Last week, Shazam & Juno announced that the Juno catalogue (which in our experience is pretty thorough, covering both the big releases and many smaller ones) will be available to users of the app. What this means in practical terms is that you’re out and you hear a track, you wave your Shazam equipped phone in the air and within a few seconds you’ll know exactly what it is and be presented with a purchase link on the Juno site.
Whereas before this service was restricted to Beatport’s digital catalogue, this new development now means that people with smartphones (which is most of us nowadays) can find most tracks that you’re likely to hear out, unless you’re listening to a set full of whitelabels and dubplates. We don’t see this as a positive, and we’ll go on to explain why.
Being able to identify vinyl tracks through Shazam effectively undermines DJ culture. The previous Beatport deal did so as well, but its impact was restricted. Extending its reach from the CD wallet to the record bag is more of an issue because 90 second clips and YouTube rips were previously the only digital footprint of a vinyl only release.
A DJ is only as good as the records they bring to a party. A good set is a combination of track selection and technical ability. Making track IDs available to everyone with a smartphone removes the mystery over the track selection. If you’re a DJ, the chances are that you’ve spent a great deal of your time digging – either in a basement somewhere or with your laptop on your knees. Given the amount of time spent on this, it’s only natural that DJs want to preserve an element of mystery in their sets. Reducing them to performers pushing buttons and stroking records is a resounding negative.
Having the musical knowledge required to play a standout, unique set is not something that comes for free. It’s earned through years of dedication to finding that one gem that very few people will recognise. It comes from listening to ten shit tracks to find that one obscure gem. Shazam’s partnership with Juno removes that essential step from the equation, which is a bit of a slap in the face to people who have put in that application to digging, listening far wider than looking for a single track ID invites you to.
The point that we’re trying to make here is that music and musical knowledge is something that you have to work for. For us at least, when you hear a track and you nor anyone with you knows what it is, it embeds itself in your audio memory and remains there until you find it. If you dig for long enough and in the right places, you will eventually find it. Shazam has reduced the process of obsessing over a track and digging for it to a matter of using your phone. This instant musical gratification is not a good thing. It will, in our opinion, cause higher still Discogs prices and make it harder to get hold of records that you’ve had your eye on for a while and this is why it bothers us.
Perhaps the more concerning issue that Shazam and Juno have raised is the potential for infringement on the rights of the record labels who stock Juno’s warehouse. There’s a reason besides a preference for vinyl as a medium and its aesthetic qualities why much of today’s underground music continues to be released on what was once thought of as redundant technology. Music released digitally is far harder to control; it has the potential to spread far beyond its intended environment. Releasing music on wax is a way of ensuring that your records will reach their intended listeners. Electronic music is a fundamentally underground thing, and releasing music on vinyl is a major part of this. Record labels will now have to opt out of Shazam’s track ID service, which is at best a hassle and at worst an infraction of their rights.
Of course, in many ways Shazam’s announcement can be a great thing for small, independent imprints: it will expose their music to a greater audience and should result in more sales for them. But to say this rather misses the point that it should be down to the label how their music is discovered, distributed and sold. The internet is something of a double edged sword for music; on the one hand it can give you the possibility of achieving a solid musical education and invites communication and creativity like never before, but on the other it leaves music open to over exposure. Shazam and Juno have taken a big step towards the latter by removing the element of the unknown from vinyl.