David Cotrone’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn and elsewhere. He lives in New York.
If you look closely at what I’ve built—at my playlists, all of them public—you can see me. You only have to search my name and you’ll see it all right there: what’s in my head. I’m 23, and my idea of love isn’t far from the chorus of “In Your Eyes”. I’m living in the memory of John Cusack standing outside a window.
I’m in the time of Spotify. I’m what others have named a millennial. I have a music streaming service and I’m not afraid to use it. I’m not holding a boom-box high over my shoulders. I’m not serenading you with an acoustic guitar and a song I wrote for you on the back of a napkin. I’m not even rifling through CD store bins to find the perfect compilation of songs, or burning them on a disc with your name written across the front. As a substitute, I’m connecting through codes and algorithms. I’m giving you all I have.
For lack of a better vocabulary I’ll call Spotify a channel for music. It’s meant to play on your laptop or mobile device. But when making mix CDs was all we had, when it was a language, we were surgeons. We were construction workers taking tiny pieces of ourselves and building from the heart. We turned our insides into bridges.
Think about it. The process was painstaking: choosing special songs, finding a way to record or download them onto your computer (or both), and then burning those songs in the perfect order on the perfect CD. Now, that process of wading through stacks of records to find the best blend of songs, burning them to your computer and burning them again back onto a single CD has become a heap of data. Spotify even auto-shares your song-by-song decisions with social networks like Facebook, pulling you into even more data networks, scrambling you into more numbers and codes.
To build a playlist on Spotify, the process must start digitally and it must end digitally. You can create custom playlists, but only after running search queries. You can share them with others, but only after linking virtually. You can explore a massive digital library according to artist, song album, genre or record label. You can view suggested rankings of top hits instead of making your own from scratch. You can access the service if you have an Internet connection and a Wi-Fi network. You can even hold a “private session”, which is, I assume, exactly what it sounds like.
On Spotify, your heart doesn’t stand alone to create a playlist. It’s plugged into a computer. But even if the process of sharing it has changed, music has stayed the same. Whether you’re heartbroken or not, whether you’re happy, angry or sad, a song will sound different according to the situation. This is how we find our way through the blown circuits of our lives. It’s how we speak.
Despite the virtual life of Spotify, you can still connect in a way that matters, which is why I haven’t removed it from my dock and why it’s always open on my computer. In the time of Spotify, I can listen to music that’s double, triple and quadruple my age, or I can listen to the music of today. My Spotify announces it to me directly as if it’s not embarrassing: Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Gavin DeGraw, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, John Mayer. I receive this information and I’m both embarrassed and relieved. The reasons are obvious. After all, there’s something intensely private about what we listen to.
Before Spotify was thought possible, CDs and the playlists we burned to them were full of weight. They’re how we told others what we really felt. We passed them on to our deepest crushes. We said, in so many songs, “I think I might love you.”
Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Eric Clapton—this was the music of my mixes. I would make it a point to seek out the warmth of an era already gone, those timeless songs like “Born to Run” and “Wonderful Tonight” and “Wildflowers.” This was the music of adulthood, of emotions I thought I could touch, and whether I could or couldn’t, it’s what I shared.
It’s corny as hell, but music is a fierce kind of magic. It tells us who and when we are. Naturally, we want to hand it to those closest to us, especially with those we want closest to us. I’m no longer in middle school, which was my time of burning mix CDs, but am now using Spotify and Pandora and all of these services that want me to share my music with everyone by default. For some, that makes perfect sense. Some want to broadcast their every song with the rest of the world. Some want to reach hundreds or thousands of miles and make that distance disappear by listening to the same track as the person on the other end. In the time of Spotify that true kind of connection is possible.
I live in New York, which at this point is both an apology and a declaration. Most of my playlists have titles like this: Alphabet City, Bowery, F Train, Fort Greene, Madison Square Park, Washington Square, Chrysler Building and SoHo. I’m constantly trying to pair the mood of where I visit with what I hear. It’s ridiculous, and at the same time incredible, like our first crushes, our current crushes and presumably whatever comes next.
Spotify promises us “music for everyone” as well as “music for every moment.” So here I am.
I’m making a playlist and sharing. We each have headphones on, and the volume is turned up too high, and it’s 4 a.m., and it’s halfway between dark and light, and our eyes are bleary but we’re only a little tired and we’re electric. We’re more tired than we can say. We’re looking up lyrics but reading different parts of our screens, scrolling past the first verse into the second and onto the last. We’re doubling back to the chorus. We’re pressing repeat and then pause, dragging the stream of the song back to an exact time—1:22…2:06—skipping to the next track because there are over 20 million of them, because there’s you and also me, here together only like this. We’re listening.
#Love is a new column on TechCrunch dealing with digital matters of the heart. It explores our relationships, their relationship with technology, and all the gory details that come with it. Jordan Crook will be leading the charge, and is looking for guest writers to tell their own stories each week. Maybe you found your soul mate on Tinder, or got dumped on Facebook, or have an outrageously interesting sext life. We all have our stories. If you’re interested in contributing, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line #Love for more details.