My Spotify playlists tell the story of my life – can I really quit now?

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It was September 2009, and I was anxiously waiting to head off to university. My friends had already all left and my small home town in Wales felt even more claustrophobic than before. It was also the month I downloaded a relatively new music streaming service called Spotify. I was immediately in heaven. I’d sneaked in just before they ended a free sign-up offer and so, for precisely zero pounds, I suddenly had access to a musical library that had previously been unthinkable.

I made a playlist titled, very imaginatively, “September 09”, and added all the songs I was listening to at the time. The soundtrack to my small-town angst? Frank Turner’s This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the One of Me and Bright Eyes’ First Day of My Life. I soon made it to university and, even now, listening to December 09 (Emmy the Great, LCD Soundsystem, Frightened Rabbit) gives me an almost painful pang of nostalgia for evenings in my grotty but much-loved student bedroom, with the new friends I’d made.

Related: Spotify removes Neil Young music in feud over Joe Rogan’s false Covid claims

If I’d been born a few years earlier, I’m sure I’d have been painstakingly making mixtapes (I still remember my excitement at about the age of 10 when we got a CD burner and I could produce my own compilation discs), but Spotify let me carefully curate playlists quickly and easily. Sure, it wasn’t quite as romantic as a custom-made cassette with a hand-drawn cover, but it had its own charms.

Looking back through the playlists, which I’ve kept going to the present day, is like reading a map of my experiences. You can spot heartbreaks, where the playlists are dominated by sad indie music; you can track the recovery, when strong female artists such as Amy Winehouse, Self Esteem and Julia Jacklin start to dominate. The average BPM definitely rises in 2012 when I started running more, and there’s a brief foray into some dodgy 2000s worship music when I became a Christian in 2015 (I later discovered that there was some less cringey contemporary stuff to be found). More recently, you can see a surge in classical music and film soundtracks from “March 20” onwards, as the pandemic turned my kitchen table into an office and I used music to help me focus.

I adore this musical autobiography, which has endured far longer than any attempt at keeping a diary. But it does tie me to one particular company – and an increasingly controversial one at that. The streaming giant is currently in the news because of Neil Young’s demand that his music be pulled from the platform in protest against its hosting of Joe Rogan’s podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, which Young believes spreads vaccine misinformation. (Rogan has a $100m deal with Spotify for exclusive streaming rights to his show, and it’s listed as the most popular podcast on the platform.) This comes after 270 experts in the US signed an open letter to Spotify expressing concern about medical misinformation on Rogan’s podcast.

Related: The Joe Rogan v Neil Young furore reveals Spotify’s new priority: naked capitalism | Eamonn Forde

Do I like the idea of the £9.99 a month I now pay funding possible misinformation about vaccines during a pandemic? No. And on top of that, services like Spotify are often criticised by artists who point out they can’t live off the royalties they receive from streaming. None of this is great if you care as much about music as I – and so many of us – do.

So what should I do? I’m yet to be convinced that other streaming platforms offer anything that can really compete, and many of the issues with Spotify may still apply to them. There is, of course, the resurgent popularity of vinyl, which is wonderful to see – I myself am the proud owner of a growing collection. But I dread to imagine how much it would cost to replace my playlist collection if I wanted to own physical copies on vinyl (or even CD). Plus, I’m not sure how my gym would feel about me carting them along to accompany me on a workout.

Ultimately, however, it’s the collection of playlists I’ve built since I was 18 that keeps me subscribing, and I imagine there are many other members of Generation Spotify who feel the same. That’s why I struggle with the idea of dumping Spotify – in doing so, I’d be burning 13 years of musical diaries, a personal, evocative and immersive account of my whole adult life.

  • Sarah Ann Harris is the Guardian’s deputy audience editor

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