After weeks of anticipation (even longer for the truly obsessed) the Swedish music-streaming service Spotify has arrived on American shores. Invites are still making their ways to inboxes across the country but most critics and users seem to be head over heels for Spotify. Still, some questions about the service remain:
What's so great about Spotify? How is better than Pandora, Google Music, Turntable.fm et al.? Is it legal? Will it make artists any money?
We will try to get to all of that, but first some history.
Spotify has been hugely popular across Europe for years, more so than iTunes in much of the continent. Previously it was only available in the U.S. to tech and music industry insiders and, inexplicably, celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, who recently tweeted: “What a relief, now that it's legal in he [sic] US, I can finally come out of the closet about my #Spotify addiction.” So nice of Ashton to take a break from making camera commercials to let us know he had Spotify before we did.
Anyway, for the uninitiated Spotify offers legal-streaming of millions of songs (15 million as of a recent tally and growing daily). Users can browse by artist, album, song, etc. and songs can be saved to playlists. Occasional ads are present in the free version but you can get rid of them by subscribing to the 'Unlimited' or 'Premium' accounts. These paid accounts come with other features like mobile access and offline mode for playlists. And of course all of this happens in the almighty cloud.
Those are the basics. To understand what sets it aside from the competition, you need to know a bit about the two sides of Spotify.
The Music Fan's Spotify
"All the Music All the Time" claims Spotify's homepage.
That's obviously a bit of an overstatement but 15 million songs is a whole lot.
And it's certainly easy to use. Spotify looks and functions much like iTunes. It also incorporates whatever music you have on your iTunes into your Spotify library, a neat little feature that lets you make playlists out of both your purchased songs as well as those you find on Spotify.
I also really liked the fact that you get to hand pick your songs and keep them in your library for future listening. It certainly isn't the same as holding a CD or record in your hand but that is not what this is about. For better or worse sites like Spotify are built for songs and playlists, not albums.
My only beef with the free Spotify is the ads. They aren’t quite as bad as Pandora’s but they are pretty annoying. Every once in a while (maybe every five or six songs) your music is interrupted by either an ad for a new album or instructions on how to use Spotify’s features. What I'd like to see are smarter ads that match the music you listen to. So when I am listening to Neil Young, he isn't interrupted by LMFAO, whatever that is.
The Music Industry’s Spotify
What's really impressive about Spotify is that not only is it legal, it has the backing of major record labels. Every time you play a song via Spotify, a record label, and presumably an artist, gets paid an undisclosed amount. Take that piracy!
But the labels get more than just checks. Because they are essentially partners in Spotify, the labels get rich analytics about who is listening to what and when. As pointed out in Bloomberg's excellent profile:
"Without Spotify, labels know only when an album is sold. If a CD is ripped for a friend or borrowed for a party, they know nothing. Spotify gives them a record, by location, age, and gender, of every single time a track is played."
Sounds like the music business is (finally and begrudgingly) getting smarter.
If Spotify catches on like many are guessing it will, there might be hope for the record business after all. Will other competitors look to copy Spotify's model and work with, not against, the labels? I’d like to think so.
Are you using Spotify? What are your impressions so far? Leave us a comment and let us know.
And for further reading check out these reviews.