For those of you from the U.K. and other fortunate regions that have been enjoying Spotify for years, this is a non-event. However, for any readers from the U.S., this is huge news. Get ready to completely neglect Grooveshark, Pandora, Last.fm and any other Internet radio you listen to. Spotify is that good.
What is Spotify? How does it work? How do you get it? Keep reading, we’ve got the answers.
Not So Fast, Invite Only
The rumors are true, Spotify has in fact launched in the United States, I know because I’m using the heck out of it. Unfortunately, it’s an invite only affair at the moment so you’ll need to stop by the site and request one or start bugging your more fortunate friends (huge thanks to Orman Clark for hooking me up).
Keep in mind that lots of highly anticipated web services launch exactly like this so don’t sweat it, you’ll no doubt be able to get your hands on Spotify very soon.
The Evolution of Web Radio
The great thing about radio is that it’s sort of organic. You just listen and the DJ takes care of everything. This is also the worst feature of radio. Other than choosing a station, you have almost no control over what you hear.
Pandora was a big evolution of this model, taking a much more interactive route that is amazing for discovering new music based on what you already love. However, your control over what is being played is still quite limited, with only occasional and limited input allowed.
For U.S. residents, the next link in this chain was Grooveshark, which gives you complete freedom to listen to what you want when you want. Don’t get me wrong, Grooveshark is amazing, but it definitely has some issues. For starters, it’s a Flash-based web app, which you may love or hate but isn’t ideal for lots of users. Also, it’s a bit difficult to sift through the content as you’re constantly hit with five or more versions of the same song. It’s close, but having seen and used Spotify previously, I knew that the experience wasn’t what it could be.
Spotify is the music service of your dreams. It’s a native app that looks and works a lot like iTunes. Just imagine though that your iTunes library was suddenly stuffed with millions of tracks spanning several decades. Want to check out the album 19 by Adele? Just search for it like you would in iTunes and listen to it… all of it.
The iTunes-like functionality continues. Run a search for Snow Patrol and listen to all of the available tracks on shuffle or build a custom playlist of Jamie Cullum and Michale Bublé music for that dinner party you’re throwing later.
The library of available tracks is extremely impressive. It’s not going to have every song you want to hear, but it will have tons of them. As a test run, I started out with a search for artist John Mclaughlin; not too main-stream, not too obscure. The result was awesome, around three hours of music, all completely free to stream immediately!
The Spotify app has a sharp, dark interface that’s easy on the eyes and actually feels like a bit of an improvement over iTunes in some ways. Over on the left side of the interface is your basic navigation. Here you can check out your playlists, build a queue, look at what’s new on Spotify and view an “Inbox” of music that Spotify sends to you.
One really great iTunes-killing feature is that all of the music on your machine automatically shows up in Spotify! This really makes it the ultimate music hub for your computer. You can even use Spotify to move your local music to your iPod (premium subscription required).
Another great feature is Facebook integration. You can see your friends’ top tracks and artists and check out their published playlists. Ping? What’s Ping?
As you can imagine, the good people at Spotify have to make a living, not to mention license all of this content. Let’s take a quick look at the three plans that you’ll have to choose from after you score that invite and sign up.
The free plan gives you tons of music that you can listen to instantly from the installed application on your home computer (Mac or PC) and share individual tracks with friends via a simple link. The catch is that it is in fact ad-supported. There are both visual ads inside the app and audio ads that interrupt your music. The system here is almost exactly like Pandora, the ads are quite infrequent and brief (usually only one at a time). The service is good enough that you likely wouldn’t dream of dropping it because of an occasional interruption.
At the moment, it seems that there is no time cap for free U.S. accounts, which is amazing. However, the U.K. service started off the same way. Spotify likes to get you addicted to unlimited free music before suddenly limiting the amount of time you can listen in a month. It looks like Spotify will soon revert free users to twenty hours per month just as they did in Europe.
One additional catch, if you travel abroad with Spotify Free, you only have 14 days before they cut you off. Your service will continue when you get back home.
Spotify Unlimited: $4.99/Month
For just under five bucks per month, you can ditch the ads and have unlimited access to your music when you travel. Otherwise, all of the features are the same as the free plan, for now. When Spotify does start putting time caps on free accounts, this will be the cheapest way to have that limit removed.
Spotify Premium: $9.99/Month
In addition to all of the features above, Spotify Premium gives you access to local files on your iPod, listen to Spotify on your mobile devices, listen to Spotify offline, enjoy better audio quality and exclusive tracks, and play Spotify through music systems like Squeezebox.
Check out this page for a complete breakdown and comparison of the three plans.
To sum up, Spotify is an outstanding music service that allows you to listen to almost any track, album or artist whenever you want from a slick, native application. Unless your iTunes library has 15,000,000 songs and adds 10,000 new tracks per day, you’re going to want to get in on this.
The biggest downside currently is that you have to find a way to score an invite, so beg, borrow and steal to get one because, despite an occasional ad, you’ll love the service.
We’ll see how long the awesomeness lasts, it’s really only a matter of time before Spotify slaps a time cap on free accounts to force all the new addicts to sign up for premium accounts.
Listen to whatever you want, whenever you want, free. It's nothing short of a music-lover's dream. As long as there's no time cap for free accounts, I give it a perfect 10. Unfortunately, the forthcoming cap is sort of a hidden "gotchya" that's not exactly advertised on the home page, which seems a little sneaky.9