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Spotify Wrapped. Apple Replay. These are meant as celebrations of music. But I’m taking them as a warning. Or a wake-up call. Or a relentless techno track that repeats the line “No no, no no no no, no no no no, no no, there’s no limits (to what you could actually listen to).”
That’s because I was this week duly informed I’d apparently had a handful of albums on repeat all year. This despite being someone who used to actively seek out new music all the time. I thought I still did. Apparently not – at least, apparently not enough.
My main music streaming service is Apple Music. Apple Replay informed me I’d spent 25 solid days listening to Apple Music during 2023. A tenth of that was one artist: Banco de Gaia (noodly downtempo electronica that helps rather than hinders when writing). My ‘anthem’ was Slowdive’s Star Roving, which I played 37 times. A number that actually feels… weirdly low. (Mind you, I do have several live versions that get regular play as well…)
In short, then, if you stick something on repeat, Apple Replay sure lets you know about it. Fortunately, it also noted there was diversity in my listening habits. 1043 artists across the year. 3434 songs. 227 albums. Although I couldn’t shake the feeling that in visual form this would resemble an exponential curve – favourites getting wildly more play than anything else.
Mind you, Apple won’t let you see beyond the top 15, so what’s lurking below remains a mystery. Spotify Wrapped wasn’t any more helpful, although that at least gave me a persona – ‘hypnotist’, due to my habit of listening to albums all the way through. Surely, you’re a hypnotist if you can bend others to your musical bidding. Maybe I can use my newfound powers to ‘encourage’ more people to listen to Slowdive and Wire?
Anyway, all this data made me wonder why my keenness for new music has started to atrophy. I recall watching an interview with Damon Albarn, who rightly recalled for a certain generation in the UK (that I – cough – might belong to), Top of the Pops was the main way to find new music. If you missed the show of an evening, it was gone. Today, though, for a smallish outlay, I have instant access to tens of millions of tracks. Why am I not listening to more of them?
It’s not like discovery isn’t baked in. Spotify and Apple Music – despite people’s grumbles – both have solid recommendation engines and serve up interesting playlists of new tracks. And there are other discovery apps and services, along with new music across the internet, from Bandcamp to TikTok. Maybe it’s choice paralysis – too much can be overwhelming; and, really, who has the time when you can just dip into something familiar?
So end-of-year round-ups should be fun and might be useful. But I’m now sitting here thinking I’ve become my dad. Maybe the data showing up in one wodge is the problem, leaving me blissfully unaware all year how I too often spot something in ‘recently played’ and go “ooh, I like that”. Perhaps it’s time to return to scrobbling on last.fm for ongoing updates, or to beg Apple and Spotify to implement a new feature where their apps blare “Seriously? That? AGAIN?” when you attempt to fire up a favourite one time too many.
In the meantime, I’ll console myself that there’s no Android Wrapped or iPhone Replay to inform me I spent 21 solid days during 2023 on Facebook – and two entire weeks playing a match-three game. If Screen Time tomorrow dished up 12 months of usage stats, I’d probably hurl my phone into a ravine and never touch technology again.