Friday, July 22, 2011

Spotify: It's as awesome as you think it is

For those who aren't familiar, Spotify is a recent addition to the U.S. music playing/sharing/sampling world. As an online music subscription service, it's not the first of its kind. Napster, Zune, and Rhapsody are examples of others--however, none of these have made any real waves.

Spotify comes in three varieties--the free version of Spotify ($0/mo), Spotify Unlimited ($5/mo), and Spotify Premium ($10/mo). Spotify Free allows for we

If you're interested in sampling Spotify at no cost, you'll have to add your name to the (no one really knows how) long list by adding your email here. I don't know how long your wait will be, but maybe this fact will help you with the estimates. I added myself to the list about 1-2 days ago, and today I received an email today notifying me that I could gain access to the free version of Spotify.

Before I go into some more details about how Spotify works, let me explain why I think Spotify could really hit it big here in the States. Never mind the raves posted by people such as Mark Zuckberg of Facebook fame (you bet they're going to have some kind of agreement between the two companies). Never mind its already established reputation in Europe. After being a loyal and mostly pleased Zune subscriber for two years, I have to say Spotify really has this music subscription service down.

And so, I've summarized the preliminary pros and cons of Spotify. Read on if you're interested.

How Spotify Accomplishes What Zune Probably Wishes It Could Have
[1] Spotify is cheaper! (Before delving any deeper, all these comparisons will be between Zune and Spotify Premium; let's make the assumption you want to have a music subscription service and the ability to make your music portable.)

Looking at the monthly fees, Spotify is cheaper. Zune is $15/mo whereas Spotify Premium is $10/mo. Zune requires you to purchase a Zune player (which run for at least 100 bucks), but Spotify can be used on most mobile phones (including the ever popular iPhone).

The only caveat about this is how many individuals can share one Spotify account, which thus changes our considerations for cost. This will be an issue addressed later.

[2] Spotify boasts cable-free syncing between the computer and iPhone (let's continue using this for the rest of this exercise). As much as I loved Zune and its expansive online library, there were moments when Zune really got to me. The Zune player has to be connected with the computer at least once a month otherwise the digital rights for the music files expire. Nothing sucks more than being on a long public transit ride and discovering that all your music can't play. Also, syncing was sometimes temperamental. Sometimes the playlists quickly and rightly jumped from my computer to the player, and sometimes they did not even though I executed the appropriate computer commands.

Spotify syncing is a million times easier. There's no cable required. All you need is a Wi-Fi network that both the computer and iPhone are connected to. Playlists automatically sync--you don't have to do anything. You don't have to select a Sync button or anything. It's fantastic.

[3] Spotify has a larger music library! There were a couple of albums that I would have liked to listen to on Zune (Nickel Creek's albums and Chris Thile's albums, for example) that weren't available. First thing I did after getting Spotify was searching these very same albums--and lo and behold, they were there! Spotify has a greater audience and has demonstrated its wide reach (whereas Microsoft's Zune has always had a lukewarm reception from the public), and artists and music companies are more willing to pay the fees required to make their music available on Spotify.

However, no music subscription service is perfect, and even Spotify has some weak points.

Points where Spotify is Lacking
[1] Spotify lacks a nice comprehensive Home Screen in the Spotify equivalent of the iTunes Store. Both iTunes and Zune had a page showing new releases (Spotify has this), and many different menus for genre browsing (Spotify doesn't have this). iTunes and Zune both had a Top Downloads list, but Zune's was basically defunct because of its relatively small audience. I found that whoever downloaded a CD that day basically determined what appeared on my Top 10 Zune Downloads list because all the songs tended to be from the same CD. Helpful, right?

For this reason, I think keeping iTunes around to browse new music and new releases is a good idea. I'd make a quick trip into iTunes, see what was interesting on the home page, and then use that information as a starting point for browsing in Spotify.

[2] As with any music subscription service (or music store in general), you have to be pretty proactive in terms of your music explorations. As wide as Spotify's library may be, the user still has to have the motivation to discover new music and the discretion to elect what goes into new playlists.

If this doesn't sound to your liking, you may want to adopt my strategy. Find a radio station you enjoy listening to (ALICE 97.3 FM is my favorite!)--maybe even listen to it on your iPhone. Find songs you like hearing at frequency greater than that provided by the radio, and get them on Spotify.

[3] Spotify does not allow you to purchase songs. This is very different from the Zune subscription service, which for $15/mo gave full access to download songs as you pleased (these were not owned but simply downloaded to your computer with time-limited digital rights) and then 10 song credits for mp3 ownership.

For me, this is not such a big deal. When I used Zune, it was usually difficult for me to come up with 10 songs a month to download, so losing this ability is not too troubling in my opinion. However, for people such as my sister, music ownership is everything! She likes to listen to a small selection of songs, and thus values music ownership higher. I'm more exploratory and like to go wherever my clicks take me, so I value the wide library selection more than owning individual songs. Depending on your personality, you will have a specific take on the music subscription versus ownership debate.

Expect more Spotify posts in the future! Topics to be addressed include:
-How do I optimize searching in Spotify? 
-What does offline syncing mean?
-How many devices can I have on one Spotify account?
-How does music sharing in Spotify work?

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