To Spotify, Or Not To Spotify?
Sep 2011 21

To Spotify, or not to Spotify? That might not be THE question, but it’s certainly one that a lot of us may have ruminated on since it crossed the pond this summer after a year of rancorous negotiations with the four major U.S. record labels.

For those not in-the-know, Spotify, while launching in 2008 to critical acclaim throughout Europe, is the latest entrant to a crowded, on-demand U.S. music subscription market that already hosts the likes of Rdio, Rhapsody, Mog, and the never-say-die Napster. All ostensibly operate on the premise that we’re approaching an era where music accessibility will ultimately trump music ownership, and considering internet connectivity is indisputably becoming as ubiquitous as the air we breathe I tend to subscribe to that mantra.

But why Spotify?

In this blogger’s one word opinion: Execution. At first glance Spotify does little to differentiate itself from its competitors. All share (relatively) similar catalog size, social networking integration, mobile applications, and comparable pricing. Spotify just seems to do all of these things a little better than its peers; the sum of which moves it to the head of the class.

Spotify’s first sound engineering decision was choosing not to reinvent the wheel. Spotify lives as a well-polished desktop application – available for Windows and Mac OS – modeled directly against the popular iTunes interface, providing users an intuitive launching point into its voluminous music library. Its second was choosing to integrate with the Apple behemoth by seamlessly integrating local iTunes libraries and playlists to ensure the Spotify app could serve as your one-stop music shop – even going as far as allowing you to sync to your iDevices wirelessly or via USB.

Spotify Interface

Like Facebook itself, the social networking value of Spotify is roughly correlated with the number of friends, family, and associates, who actively use it. Immediately after hooking the Spotify app to Facebook you’re greeted with an exhaustive list of all your Facebook friends holding Spotify accounts and, in turn, access to their Spotify ‘profile’ – a collection of published playlists, favorite artists, and songs (although in my experience most choose to hide the latter two in hopes of keeping their Lady GaGa obsession under wraps).

If, like me, the cheese in your musical rat race is artist discovery, the ability to hook into your friends’ playlists and not only see, but listen, on-demand, to what they’ve dug up is absolutely invaluable. And it doesn’t even have to be friends, there are entire communities of Spotify users who’s profiles you can subscribe to like a Twitter feed – exponentially expanding your ability to keep that play queue fresh day in and day out.

The most natural and welcome extension of such networking though is the ability to create collaborative playlists thereby allowing all your Spotify pals to fill in the gaps of that Michael Jackson late-night dance party mix you’re putting together. In time, as membership grows, Spotify truly has the potential to revolutionize the way we consume, collect, and communicate about music. Whether or not that potential is realized remains to be seen but I like what I see so far.

Spotify Mobile Apps

As mentioned the price to party is roughly the same as its competitors. $5/month gets you some, $10/month for the whole pie. The $5 “unlimited” plan drops the ads and listening limits. The $10 “premium” plan takes it even further by giving you free access to its slick mobile app, offline mode – the ability to download 3,333 songs at a time to your desktop and/or mobile device – and improved audio quality for the audiophiles amongst us.

I’ve yet to mention Spotify’s, arguably, best feature: You can test the water for free.

Unlike the rest, Spotify will give you a seat at its music buffet for nothing – the caveats are significant however. First, you’re limited to 20 hours a month and similar to Pandora you’ll be treated to occasional ads while listening however at least you’ll still be picking though the same 15-million song catalog as everyone else. What the trial will do though – and according to recent figures seems to hold true – will be to give you the taste that should invariably lead to you shelling out what amounts to the price of one or two cappuccinos per month to join the party for good.

A feature that doesn’t get as much press is the robust developer community that’s leveraged the Spotify programming interface to provide a trove of value-added functionality. From automatic playlist generators to media player integration, browser plug-ins, and remote controls, there is and will continue to be a bunch of talented developers constantly enhancing the Spotify experience for all.

Of the third-party tools, my current favorite is EchoFi. Just released last week, EchoFi is a straightforward web app providing that robust and intelligent Pandora-like experience that many Spotify users have pined for. Just enter an artist and immediately it will hook into Spotify and start squeezing out similar tracks from a catalog over 20 times larger than that of Pandora. Plus, unlike Pandora, you can skip songs to your hearts content and if you’re on a paid Spotify plan you’ll be kicking it ad-free.

For premium users, Spotify has also partnered with a handful of audio device manufactures such as Sonos, Squeezebox by Logitech and Onkyo, to enhance your listening experiencing through some very cool home audio devices.

Also, and this isn’t exclusive to Spotify, but for those who have AppleTV (check our recent review for why you should) or a compatible AirPlay device, innovative apps like AirFoil provide an alternative – and effortless – way to wirelessly stream Spotify to home stereo components regardless of what Spotify plan you’ve signed up for.

So, as you can probably tell, I sit squarely in the Spotify camp and so if the question of ‘whether or not to Spotify’ was posed to me I would respond with a unequivocal ‘yes’ but one may not be for all. Rhapsody might give you a better layout of new releases, proponents of Mog point to a superior artist radio, and Rdio fans cling to their creative social networking features, but in the end Spotify’s refined package combined with a rapidly growing member base will be enough to get me to part with a Hamilton every month and affix the EVP stamp-of-approval.

Check the graph below for an aesthetically pleasing breakdown of available features across all subscription services.

Music Subscription Comparison

Comparison of Music Subscription Services (via Mashable)

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