The Goldfish’s Nostalgia

Platforms such as Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music etc. are on the verge of revolutionising the music business, which has already undergone many revolutions in the past. Above all, at the turn of the millennium, the particularly traumatic one of illegal downloading. With Napster, the peer-to-peer platform, artists finding their income melting away felt like they were singing on the Titanic.

Streaming platforms — by bringing music fans back into the legal circle — provides some hope and strenght to a music market that had lost its stamina. The major companies as Universal, Sony or Warner Music reap today no less than a million dollars every hour thanks to the streaming players.

But it’s at the price of a sleight of hand: from now on we no longer purchase our music, we consume it. Thanks to our monthly subscription, it has become — as David Bowie predicted it as early as 1997 — a commodity in the same way as water, electricity or gas. Or now our mobile phone subscription.

Streaming is the very symbol of our liquid era. We’ve all become goldfish in a musical jar. We are immersed in the flow of playlists — where the LP, which belongs to the solid universe of vinyl or CD, no longer has its raison d’être — a continuum of titles chosen by us or dictated by the atmosphere.

We navigate freely from one artist to another, who now have only a few seconds left to seduce us. We are swimming in an ocean of choice: with 60 million titles available — more than we will be able to listen to in our entire lifetime — renewed by uninterrupted waves.

Now, artists are surfing on this liquid trend by offering, as Taylor Swift did, two albums in the space of 6 months. Spotify’s CEO said that artists must now release new tracks all the time or risk being forgotten. If an artist waits 18 months to come up with new material, everybody feels like he has retired.

Besides, some artists in the streaming era find the way, like Tom Misch for example, to become omnipresent in our goldfish memory producing a steady stream of singles, EPs, albums with different remixes and other collaborations. On art of being continuously on the wave.

However, faced with this roll of novelties, an unexpected phenomenon occurred: the goldfish’s crave to go against the current. Looking forward to becoming a salmon and going back to the source. Rather than looking for nuggets in the present, it finds it in the past. And in fact, the back catalogue tracks driven by nostalgia take the lion share: the most listened decade in 2020 on Spotify was the 1980s.

A current that is taking the shape of a tidal wave where new players such as the Hypgnosis, Primary Wave and Concord investment funds are raining dollars down on the stocks of the past.

“Old” has suddenly become “gold”. Hence the sudden explosion in the value of the publishing rights of artists like Bob Dylan whose catalogue was acquired by Universal Music for a nine-digit sum. And it only took a drop on TikTok for a flood of dollars to rain down on the Fleetwood Mac catalogue acquired by Primary Wave…

Streaming in our liquid modernity is definitely capable of doing miracles: it succeeds in making an amnesiac goldfish nostalgic.

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Auteur, chroniqueur et consultant. Intervenant à l'Institut Français de la Mode (IFM Paris), à l’ISG Luxury Geneva (Suisse).

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Paul Vacca

Paul Vacca

Auteur, chroniqueur et consultant. Intervenant à l'Institut Français de la Mode (IFM Paris), à l’ISG Luxury Geneva (Suisse).

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