I’ve been using Spotify Premium for a few months now and am finding it to be a very good experience. For those not familiar, Spotify is a music streaming service with 13+ million songs (according to their web site) in its database. It was founded in Sweden and headquartered in the United Kingdom. Streaming music services are not new, and of course I was skeptical (always am) of newcomers. Similar to Pandora, unless you upgrade to a monthly fee, you are bombarded by ads, both visual and vocal. But one must choose their pay music service wisely or you will find yourself spending hundreds of dollars a year. If you don’t upgrade, use caution when entertaining. You don’t want your playlist interrupted by a car insurance ad. Everyone will know you’re one of those “basic service” guys. How tacky.
Music has always played a major role in my life. Growing up I would peruse record stores regularly and built quite a vinyl collection. Making the switch to CD’s was easy, but moving all the way to digital was a much bigger jump. I liked roaming the stacks for finds and holding the physical record or CD while listening. Vinyl gave the artist the opportunity to make the packaging another part of their expression. Even with the 5″ optical disk there was a lot of creativity going into packaging. In the digital era that artifact is gone and I don’t see a comparable substitute. Read David Deal’s Superhype blog entry on the Pink Floyd Immersion Box Sets for more.
One doesn’t collect digital music, one downloads it, backs it up, synchs it and make playlists. It’s essentially file management. When I look at my iTunes library (it’s not a library by the way) I don’t see music, I see file names. All of that is rational, and misses the chance to further engage with the music and the artists who make it. But enough lamenting. Back to the topic.
I’ve sampled over a dozen music services; Pandora. Spotify, iTunes internet radio, Tune in Radio, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, rdio. SiriusXM, mog, last.fm, RadioIO, Aupeo!, Wolfgang’s Vault, , Stitcher and Slacker. I know there are probably a dozen more with others on the drawing board. Most of them didn’t make it a week before I opted out of the trial period. Top reasons are; lack of music choices, bad user interface, polluted with content other than music and a cluttered design (trying to do too much).
For now, I’ve settled on Spotify. It is pure music. No podcasts, news reports or videos. When you’re pure, things can go much deeper and be more interesting. When you log in you see an elegant dark gray background that defaults to What’s New. They show you 8 album covers vs. the sensory overload you get in the iTunes music store. It feels hand picked, even if it’s not.
In addition to What’s New there are only two more tabs; Top Lists and Feed. Top Lists is divided into two columns, Tracks and Albums. Each one lists out what’s popular now and with a simple drop down you can change the list to reflect popularity in other countries, your own list or everywhere (I assume they mean earth) for both tracks and albums. It’s a great way to find possibly compelling new music instantly. The Feed tab opens up a list of news from Spotify (not so interesting) and a list of what your Facebook friends are listening to (hopefully more interesting, after all they’re your friends).
The fun begins. Type in an artist, album or track and in a second you get matches. I typed in Peter Gabriel and not only did it return all his recorded music, but also the soundtracks where he contributed one or two songs. It also brings back artist covers of Gabriel’s songs, which then launches you off on another musical branch. Thumbnails are displayed at the top of the search that show artists and albums connected to your search. You can star tracks and they are added to a folder for listening later. The offline mode allows you to mark specific playlists as favorites and Spotify will save them to your phone or computer for listening without an internet connection. You can import your iTunes music library into Spotify with one click, which means you don’t have to leave the Spotify experience to access the music you have on iTunes.
The Spotify radio experience is the weakest link. It’s like they just gave up. You select different genres by clicking ugly oval buttons. Navigating through the stations is not at all clear. Not such a big deal for me, because I believe music programming on radio is becoming less relevant and is in dire need of a new idea.
You need to upgrade to premium to vanquish all ads and allow you to stream to your mobile devices. It’s a seamless experience all around. If you add a Sonos sound system to Spotify it’s like money from home. Sonos is an awesome home music system. It allows you to play music from your computer or stream from the web or services through your wifi network to wherever you have a Sonos receiver. I can listen to music through Sonos in four places in my home plus the patio. Each location can play the same or it’s own music, all controlled from my iPhone or iPad. I recently added a Sonos Play 3 speaker to a room in my basement (man cave). Two clicks and it’s online with my iTunes library or Spotify. It’s small but but is 3 driver loud.
Sonos provides a great user interface all around. In the past I would use Sonos to play my iTunes catalog, but if I stay there I’m not getting access to new music. Adding Spotify to the mix allows me to explore the world of music much more easily, and at no risk. I’m more adventurous on Spotify vs. the iTunes store.
As for Pandora, it has getting kind of, well, a little dull. The songs repeat and I have to work at training it. The monetization of the site and app are a bit of a turn off as well. I still click over to Pandora, but less and less these days. Spotify allows me to experience the music I love and discover new favorites without the friction. It’s the way to go, for now.