New Bohemian.

no gods, no masters, no idols.

How to ditch Spotify and fall in love with music again

David Bowie, in an interview with the New York Times in 2002, boldly proclaimed:

Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity.

Now, 22 years later, this quote is more relevant than ever. Once upon a time, we relished in building personalized collections of music on physical media, with real-life cover art and stylized liner notes and a sense of tactility and personality that can only ever be expressed through physical form. But now, most of us pay a monthly fee to gain access to our music, as if we were paying our electric bill.

For a monthly fee, we are granted access to an exhaustive selection of the world’s music. Spotify and its other streaming sisters may be convenient, but this convenience comes at a cost.

First and foremost, streaming services require you to pay a monthly fee to access your music. This means that you’re locked into paying them every month for the rest of your life, lest you want to lose access to your music collection.

Second, the once-celebrated hobby of music discovery and collection becomes impossible. “The Algorithm” now tells you what to like and how to listen. Set it and forget it, they’ll say. But the very personal and intimate process of learning about and connecting with new artists becomes a top-down, rather than bottom-up, process.

But not all hope is lost. There’s an entire world of independently acquired music available and it’s better than ever. And while the options for viable players that don’t try to upsell you with offers to buy their streaming services (ahem, looking at you, Apple) are limited, there’s still plenty of opportunity to curate and enjoy your personal music collection.

Bandcamp is the best resource I’ve found for buying DRM-free music in various formats. They even offer downloads in the lossless FLAC format. When you buy music on Bandcamp, you’re connecting directly with independent artists and Bandcamp only takes a 15% cut of all download sales, meaning it’s a great way to support artists you love. Plus, for those artists who make their work available on physical media like vinyl, CD’s, and cassette, you’ll be able to download the digital version ahead of receiving your shipment.

Local record stores have made a resurgence in the past two decades, and are the best way to find major-label releases and indie fare alike. Be sure to check out Record Store Day to find stores in your area, and celebrate your local record stores every April 20.

There are also free repositories of public domain audio online. The Internet Archive’s Audio Archive has millions of DRM-free music and audiobook works ready to download free of charge.

Once you’ve acquired some music, you’ll need to find a suitable way to play it. Classic iPod enthusiast Austin Lucas founded Elite Obsolete Electronics out of his house in Kansas as a way to breathe new life into classic Apple products. The iPod, arguably the most user-friendly, capable, and elegant audio player of all time, still functions just fine using modern versions of iTunes. I bought an iPod Classic upgraded with solid-state storage and improved battery life from EOE in 2022 and still use it every day. Having a means to play my music collection which does not “talk back” to me like a smartphone with its myriad notifications and apps is a breath of fresh air.

If you’d like to use your existing mobile device though, the VLC media player has a fantastic mobile version which supports most media formats and organizes your music by artist and album. I use it on my iPhone and love its simplicity and ease of use. Plus, it’s an open-source software project, which means it will always be free to use and won’t try to sell you anything. Thank goodness.

But the holy grail of intentional and experiential audio playback is the trusty turntable. Vinyl records offer tactility, visual beauty, and unique fidelity that’s unmatched by any other medium. I use a small easel to display the record I’m playing beside my turntable, which functions as a piece of art in my space.

One great budget option for enjoying physical media like CD’s and cassette tapes is to find a gently used component stereo system at your local thrift store. These monstrous beauties are often overlooked by the average modern consumer, since most people use Bluetooth speakers and find them to be too bulky. As a result, they’re often priced very reasonably. And, if you want to connect your Bluetooth device, you can always buy a Bluetooth receiver on Amazon.

Speaking of CD’s, many local libraries still maintain a music CD collection for borrowing. Check to see if your library has them; you may be surprised at what you find! Plus, visiting your local library is a great way to get out of the house for free and support publicly owned resources. They often have DVD’s too .

My favorite thing about maintaining my own music collection is that it makes listening to music more of a hobby again. The likes of Spotify may have made it easier and more convenient to listen to any song, anywhere, but it has destroyed the social and physical aspects of enjoying your music, as well as the intimate connection to your favorite artists. We can reclaim that power. Will you?