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Spotify: Dipping a foot in the stream

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Thanks to their 0.99 cents for three months offer, I’ve been trying out Spotify Premium for a few weeks. Here are my inconclusive conclusions about it so far.

What is Spotify?

It’s a streaming music service, whereby you can listen to any song in their vast collection from your PC, phone, or tablet. They have apps for each and your login keeps your account synchronized between devices. Artists are paid according to their streaming popularity (though whether they are paid enough is under debate).

What’s the difference between free Spotify and Spotify Premium (paid)?

With Premium, you get:

  • No ads, which otherwise are played every few songs.
  • Higher music quality. And yes, it’s a noticeable difference, at least when playing through a good stereo system.
  • Play any song on demand. on any device. The free service prevents you from doing this on the mobile apps.
  • Ability to download songs on phones and tablets for offline playing, thereby reducing data usage. (You don’t keep the songs; they’re only available within the Spotify player.)
  • Skip as many songs as you like. With free, you can do this only five times per hour.

I’m not a big song skipper—if I’m hitting so many songs I don’t like I’d rather just change playlists or artists—but otherwise I would say the premium features make Spotify a much more pleasant listening experience.

What else is good about Spotify?

  • The size of the catalog, for sure. It’s terrific for checking out new (or old) artists or songs you’re curious about or revisiting old favorites.
  • The integrated lyrics. In the desktop version, with one click you transform the app into a sort of karaoke machine, with the lyrics scrolling by as the singer sings them. If the timing or words are wrong or missing, you can supply them yourself, if so inclined. In the Android app version, you can achieve the same with the floating MusicMix app.
Spotify Lyrics display

The rather esoteric lyrics to Queen’s “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”

  • The ability to follow other people’s playlists. Although, to be honest, I’m only following Adam Lambert’s. Still, it gives me a little happy that I get notified every time Adam adds a song to his playlist. (Even though we don’t have 100% the same taste in music, as it turns out.)
Notification of update to Spotify playlist

Now Playing with Adam Lambert (I wish… 🙂

What’s not so good about Spotify

  • They have a desktop browser version that makes me feel stupid, because every time I go there, I have a heck of a time figuring out how to get to my music. The link to that part of their site is teeny and buried and it’s so annoying.
Spotify web screen cap

Scroll down, way down, the Spotify website to get to the actual music player

(I guess it’s their way of pushing you to their desktop app instead, the usability of which is fine.)

  • No way to mark songs as favorites, which is a weird omission. I’m listening to find songs I like and might want to get back to, but there’s no easy way to do that. You can add songs to “My music” or playlist, but that isn’t quite the same…

How does Spotify compare with Google Play Music?

To truly answer this question, I’m going to have to give Google’s paid version another trial run.

But what I can say so far is, that Google beats Spotify on the following counts:

  • Google has a thumb’s up button to mark the songs you like.
  • Google does a better job of integrating my actual songs—that is, the thousands of songs I’ve purchased and lovingly categorized in iTunes lo these many years. With my permission, Google just takes all that music and puts it in the cloud for me, using their version when they have it and uploading my copy when they don’t. And unlike Apple, they do that for free, up to a size limit I’m never going to reach it. Spotify can only handle local “owned” music.

    That’s all lovely; however… Having looked at my Google playlists more closely due to writing this post, I have discovered that they are kind of a mess, with each song in every one of them being repeated up to four times, for some reason.

iTunes screen cap

My Summertime playlist in iTunes is a mere 195 songs, no repeats

iTunes screen cap

Google bloats this exact same playlist up to 999 (!) songs by repeating each song multiple times….

And, Google playlists are arbitrarily limited to 1000 songs. Which is not enough for me. But, I am at this point grateful for that limit, since I suspect I would otherwise have each song repeated hundred of times in those playlists, instead of mere four or so…

When I’m truly trialing Google, I’ll have to investigate how to clean that up. And see if it’s really true that Google’s auto-generated playlists, based on an artist or song you like, are much better that Spotify’s (as I’ve heard).

In the meantime, I can say what’s about the same between the two:

  • The monthly price.
  • The option to download for access without data usage on mobile.
  • The size of the catalog of streaming songs (so I’ve heard).
  • The integrated lyrics in the app version.

And what it lacks compared with Spotify:

  • The web version doesn’t have integrated lyrics, at least not with such a good interface.
  • It does not allow me to follow celebrity playlists.
  • Also, Google doesn’t have an, ad-paid free option for listening to the streaming music. (I think this is true.)

Aren’t there other music streaming services?

Sure, lots, like Rdio, but Spotify is the market leader, and Google Play Music is a logical alternative for those using Android devices (as the upcoming Apple Music will be for iOs people).

And anyway, this blog post is long enough already.

Is it worth paying $10 a month for music vs. buying music as you want it and listening to that?

That is the question that I haven’t entirely figured out the answer to yet.

Because my purchased music, it has to be said, does has its own benefits:

  • It is already paid for.
  • It is already organized exactly the way I like it.
  • I don’t always to discover; sometimes I want what I know.
  • But also, I have enough of music (over 8000 songs) that I can actually do a fair amount of experimental listening just within my own catalog.
  • I can play it in my car via CD or iPod. But my car (despite being fairly new) has no bluetooth or wired support for Android devices, so no streaming services work in it.
  • I actually do have some songs you can’t get on the streaming services. They have a lot, but not everything.

But how long can I stick with buying rather than paid streaming?

That is the question. Apple no longer makes iPod Classics and has been basically ruined iTunes. (I’m still using version 10.) So what am I going to play “my” music (about 60 GB worth) on in the future?

And as for acquiring new stuff,  who knows how much longer Amazon, Google, and Apple will be just as willing to sell you a CD or a digital music file as they are to have you pay a monthly rental fee for it?

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