Spotify

Spotify logoA couple of months ago streaming music service Spotify finally rolled out here in The Netherlands. After a few days of using it, I signed up for the €10/month Premium service so I didn’t have to listen to the adverts after every ten tracks or so (they really annoy me, which is the main reason I never listen to commercial radio stations). A few months into using the service, I shall share some of my thoughts on it.

Online vs. Offline
Theoretically Spotify could replace your local music collection. It offers a huge collection of streaming music and the possibility to make your own playlists (and share them). Personally I am not about to delete my 160GB MP3 collection even if it would free up valuable disk space. I spent weeks ripping my 600+ CD collection into iTunes and diligently applying correct genres and artwork to the MP3’s. It was an emotional moment to pack those CD’s into boxes and put them in storage, although that did free up valuable house space!

The bottom line is, I am emotionally not ready to let go of ‘having’ albums I really like on my local hard drive. It feels more secure and independent of an internet connection. Besides, Spotify still has some gaping holes in its catalogue.

You can use Spotify as a player for your local music too, which really does pose a threat to iTunes. However, importing local files has some very annoying consequences for shared playlists (explained further on).

Missing Music
Whilst even iTunes hasn’t (yet) managed to obtain the Beatles in their online catalogue, Spotify has more painfully big omissions – and not just amongst the alternative / indie stuff. The reason is undoubtedly legal wranglings with obtuse record companies *sigh*, but as a user, all I see is that music is missing (e.g. La Roux, E.L.O., Lady Sovereign’s first album etc.). In comparison, Last.fm and Grooveshark are much better ‘stocked’.

Regional restrictions
Although Spotify is now officially accessible from the Netherlands, I still get a lot of “This is not available in The Netherlands” messages for new albums which is rather frustrating if you’re a paying customer. I am not a lawyer, so I have no idea what the details are of the many deals being made between streaming music services and the record companies, but I suspect we’ll have to wait years before media is freely available across the globe at the same time and the same price. In the meantime the lawyers are probably earning a lot more than the artists.

Interface
The Spotify interface is loosely based on iTunes. It responds quickly and searches are blazingly fast (especially compared to Grooveshark), but I feel it could do with some improvement. Although it tries to emulate iTunes, the lack of the ‘Browse’ function that iTunes offers (a list of artists, genres, albums etc) is something I miss terribly (more about genres further on). You really have to know what you’re looking for. There’s very little “stumbling upon” happening in Spotify.

Recommended music
Some say that Spotify isn’t geared towards the user discovering new bands like Last.fm is, but it does offer some functions that supposedly help you discover music you might like, for example, the “What’s New” button. Alas, it is terribly disappointing. It lists albums that have been newly added to Spotify rather than albums that are actually new releases and the presented albums have no relevance to your listening preference. The iTunes store does this MUCH better. Of course, Apple, better than anyone, understands that if you want to sell something, it needs to be presented in an appealing fashion.

On the bright side, Spotify has a preference to activate Last.fm audio scrobbling, so there’s a link between the two services to help Last.fm be even better at suggesting artists for me.

Genres
If you’re in the least bit interested in ordering your iTunes library in correct genres and with accurate metadata (as I am), Spotify’s index can be very frustrating. Many albums are wrongly dated (Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ from 2010?!) and there’s no list of clickable genres to choose from, instead making you use search-syntax like “genre:pop”. Now ‘pop’ is of course easy, but Spotify includes genres like ‘microtonal’ and ‘laika’ (always thought that was the dog the Russians sent into space in the 60’s) which makes guessing rather… well, impossible.

They do offer a list but even with that list I often can’t find what I’m looking for. What would help is if you could see in which genre a track you like is filed, so you can look for more within the genre. The search syntax isn’t particularly user-friendly, but it is powerful. You can combine search queries like ‘genre:house year:1995’ which seems promising (as I am still looking for house tracks from 1995 which I don’t know the name of but can recognize if I hear them). Unfortunately the search result for that query is pretty meagre. Other searches yield some surprising results like ‘genre:garage’ puts both Dizzee Rascal and Craig David in the results. Huh?

Playlists and sharing
The power of Spotify lies, for the most part, in the playlists and the fact that you can share them with friends. This function compensates somewhat for the lack of a better recommended-music service (assuming you share some musical taste with your friends).

I love browsing my friends’ playlists, but it’s extremely frustrating to click tracks in their playlists only to be told you can’t play it as it’s a local file on their computer. This is the reason I deleted my local files from Spotify, because it’s very hard to tell the difference between an online and a local file when compiling a playlist and I don’t want to subject my friends to the same frustration.

Although it is possible to add Spotify friends manually (spotify:user:[username]), the interface pushes you towards giving it access to your Facebook account to automatically link to friends that also use Spotify. It would be nice if it helped you add friends automatically via other services (i.e. e-mail contacts) in case you are one of the ten people on the planet that doesn’t have a Facebook account.

Multi-platform
One of the fantastic things about Spotify is that you can access it from any computer (that’s connected to the web) including your mobile phone, and you’ll have all your playlists right there, up-to-date and ready for playback. This is great if you work on multiple computers in different locations.

The premium version allows you to install/open Spotify on as many devices as you like, but only one computer may playback music at a time. So sharing your account with the folks at home while you’re listening at work isn’t going to be handy. The moment you press play, the Spotify player at the other location pauses itself. If they press play, your Spotify will pause.

Conclusion
Despite my many complaints about Spotify, I do find myself firing it up every morning instead of iTunes. The main reason is actually speed. Spotify starts up much faster than iTunes and the interface is speedy too (if not always so intuitive).

When I feel like discovering new artists, I’ll start up a Last.fm radio-station and if I hear a track that particularly appeals, I’ll search for the artist in Spotify to listen further (assuming that artist is available in Spotify, which isn’t always the case).

So I also use Spotify to listen to streaming versions of music that I already have on my hard drive. Hmm… that probably means that, despite my fears, I am actually already taking tiny, baby steps towards an online music collection eventually superseding my local one.

11 comments on “Spotify

  1. Nice review. One thing i really dislike about Spotify is the fact that the catalogue seems to be changing all the time. For example, a month ago you could find all the old Belle & Sebastian albums, but they have now disappeared. It would be pretty weird if my MP3 collection would suddenly ‘disappear’ because of licensing problems.

    But apart from that i really like Spotify. It’s blazingly fast, and it has (almost) anything i want.

    • I like your blog. Quite bilingual – like this one. And lots of Mac / AV info. Me likey 🙂

      • Thanks 🙂 Pretty bilingual indeed, en ik heb er nog steeds geen goede oplossing voor gevonden 😉

  2. I am also a paying customer and I am very frustrated by the fact that the meta-info is sooo bad! and How can I listen to subgenres like salsa? There’s plenty of salsa arnoud, but I cannot choose it.

    Might switch back to http://musicovery.com/

  3. I like Spotify for the part that it is free. It doesn’t work at my office, because of the proxy/firewall they use, so I don’t even spend my 5 hours per week most of the time. The “social” part is indeed a bit awkward and clumsy and the music offered at for example youtube is in a much wider range.

    But the biggest issue is indeed all the missing music. I found only one album of Mezzoforte, out of 10 that were listed on Wikipedia. Many artist were not there at all. But there were also some surprises, as I found the one and only album of “The Freak Accident” that was even not for sale in Europe as far as I’m aware.

    • A very feasible alternative to Spotify (perhaps even better) is http://www.grooveshark.com and it’s even more “free” than Spotify is as it only bothers you with visual ads instead of audio ads – which obviously don’t bother you at all if you’re playing music in the background.
      What keeps me from using it though is that I find the interface quite annoying/confusing.

      A Grooveshark review should be coming soon!

      • Grooveshark is pretty great in terms of available music indeed, but it’s just not usable on a Mac because it’s all Flash based. It eats up 50% of my CPU.

        • Hmm… I didn’t know that… and hadn’t noticed yet – but I’ll keep my eye on Activity Monitor when using it next time (and my ears open for sounds of helicopter lift-off sounds in my Macbook Pro ;-)).

  4. Great review! I’m a big spotify-fan; started http://www.hotspotify.com for that reason. I like to make a post about your review. Okay?

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