Ghostbusters! it sounds from above. And after that: Neverending Sto-o-ry. Although she sings hits from the eighties, the way my daughter listens to music is contemporary: earphones in, playlist on. Stream it. When I ask her what she thinks of Adele’s new album, she sighs deeply. album? That is a thing of the past, just like the telephone booth and the milkman.

Adele does care about albums – especially her own. The British singer was angry because Spotify, the largest music streaming service, had the songs of her new record plays in random order. Spotify turns on that ‘shuffle’ function on all albums. This week, the BBC reports that Spotify will stop automatically at Adele’s request shuffle – with paying subscribers.

It must be a publicity stunt, but Adele isn’t the only artist who is annoyed. Artists are puzzling over record sequence—once as important as a concert’s set list. They have to swallow that the dumbest button on Spotify disrupts the well-thought-out musical journey.

The shuffle function, recognizable by the symbol of two intersecting arrows, is a legacy of the CD player. That device made random access available to everyone. So that you can still be surprised by an album that you already know through and through.

Also read: Why is this the next song Spotify will play?

In the streaming age, everyone has an unlimited collection of music at their fingertips. Scarcity gave way to abundance. This involves other selection mechanisms: the album loses to playlists and algorithms. The Dutch band De Staat no longer makes albums and now distributes songs in sets of three, arranged by style.

On Spotify, playlists and filters dominate, based on what you’ve listened to before and songs that your ‘taste buddies’ like. That is catching on: with about 400 million listeners per month (of which 172 million pay for the Premium service), Spotify earned twenty percent of Everyone music sales worldwide. But for artists, the music service is not very generous.

Who – besides the music industry – gets rich from that streaming? The Billions Club playlist gives an indication. There you will find all the songs with more than a billion Spotify streams. We don’t have to feel sorry for Adele: at number 16 and number 23 are hits from previous albums. Also her current hit Easy on me broke all streaming records in one go.

Spotify is competing against the big tech companies. It’s one of the boosters in the lobby against Apple’s App Store rates. But the streaming service itself is also a mighty one gatekeeper and manages a wealth of data. Spotify categorizes listeners by age, gender, location and their ‘context’. Advertisers (only in the free Spotify version) can aim for playlists such as ‘Working Out’ or ‘Cooking’. They say something about your listening behaviour, but also what you are doing.

Spotify overtook Apple this year as the largest distributor of podcasts and keeps Google well behind. A well-known podcast competitor was also added: Facebook. That social network hopes to attract a younger audience with audio apps – people under 25 have little business on Facebook.

Audio is the way to reach young people; count the headphones and earphones on the street. In addition to a podcast service, Facebook therefore also built Live Audio Rooms. It’s a clone of Clubhouse – the app that was equally popular during the previous lockdown for catching up with strangers.

Spotify already had its own chat app and is expanding its audio empire this month. The company bought Findaway, an audiobook distributor. If you ever get tired of 70 million songs and 3.2 million podcasts, then you stream an audiobook, right? But preferably without that shuffle button.

Marc Hijink writes about technology here. Twitter: @MarcHijinkNRC

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