If you are a music lover, you are currently living in a golden age. It’s never been easier to listen to just about any track from any artist you can think of, either for free or for a nominal monthly payment. The reason why you can do this is the existence of music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, Apple Music, Tidal, YouTube Music and many more.
In fact, music piracy – which became ubiquitous in the early 2000s with illegal services such as Napster and Limewire – has declined significantly in recent years. Although a variety of factors are involved, the most important is the existence of music streaming services. After all, why would anyone bother pirating music (or even buying an individual album) if they can just grab a Spotify account and listen to whatever they want legally?
While this is good news for music listeners, there are some significant downsides. Tiny (if any) artist compensation is a big issue that has been a hot topic for years. Sound quality is also an issue, with low bitrate streaming being the norm for the average user. Obtrusive advertisements are also problematic.
However, there’s one big problem with music streaming services that I don’t hear much about, and it’s the number one reason I refuse to use a streaming product: bad tracks.
What you want sometimes isn’t what you get
My big problem with music streaming services is that not everything is as it seems. Sometimes you’re listening to a track and what you hear isn’t the version of the track you expected – sometimes it’s not even the right song at all. Album track listings can be out of order, song titles can vary wildly, and remixes and alternate cuts can sometimes mistakenly appear where you least expect them.
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These problems are compounded by the fact that someone unfamiliar with the music they are listening to would be none the wiser.
Let’s take a concrete example of what I’m talking about. Click here to visit the page of Björk’s incredible second album Post on Deezer. If you click, you can listen to 30-second clips of each track, no Deezer account required. Here’s a screenshot of the page as it appeared this week:
If you’re a Björk fan, you’re probably horrified just looking at the screenshot. Right off the bat, you can see that there are two Family Tree versions of the songs listed for this disc, which refers to a box set the artist released in 2002. This means that those specific tracks are not taken from the original Post album but rather taken from his Greatest Hits collection included with this box set.
You can also see that one of Björk’s most beloved songs, “Hyperballad”, is erroneously labeled as “Hyper-Ballad”. Meanwhile, “The Modern Things” is mislabeled as simply “Modern Things”.
OK, so you might not think these issues are that important. However, when you start clicking and listening to the song samples on this page, Björk fans will realize that something is wrong: the songs are incorrect. When you listen to “Hyperballad”, you hear “The Modern Things”. When clicking on “The Modern Things”, you hear “Enjoy”, and when you listen to “It’s Oh So Quiet”, you hear “Isobel”.
Imagine never hearing the song “Hey Jude” before in your life. How would you know if “Hey Jude” was the song playing when you clicked on it?
Chances are that someone who has just discovered Björk’s incredible catalog of music has no idea that these songs are incorrect. That person might be thinking, “Wow, ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ is such a great song,” not knowing that they really like “Isobel.” Meanwhile, the track “It’s Oh So Quiet” isn’t even playable on this page, despite being Björk’s second most popular song on Spotify, according to Chart Metric.
It is a significant problem. For this album, we have misspelled track names, versions of specific tracks taken from other records, and even tracks that don’t match their title. It’s an album with 11 tracks out of the 56 million songs that Deezer has in its catalog. Surely this is not the only disc with these problems.
An open issue with music streaming services
Deezer is not one of the most popular music streaming services. According to its website, the company has only 14 million active users, a pittance compared to Spotify’s more than 217 million users. With that in mind, you might think this is only a problem for Deezer and not the industry as a whole. You would be wrong, however.
Spotify has a dedicated support form that you can fill out when you encounter errors like these. The very existence of the form suggests that it’s also a problem for Spotify, not just Deezer.
Obviously, wrong tracks are a problem on many music streaming sites. What worries me, as someone obsessed with music, is how many of these errors are likely to go unreported simply because people don’t know better. Björk may not be the most mainstream artist, but she’s insanely famous: how come her most popular record has so many mistakes on Deezer and no one has fixed them yet? The only answer is that no one fixed them because no one noticed, which is concerning.
That’s why I just won’t use music streaming services. The last thing I want is to start digging into an unknown artist’s catalog and later find out that bits of what I was listening to were just plain wrong. I also don’t want to search for a song like “Hyperballad” – probably one of my favorite songs of all time – and not hear what I expect, especially if I’m paying a monthly fee to use this service.
I’ll stick to owning and cataloging my own music library instead. It’s more work and it costs more, but at least I’ll know that when I want to listen to a song, I’ll get exactly what I’m looking for.