Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown
If you’re a music lover, you are living in a golden age right now. Never before has it been as easy to listen to pretty much any track by any artist you can think of either for free or for a nominal monthly payment. The reason you can do this is the existence of music streaming services such as 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 gone down significantly over the past few years. Although a variety of factors are involved, the largest is the existence of music streaming services. After all, why would someone go through the hassle of 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 all good news for music listeners, there are some significant downsides. The tiny (or even non-existent) compensation for the artist is a big issue that has been a hot-button topic for years now. Sound quality is also an issue, with low-bitrate streaming the norm for the average user. Obtrusive ads are also problematic.
However, there’s one big issue with music streaming services that I don’t hear talked about much, and it’s the number one reason why I refuse to ever use any streaming product: incorrect tracks.
What you want is sometimes not what you get
I take music very seriously. Those of you who follow my writing here at Android Authority likely remember how I transferred my entire Google Play Music library to my own Plex server so I could have more control over it. I also talked at length in an article about how high-end headphones can make such a difference for music.
My big problem with music streaming services is that not everything is as it seems. Sometimes, you’ll be listening to a track and what you’re hearing is not the version of the track you expected — sometimes, it’s not even the correct song at all. Album track listings can be out of order, song titles can vary wildly, and remixes and alternate cuts can sometimes erroneously show up where you don’t expect them.
These problems are made all the worse by the fact that someone who is unfamiliar with the music they are listening to would be none-the-wiser.
Let’s take a real-world example of what I’m talking about. Click here to visit the page for Björk’s incredible second record Post on Deezer. If you click around, you can listen to 30-second clips of each track, no Deezer account required. Here’s a screengrab of the page as it appeared this week:
If you’re a Björk fan, you’re probably horrified just looking at the screengrab. Right off the bat, you can see that there are two Family Tree versions of songs listed for this record, which references a box set the artist released in 2002. That means these specific tracks are not ripped from the original album Post but instead ripped from her Greatest Hits collection included with that 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 erroneously labeled as just “Modern Things.”
OK, so you might not think these problems are that big of a deal. However, when you start clicking around and listening to the song samples on this page, Björk fans will realize something’s not right: the songs are incorrect. When you listen to “Hyperballad,” you hear “The Modern Things.” Clicking “The Modern Things” plays “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 that played when you clicked it?
There’s every chance that a person who is just discovering Björk’s amazing catalog of music would have no idea these songs are incorrect. This person might say to themselves, “Wow, ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ is such a great song,” having no idea that they actually like “Isobel.” Meanwhile, the track “It’s Oh So Quiet” isn’t even playable on this page, despite it being Björk’s second-most popular song on Spotify, according to Chart Metric.
This is a significant problem. For this one album, we have misspelled track names, versions of specific tracks ripped from other records, and even tracks that don’t align with their title. That’s one album with 11 tracks out of the 56 million songs Deezer has in its catalog. Surely, this isn’t the only record with these problems.
An open problem with music streaming services
Deezer isn’t one of the most popular music streaming services around. According to its website, the company has just 14 million active users, a pittance compared to the over 217 million users Spotify has. With that in mind, you might think this is just a problem for Deezer and not the industry at large. You’d be incorrect, though.
Spotify has a dedicated support form you can fill out when you come across errors such as these. The very existence of the form suggests this is a problem for Spotify, too, not just Deezer.
Additionally, here’s a request thread for a similar form to be added to Pandora’s service due to a user’s discovery of incorrect tracks on that platform. And here’s a recent complaint on Apple Music’s support forums about incorrect tracks playing, which is backed up by 70 other users.
Clearly, erroneous tracks are a problem across the many different music streaming sites. What’s concerning for me, as a person obsessed with music, is how many of these errors are likely out there going unreported simply because people don’t know any better. Björk may not be the most mainstream of artists, but she is incredibly famous: how is it that her most popular record has so many errors on Deezer and no one has fixed them yet? The only answer is that no one’s fixed them because no one’s noticed, which is concerning.
This is why I simply won’t use music streaming services. The last thing I want is to start diving into an unfamiliar artist’s catalog and find out later that chunks of what I was listening to were just flat-out wrong. I also don’t want to go searching for a song like “Hyperballad” — probably one of my favorite songs of all time — and not hear what I’m expecting, especially if I’m paying a monthly fee to use that service.
I’ll stick to owning and cataloging my own music library instead. It’s more work and costs more, but at least I’ll know that when I want to listen to a song, I will get exactly what I’m looking for.