to a playlist of fashion week’s best music below…

Pussy Riot’s Peter Verzilov Hospitalized

Peter Verzilov, a member of Russia’s political punk band Pussy Riot and publisher of independent news website Mediazona, was hospitalized on September 11th and is currently in critical condition. He began showing symptoms of losing his sight, speech, and mobility shortly after a court hearing, leading his friends and partner to believe he had been poisoned. Verzilov is currently being treated at the toxicology wing of Moscow’s Bakrushin City Clinical Hospital, though the details of his diagnosis or treatment have not been released.

The New New

Lana Del Rey released the first new song “Mariners Apartment Complex” she recorded with Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff. She will be releasing another track, “Venice Bitch,” on Tuesday, although the album won’t be out until 2019.

Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker  released the second single off her album abysskiss, called “symbol.” The album will be released October 5th on Saddle Creek.

The Smashing Pumpkins are releasing their first album in almost 20 years featuring founding members Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, along with guitarist Jeff Schroeder. Their first single “Silvery Sometimes” was released this week; the full album will drop November 16th on Corgan’s label Martha’s Music. 

End Notes

  • Apple will no longer provide the dongle adaptors for headphones free of charge with the iphone.
  • Spotify is lifting the 3,333 song download limit for offline listening and increased it to 10,000 songs.

NEWS ROUNDUP: No More Hate…Policy, YouTube Copyright & More

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Prince would’ve turned 60 on 6/7; his estate will release Piano and a Microphone 1983 in September.

No More Hate…Policy, New Releases & More

By Jasmine Williams

Spotify Says “JK!”

In a continuation of last week’s story, Spotify has completely walked back their recently introduced “hateful content and conduct” policy. The streaming giant announced their decision via a blog post stating that they “don’t aim to play judge and jury” and citing “vague” language that created “confusion and concern” as the reason for abandoning the policy. Critics of the policy accused the platform of censorship and racism; the first and only three artists singled out by the rule were R. Kelly, Tay-K, and XXXTentacion – black males, not yet convicted of their accused crimes.

Spotify’s decision to rescind their policy has also been met with criticism. While only a half measure – the “hate conduct” rule seemed like a step in the right direction for many involved in the #MeToo movement. While Spotify cites ethical reasons for cancelling its new rule, the action could also be seen as yet another example of the music industry pandering to money over the fight against misogyny and sexual harassment. Spofity’s decision to reverse the policy came only days after it was reported that Top Dawg Entertainment (Kendrick Lamar’s label) threatened to remove their artists’ music from the app, while Pitchfork’s Jillian Mapes points out that Sony (R. Kelly’s record label) is a Spotify shareholder.

YouTube Vs. Copyright Infringement

In a preliminary ruling with potentially big implications, the Vienna Commercial Court found that YouTube is at least partly liable for copyright infringement in videos uploaded by the streaming platform’s independent users. YouTube says that it does what it can to prevent copyright-infringing videos from remaining on the site, but that as a “neutral platform” it can’t completely control its users or the content they upload. The court disagrees, thanks to that innocuous little “Up Next” sidebar to the right of the main video that suggests additional content based on whatever the viewer happens to be watching, or has watched in the past. Because the courts see this as helping to determine what viewers watch, they say it nullifies YouTube’s neutrality.

What does all of this mean? It means YouTube could be forced to ramp up its monitoring efforts or face strict fines. Though the hearing in question revolved around Austrian TV channel Puls4, this could change what users see (and upload) on the streaming site the world over.

Meanwhile, the infamous “Dancing Baby” case has been settled after eleven years of back-and-forth between Universal Music and a mom who uploaded a video of her toddler getting his groove on while Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” played in their kitchen. With the kid in question about to enter middle school, the Vienna ruling might’ve put blame on the shoulders of YouTube itself.

Oldies but Goodies?

A recent survey in Britain came to the conclusion that most people stop listening to new music after the age of thirty. Music streaming service, Deezer, surveyed 1,000 people and found that more than sixty percent of them mainly listened to music they discovered before the big 3-0.

Break out of the mold and check out brand new music below!

That New New

Shannon and the Clams vocalist and namesake Shannon Shaw released her solo album, Shannon in Nashville, today. She’ll play some solo shows before reconnecting with her band for live shows this summer.

Yesterday Prince would have turned 60. Perhaps in memory of the occasion, his estate announced the upcoming release of Piano & A Microphone 1983, an album of stripped back, previously unheard music.

Lily Allen stays real on her brand new album, No Shame.

Smashing Pumpkins reunited for “Solara,” their first new single in more than fifteen years!

Death Grips shared the newest track from Year of the Snitch and confirmed the release date for the LP (6/22).

End Notes

  • Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s new album, Kids See Ghosts, released last night via another livestream via another app.
  • A 55-year old original John Coltrane recording has been unearthed and will see release by the end of the month.
  • Afropunk announced their full Brooklyn lineup, including “Special Guest TBA”  Kaytranada!
  • Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon launched a new platform and used it to release music from a new project.
  • M. Ward released surprise LP What A Wonderful Industry, putting to song 20-plus years of music industy beef.
  • Queen mother Dolly Parton announced an upcoming Netflix series based on her songs.


NEWS ROUNDUP: A Shake Up in Streaming & More

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Tidal press conference, 2015. Courtesy of Time.

A Shake Up in Streaming & More

By Jasmine Williams

A Reckoning?

Last week #MuteRKelly gained speed as Time’s Up’s women of color added their support and yesterday the movement got a boost from a Spotify. While the streaming giant did not cut all ties with Kelly, Spotify did announce that they will remove the alleged sexual abuser from all playlists and other suggested conduct so he will no longer be actively promoted on the platform although his discography will still remain and be searchable. The move comes as the result of Spotify’s new rule pertaining to artists accused of misconduct or of having songs with objectionable lyrics. Spotify tapped consultants from the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, GLAAD, and other advocacy groups to create their “hate content and hateful conduct” policy which addresses “hate speech” in music and states that “when an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.” In response to Spotify’s action, R. Kelly’s team accused the company of engaging in an “attempted public lynching.” His PR team’s use of the historically-loaded phrase in defense of the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer has sparked a separate controversy.

Spotify’s new policy is making waves in the industry and has many wondering what other musicians will be affected. Perhaps Chris Brown and Young Lo? Let the censorship debate begin!

In other pay-for-play streaming news, Tidal has been accused of faking millions of plays in an effort to make it look like Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s Life of Pablo were streamed more than they actually were. Norwegian paper, Dagens Nærengsliv obtained a hard drive with Tidal data reports that showed many users streaming the albums a suspiciously large number of times in one day.

Based on the obtained information, each of Tidal’s claimed three million subscribers would have had to play West’s Life of Pablo eighty-three times. Knowles and West both have business stakes in Tidal. Nærengsliv contacted one Beyoncé fan who was in Tidal’s records as having streamed Lemonade fifteen times in one day. She verified their suspicions of fabricated plays, saying “I love Beyoncé — but 11 hours? No.”

In traditional radio, it is illegal to pay DJs and promotors to play certain songs but streaming platforms still exist in a legal grey area – labels and artists can purchase slots on playlists. Perhaps the accusations against Tidal will lead to a change in the way all streaming services conduct business. Watch out Discover Weekly – they’re coming for you!

In a separate report, Tidal has also been accused of inflating their number of subscribers.

That New New

Arctic Monkeys head up the big releases of the week with their new studio album. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the British band’s first full-length in five years. Arctic Monkeys refrained from dropping any singles ahead of the album’s release so the sound is completely new to fans.

Christina Aguilera released the second single off of her upcoming album Liberation. “Twice” sees the singer return to form with soaring vocals and personal lyrics. Christina heads on tour this fall; she’ll play two dates at Radio City in October.

French duo Justice are also back with a new release. They just announced the date for their upcoming live album, Woman Worldwide, out August 24 via Ed Banger.

Sigur Rós dropped a mixtape of “endless” ambient music this week. Liminal is an hour-long collaboration between Jónsi, Alex Somers, and Paul Corley.

End Notes

  • NYC fans of Superchunk  and The Breeders are about to get reacquainted with the seasoned musicians. Both bands play free shows in Prospect Park. Start the season off with Superchunk on June 20th, close it out with The Breeders on August 11th.
  • Random couple alert – Grimes and Elon Musk showed up at the Met Ball together on Monday night. Grimes wore a Tesla choker to the exclusive event. The next day Musk tweeted that his favorite Grimes songs are “Flesh without Blood” and “Kill V Maim.”
  • Legendary hip-hop label Loud Records is coming back. Founder Steve Rifkind is starting it up again, this time with Sony and RED. The trio is debuting a brand new sound for Loud’s rebirth! Just kidding – one of Loud’ first projects will be a remake of an iconic release. They’re bringing back Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) but this time contemporary hip-hop artists will play the characters of the classic LP.


ONLY NOISE: When You Walk

There is certain music that you share with close friends and family. Music that scores the first dance at your wedding, albums you recommend to your sister, and songs that make your dinner party mix. There is music that feels inherently a part of a communal experience, and necessitates sharing immediately. And then, there is the music you hold close to your chest like a winning hand. The work of Bill Callahan and Smog has always felt like the latter to me, and maybe I haven’t so much held it close as I have ingested it completely.

I initially associated Callahan’s work with the friend who introduced me to it, but over time it’s started to feel like my own discovery. That friend and I have only ever communed with Callahan’s music together once, and that was nearly two years ago. We saw him in concert in the summer of 2016, during the little residency of gigs he did at Baby’s All Right. Theoretically the live performance is the most intimate and collective way to experience music, but even then it felt as if we were alone in crowd, together.

Despite my attempts to share Callahan’s music with other people (none of whom have latched on as ferociously as I did), I have spent the most time with his music in my bedroom, or alone in the kitchen doing dishes. This is very similar to the way I enjoyed music as a teenager, and it begets a certain kind of isolationthough at times I can’t tell if I’m responding to the alienation of Callahan’s characters, or projecting my own sense of it onto his songs. Either way, his music has reached me alone for the better part of two years, in moments of stillness and domestic routine: folding laundry, writing, cooking dinner. For me, his records exist in a permanent state of solitude, which is a state that suits me pretty well. But in light of a recent news break, my relationship with his music is taking a new, more public turn.

On Sunday, Callahan’s longtime record label Drag City dumped the majority of their collection on Spotify, Tidal, and Google Play. The label had already released a portion of its catalogincluding the discographies of Bill Callahan and Smogon Apple Music last year, but due to my distaste for the platform’s user interface (and general distaste for change), I stuck with Spotify, figuring that physically purchasing Callahan’s records on vinyl and listening to that 2001 Smog Peel Session on YouTube for a 408th time would do just fine. But downloading the entirety of Callahan’s output moments after it appeared on Spotify allowed me to do something I’d never really done before: take it outside and walk with it.

I was walking when I got the news, actuallyheading down Dekalb avenue to meet with Audiofemme’s Annie White and Lindsey Rhoades. I don’t typically listen to music when I walk for a number of reasons, but every single one of those reasons flew out the window when this piece of information fluttered into my Twitter feed. As it turned out, Bill Callahan’s enormous, three decade-deep body of work had been in the palm of my hand for over an hour, and I hadn’t even realized. In a snap of instinct, I located Smog’s 1999 album Knock Knock, and cued up “Held,” a song I’ve always felt sounds like a heavy trod. I’ve listened to this track countless times, but hearing it in a state of motion, chugging down the sidewalk on Easter Sunday, I could pick out crisp details that had been muddied by my indoor multitasking for years. The song’s screeching stretches of guitar and the rumbling percussion seemed to propel me forward with amplified force, and I was surprised by the thudding impact of piano late in the track.

It occurred to me that I’d been missing out on an entire conversation with some of my favorite music, and though I don’t love the lack of spatial awareness that comes with walking around New York with headphones on, it seemed necessary to investigate this exchange further. At least if I got hit by a car, I’d die listening to something I love. On a morning trek to Jackson Heights, Queens, I played my favorite Smog LP, 2005’s A River Ain’t Too Much to Love in its entirety. This record is bursting with naturalistic imagery; there are forests of pine, sleeping horses, and rushing streams. These may not be the kind of visuals that spring to mind when you think of Jackson Heights, but the contrast only seemed to beautify the songs and setting. I walked along Junction Boulevard to the tune of “Rock Bottom Riser.” It was a bright day, and I was surprised that I’d never fully absorbed the painterly imagery of the sunlight Callahan conjures with only a few words: “And from the bottom of the river/I looked up for the sun/Which had shattered in the water/And the pieces were raining down/Like gold rings/That passed through my hands.” The sun in my part of the world was passing through windows of the 7 train and bare branched trees, but it wasn’t any less glorious that day.

This new context of listening has allowed me to reach into different corners of Callahan’s songs, inspecting them from all new angles. But the funny thing about hearing his music while walking among other humans is that it kind of reaffirms that original feeling of isolation. Songs like “Teenage Spaceship” and “Ex-Con” comment on this sense of public seclusion. Callahan wrote the former during a period of nocturnal restlessness; he would go for walks around his parents’ neighborhood late at night, noting his sole presence among the stars and the house lights. Listening to it now, having walked at night with it pulsing at top volume, the image of someone strolling in the dark is undeniable. “Ex-Con,” from 1997’s Red Apple Falls touches on this subject more directly. It is notably more upbeat than “Teenage Spaceship,” and its staggered bleats of horn and synth beckon a brisk gaitbut its lyrics act as proverbs for the Outsider. “Alone in my room, I feel like such a part of the community,” sings Callahan. “But out on the streets, I feel like a robot by the river.” Then again, that’s a pretty good summation of New York City sidewalks: millions of people, alone, together.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Warped Tour, Bowie in Brooklyn & More

  • Warped Tour’s Goodbye

    It’s the end of an era for pop-punks, emo kids, and sk8er bois – Warped Tour just announced their final cross-country lineup and it’s going to be a very grand finale! The show will hit the road for virtually the whole summer; kicking off on June 21st in California and ending on August 5th in Florida. Warped veterans Sum 41, Taking Back Sunday, Simple Plan, the Used, and All Time Low are along for the ride with more than fifty other artists. In a public letter, tour founder Kevin Lyon reflected on the history of Warped since its start in 1995 and what the future holds for the venture.

    “I have been a very lucky person to have traveled across the country and sometimes around the world as one of the founders and producers of the Vans Warped Tour. Today, with many mixed feelings, I am here to announce that next year will be the final, full cross-country run of the Vans Warped Tour. I sit here reflecting on the tour’s incredible history, what the final run means for our community, and look forward to what’s to come as we commemorate the tour’s historic 25th anniversary in 2019.” – Kevin Lyon

    See the tour dates here.

  • Bowie in Brooklyn

    After a five-year run around the world, sprawling and comprehensive art exhibition David Bowie Is will make its final stop at the Brooklyn Museum. Running March 2nd through July 15th, the show mines Bowie history for a mind-blowing display of thousands of music artifacts, drawings, props, videos, and, of course, costumes, some of which have never been seen before. There’s also a framed photo of Little Richard that Bowie was rumored to have carried to every recording session. The show is organized by time and cycles through the many different phases of the Thin White Duke’s career, starting with his early life as David Jones and ending with the making of Blackstar. It’s no accident that the traveling exhibition has its finale in Brooklyn; the legendary musician called NYC home for many years. Exhibition organizers have pulled out all the stops for this one, so whether you are a music lover or art addict, David Bowie Is cannot be missed.

    Get details here.

  • Other Highlights

    Changes are afoot in the music industry! On Wednesday, Spotify went public on Wall Street, despite the fact that the company lost $1.5 billion dollars last year. Also on Wednesday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was elected to the Country Music Association’s philanthropy board, but by Thursday, he had resigned due to outcry. That night, Lorde started off her North American tour with a bang – she performed an unreleased song as well as a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo.” En Vogue made the Billboard Top 10 for the first time in twenty years with the Ne-yo penned track, “Rocket.” The Kills released a video for a cover of the Saul Williams song, “List of Demands (Reparations).” Jack White gives us “Over And Over And Over,” another unveiling from his next record, this one originally written thirteen years ago for The White Stripes. NPR has got the first play of David Byrne’s upcoming album – you can stream “American Utopia” on their site now. The record’s official release is today. Yo La Tengo has released “For You Too,” the latest from their March 16th album, There’s a Riot Going On. Dinosaur Jr. give us “Hold Unknown” via Adult Swim’s Singles Series. After teasing their reunion with “Octagon Octagon,” Kool Keith, Dan the Automator, and DJ Qbert release “Area 54.” The awkwardly-titled Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation is their first album as hip-hop supergroup Dr. Octagon in 22 years. Lastly, in case you forgot – Dolly Parton is a saint! This week she visited the Library of Congress to celebrate the delivery of the 100 millionth book by her nonprofit, the Imagination Library. The music legend founded Imagination Library in 1995; since then, it has mailed a book to more than a million young children every month.


NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Charles Bradley, #TakeAKnee & More

  • RIP Charles Bradley

    Though he was able to tour up until the very end, even after battling stomach cancer, renowned soul singer Charles Bradley passed away over the weekend. He was 68. Nicknamed “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” Bradley was inspired by James Brown from a young age but didn’t release his first album until six years ago. He made a living as a handyman and by impersonating his idol until being discovered by a Daptone Records founder. Watch him perform below.

  • Musicians Take A Knee To Protest Police Brutality

    After Trump insulted football players who chose to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against our country’s police brutality, encouraging NFL owners to fire them, many musicians expressed solidarity with the players. Stevie Wonder was one of the first, kneeling before his set at NYC’s Global Citizen Festival. Other artists who participated include Pharrell Williams, Eddie Vedder, John Legend, and more. Read more a complete account of the situation here

  • Other Highlights

    Watch new videos from Princess Nokia and William Patrick Corgan, Spotify knows your musical secrets, Justin Timberlake will get a second chance at a Superbowl performance, a holographic Frank Zappa is going on tour, Thurston Moore made a techno record, listen to new music from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Angel Olsen, collaborations from Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile, Michael Cera/Sharon Van Etten, and Radiohead/Hans Zimmer, a concert hall created by an algorithm, and it’s way too early for these artists to release Christmas music

NEWS ROUNDUP: Reactions to Charlottesville, Prince’s Pantone Purple & More


  • Music + Politics: Responses To Charlottesville  

    The horrible events of last weekend show that change is necessary in this country. Here’s some ways the music world reacted to Charlottesville:

    Spotify is cracking down on racist bands. Yeah, unfortunately, white supremacists make music too, and it makes its way to streaming services. Earlier this week, after Digital Music News published a list of 27 white supremacists bands an author found on Spotify, Spotify removed many and is investigating the rest. The company stated, “material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us.”

    Wilco released “All Lives, You Say?” It’s a typically laid back Jeff Tweedy tune, but politically charged. A tribute to Tweedy’s father, buying the song will benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    Johnny Cash’s family makes a statement. After a picture of a “self proclaimed neo-nazi” wearing a t-shirt with the singer’s name began circulating, his daughter Roseanne reiterated her late father’s passion for equality; the singer released an album about the inequality Native Americans faced in the 60’s, a risky career move. 

  • Prince Gets His Own Shade Of Purple

    Purple, associated with individualism, ambiguity, and of course, royalty, was a fitting color for Prince to embrace. This week, the Pantone Color Institute gave the late artist his own shade, dubbed “Love Symbol #2.” The symbol refers to the character Prince renamed himself as in the 90’s. As far as shades of purple go, “Love Symbol #2” is deep, dark and mysterious; a good fit for The Purple One.



NEWS ROUNDUP: What’s Up With Spotify + Soundcloud? & More

  • Are There Really Fake Artists On Spotify?

    This mystery began when Music Business Weekly reported that a number of artists only seemed to exist on Spotify playlists – mostly the generic, mood-based ones like “Chill,” “Focus,” “Sleep,” etc. Together with Music Ally, MBW discovered that the artists and producers credited to these songs are a few individuals who live in Stockholm, the Spotify main base. This situation brings up some important questions, like: is Spotify paying them directly to create these songs, even though a normal musician makes practically nothing from being on the app? 

  • Is This The End Of Soundcloud?

    Last week, the streaming service laid off nearly half their staff (some just weeks into the beginning of their careers there), with the company’s future beyond 2017 unclear. Now it seems they may be folding much sooner, possibly within the next few months. TechCrunch detailed the dire situation, which was then refuted by Soundcloud, and re-refuted by TechCrunch. You can read the contrasting statements here. And remember, we’ll always have Bandcamp

  • Other Highlights

    Watch another Kesha video, stream the new Waxahatchee album, The Breeders are going on tour, major venus are fighting over artists, the Seattle grunge scene is coming to Broadway, check out Brittany Howard’s new band Bermuda Triangle, speculate on Kid Rock’s possible run for Senate, & remember Jet?

NEWS ROUNDUP: Goodbye Shea, Spotify Sponsorship & More

  • Shea Stadium Officially Closes

    All we’ll have left of 20 Meadow Street is fond memories, and the new nightclub that the landlord wants to open to replace the beloved DIY venue. Shea Stadium was going to have a few more closing events, but yesterday posted on Facebook that “It now seems impossible to have any more events no matter how small.” The owners raised quite a bit of money on Kickstarter, and hopefully they’ll find a new space to hold Shea Stadium soon.

  • Get Ready For Sponsored Songs On Spotify

    Sponsored content: it’s on your Instagram feed, in your television shows, and in the articles you read (buy Sprite! Just kidding, drink water). Now Spotify treads tricky payola territory by announcing that it will let labels and other entities pay money to have certain songs featured in their wildly popular curated playlists without mentioning that the content is sponsored. TechCrunch reports that the streaming service has already been testing it out on users who don’t pay the monthly subscription fee, though there’s an option to turn off that feature; meanwhile, Liz Pelly’s in-depth, must-read report on The Secret Lives of Playlists ruminates on what the pay-to-play model means for indie labels, among other issues.

  • SXSW Supports Austin’s immigrants

    After the previous controversy over the immigration language used in SXSW contracts, the festival organizers have expressed their support for the lawsuit Austin is filing against the state of Texas. The lawsuit is in protest of Senate Bill 4, which forbids sanctuary cities like Austin. Though they were asked to move the festival to a different city until it was resolved, SXSW CEO Roland Swenson stated that they would “continue to make our event inclusive while fighting for the rights of all.” San Antonio and Dallas are pursuing similar lawsuits. 

  • Other Highlights

    RIP Prodigy, listen to the new Sleater-Kinney/R.E.M. supergroup, a cassette tape caused a New Zealand bomb scare, get ready for a new Foo Fighters album,  this article is kind of blaming Taylor Swift for the death of electric guitars for some reason, Gene Simmons is abandoning his quest to trademark the “rock” gesture, and once again, WTF, Spotify?

ONLY NOISE: Playlist Memories

In a clever bit of self-effacing paid content, The Guardian’s Stephen Armstrong delves into the mixtape vs. playlist debate – on the behalf of Spotify. While I’m no fan of sponsored content on principle, I have to admit that the piece is well written and funny, and it poses an interesting question: “Were Mixtapes Better Than Modern Playlists?” Although I make them on a regular basis to accompany cheeky articles of my own, I’ve had a tenuous relationship with playlists… especially as services like Pandora and Spotify have rendered the medium.

Like me, Armstrong doesn’t sound entirely sold on the idea of playlists besting good old fashioned reel-to-reel. He waxes nostalgic, saying that with mixtapes the “maker controlled the rise and fall, the moods and motion. It was a democratised concept album with a very particular, personal story.”

Though wooed by Armstrong’s prose, I can’t help but smirk at Spotify’s cunning little bit of advertisement. It is almost as if the streaming platform is saying, “We would never deny the importance of analog compilations, which do have so much heart… but click here to start a FREE 30 day trial of unlimited music now!” And yet so far in Armstrong’s piece, the brand has made no clear advances on the reader. It lays back, sponge bathing in irony.

I begin to feel hypocritical. Who am I to resist an op-ed in which a middle-aged man speaks fondly of music ephemera? No one, to be exact. But then I smell the marketing; “Playlists, conversely,” Armstrong insists, “allow us to luxuriate in the infinite possibilities of self-expression.”

There it is: the hook. The heart of the paid content, if you will.

“Self-expression.” Everyone keeps talking about “self-expression;” ways to convey your “truest self ” – which of course can be done through products. And to an extent, I get the hype. Babies are practically born with a brand these days. Clip the umbilical chord, measure and weigh, make it an Instagram account. “You need to work on your personal brand” was something I heard relentlessly in college. “Do you have a logo?” is something I was asked the other day.

But must this corporate branding creep into every aspect of our lives? When it comes to fusing music and personal marketing, I just can’t get into it. For me, enjoying and sharing music has never been about “self-expression” (whatever that means) or at least not since I was 13 and wanted the whole world to know that I was VERY punk rock.

In fact, music has always offered me the exact opposite of self-expression. It has been a borrowed skin to step in – something that placed my problems into the hands of great poets and sufferers who might better know what to do with them. Sometimes these deities presented answers, other times, simply a new noise to embrace.

“My mixtapes were usually made for one person,” Armstrong continues, “– a girl I was trying to snog. It was a carefully curated voyage through an idealised version of my soul and included more than a few tracks that I didn’t actually like but thought would impress her. Like anything by The Smiths. They were love letters, in other words, as painful to hear as any adolescent poetry.”

I’m amused and appreciative of his honesty, and (very) British self-deprecation. However, when I made mixtapes as a kid, they weren’t forms of self-expression, nor self-idealization. They weren’t even for another person…they were for me. These were consolatory notes-to-self, because there certainly weren’t any Stephen Armstrongs writing me love letters on the J cards of Maxell C90s. I wrote love letters to myself from imaginary suitors, instead. It would be years before I received my first mixtape from a boy, and by then I no longer had a cassette deck (I still haven’t listened to it).

The closest thing I ever received to a mixtape was more in sync with my generation – a mix CD. Only a few weeks into dating my first serious, post-high school boyfriend – let’s call him Mark for privacy reasons – I was gifted a silver platter with the words “For Madison” scrawled upon it in sharpie. Its contents were love songs; the kind my tween heart longed for years prior. Mark’s mix opened with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” which bowled me over with its measured melodrama.

It continued with Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You,” Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and “Golden Years” by David Bowie, each song making a downy nest in my brain. It was an impressive compilation, and an important marker in our courtship. I’d like to say that being moved by a man’s swell musical taste is something I left behind in college, but that would be a bald-faced lie. Years later I am able to hear songs like “Oh Yoko” and My Bloody Valentine’s “Sometimes” without thinking of Mark’s sonic love letter – but I’ll never forget how I first heard them.

And that is something a Spotify playlist can’t stack up to – that nerve connectivity to real events that happened in real life.

Scrolling through Spotify’s human-and-algorithm curated “Genres & Moods” playlists, I can’t help but be reminded of box hair color. Names like “Poolside In Your Mind,” “Lazy Chill Afternoon,” and “Sunshine Smoothie” bring to mind as much soul as Feria’s “Chocolate Cherry” and “Power Copper” hues. It is copy – as far from a love letter as words could run.

The description for the “Early Grey Morning” playlist (which I originally read as “Earl Grey Morning”) is particularly barfable:

“A warm, tasty cup of tea and this soothing mix playing in the background will have you well on your way to a perfectly harmonious morning.”

Am I the only person who finds this creepy? Am I an incorrigible curmudgeon? Do I hate tasty cups of tea and harmonious mornings? Not inherently, but there is an issue of sincerity here. For instance, I would love to meet the person who actually clicks on the “Broken Heart” playlist post breakup. “You know what I need right now?” they might think. “A corporate curator’s perspective on my rejection.” No – the pre-fab playlist seems all too impersonal for a sap like me. Where’s the conversation in a title like “A Mellow Indie Odyssey”?

What does one talk about in, say, a coffee shop – the last bastion of IRL human interaction?

I can assure you that we music nerds desperately seek ways to talk to other people about music. We pray for the moment someone will notice our t-shirts on the subway, and strike up a convo about Bauhaus. Our roommates, families, even best friends don’t want to hear about the latest Nick Cave record, so where can we turn? Even at gigs, places that confirm we are all there for the same band, you’d be hard pressed to actually chat with someone (in New York at least).

So when you enter a coffee shop, and a great, unknown song is playing – a song, that could only have been selected by the sole employee in the establishment – a captive employee, who cannot runaway from your prodding questions, as they are trapped behind a very small counter, you ask, all too eagerly: “WHO IS THIS SONG BY? IT’S REALLY GOOD!”

The barista blinks. Shifts their vision from side to side, perhaps pondering an escape route. You lock eyes; aware that you are about to partake in the most fulfilling music banter you’ve had since you got into that argument with a subway busker about ABBA. “Um. I dunno,” they reply. “It’s a Pandora station.” They lean back after shoving a mug in your hand. The little latte heart they’ve crafted is broken in two.

A line from Armstrong’s article might drift into your head around then:

“These days, playlists are rarely true love letters.”