Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
Streaming music services haven’t caught on stateside. You’d think otherwise given the growth of online access and peoples unwillingness to buy overpriced music. Consumers still mostly stop by iTunes, buy physical copies, not-quite-legally download music or hit up Youtube, of all places, to hear tracks. Spotify, Europe’s online music sensation, looks to change things with their recent, invite-only US release. Does it have the chops to alter your listening experience or is it another half-baked initiative?
I’ll provide a quick foreword before I start. My impressions are based on the free model: meaning I haven’t tried the ad-free, mobile device supported subscription available to paying subscribers. Moreover, I couldn’t delve into its social networking features since no one I know uses it yet. Therefore, read on bearing the limitations in mind.
Spotify works as a standalone program as soon as you get it up and running. You’ll log in to a clear-cut UI resembling iTunes. Then the software automatically searches for your music library. It should add your songs to your drive with little hassle if you use default music folders for Apple and Windows OSes. You can synch your iPod within the program as well but I’ll get to that later.
The service shines when you mess around with its vast music reserves. All you have to do use the search engine and sift through their relatively organized findings. From there you simply right click albums or songs and use them to add or build playlists. The playlists are persistent online, meaning, you can log in from any PC with internet access and keep your web-based library intact. “Sharing” your musical tastes is also a snap. All you have to do is right click your song or playlist and let your friends know what you’re playing on Facebook, Twitter, and Windows Live Messenger.
Providing an immense 10+ million song library really shows how having labels on your side goes a long way in becoming a versatile music platform. I had little trouble finding records varying in popularity across plenty of genres including rap, jazz, rock, electro, R&B, soul and funk among others. Adding full releases from older, lesser known artists and bands may yield problems since you’ll likely run into greatest hits collections. The repository also isn’t the quickest in offering new music so prepare to wait for recent releases. It’s not quite at the “if they don’t have it, you didn’t need it” point but it’s pretty close. Nonetheless, searching and adding a multitude of songs has been easy, convenient, and most importantly, enjoyable.
All the perks don’t mean much if the UX falters. I thankfully ran into few problems but the snags can’t go unnoticed. Song rarely stopped midway through playback and sometimes ads wouldn’t load properly: freezing you out of your library until you logged back in. The latter problem is annoying when it surfaces so Spotify’s team ought to iron it out early. There’s also no toolbar option under Windows 7. Pretty weak controls in peak mode don’t provide a comparable alternative to other media players.
Speaking of advertisements, banners line the right side and bottom of the player. More importantly, short messages emerge roughly every 15-20 minutes but they break the trend once in awhile. Truthfully, your mileage may vary if you bear with the free.99 variety. The speech-only ads didn’t bother me. But the music-based ones, often laced in top 40 hits, may break the flow of your listening experience: especially if you’re listening to an album. For example, imagine zoning out to your playlist only to be interrupted by a drop from Tinie Tempah or a snippet of Drake’s “I’m On One.” I could see their obtrusive inclusion bothering anyone lacking a moderate tolerance for the aforementioned artists or any other pop starlings “infiltrating” your catalog. I’m well aware they have to keep the lights on somehow but they could’ve done it in a less potentially obnoxious fashion.
There are a few more caveats worth mentioning. Spotify’s free model, after six months of unlimited listening, caps your access to their online library at roughly 10 hours a month. All plans limit Spotify to 3 devices at once. Plus, remember the iPod synching I mentioned earlier? You have to erase its songs, videos, and audiobooks before Spotify recognizes it as a device. What’s more is you can’t currently buy songs on your playlist and, when the ability to purchase mp3s rolls around, only top-tier paying customers will have that ability. Paying monthly to have the privilege to own records seems backward but I guess it’s their way to squeeze out more subs.
Utilizing Spotify’s limited release got me more interested in its offerings than I anticipated. Its reliance on the internet, unless you get one of the pay subscriptions, will suppress its appeal if your connection drops or they have problems on their end. I’m nonetheless good with the free version and hope they tighten things up as the program matures. Spotify’s most effective at filling in the holes in my catalog as well as providing a means to try music outside of my comfort zone without hurting my wallet: as evidenced by recently adding Tech N9ne’s and SBTRKT’s latest LPs to my library. Spotify’s presence shows how you create demand in an industry low on new, plausible ideas. It’s role as a one stop shop for instant music consumption makes the package quite versatile: especially considering the disorganized avenues people previously took to try a song. A more stable, proper release would go a long way towards having it take off in the US.