Has the constant connection to iTunes and Facebook got you feeling a little stagnant? SPOTIFY could be a temporary answer to widespread Internet boredom (we'll get into Google+ another time). That, or it's yet another annoying version of the same thing that you’re going to have to sign up for because all your friends are doing it. Your choice.
After a long, tolling battle with the Big Four record labels, last week Spotify finally became available to users in the United States. Like Gmail's invite-only launch back in 2004, Spotify started firing away invitations to stateside users last Friday, and it has certainly been the word around the offices, bedrooms, and every other place tapped into wi-fi since then. It’s been hailed by music gurus as the coolest new shit, and criticized by business blowhards as a surefire way to make no money whatsoever. Either way, it has Steve Jobs cringing in his seat.
I received my Spotify invite a few days ago, and I’ve been intensely exploring it to see if it’s worth keeping around. Here is a pretty basic list of what I think is the best and worst of Spotify, and my final conclusion on whether you should get it or not.
Additional note: I am reviewing the free version because no matter what anyone says, you will never make me pay for anything. I'm 20.
Lots of songs: I haven't dug too deeply quite yet, but for most artists in the catalog, you not only have a complete discography, but every compilation or soundtrack they’ve ever appeared in. This may sound cluttered and weird, but it’s totally cool and navigable. You’ll discover under-the-radar material that your favorite band released and you’ll find out which band sold out to be on the latest pseudo-indie movie soundtrack.
All the songs are in one place: This simple aspect makes things incredibly easy to fuel your crippling ADD. Spotify makes it easy to search for more songs to play without interrupting playtime, something that can be hazardous with iTunes or Youtube.
It's hella fast: I'm always reluctant to open iTunes for fear that it will either crash my computer or take so long to open that I forget why I wanted to open it in the first place. The utter instantaneousness of Spotify makes it that much more appealing: no loading times, almost no re-buffering of tracks (depending on internet connection), and it’s really hard to accidentally close the song or album while you’re listening to it. So if you’re as clumsy as me, that’s definitely an improvement from other programs.
Yes, I am in fact listening to Outkast.
Fidelity: I’m a huge bitrate snob, so this may not apply to everyone, but the free version of Spotify only streams at 160 or 192kbps instead of my preference of 320. Better than Youtube most of the time, but still not A++.
Music suggestions: They have a “what’s new” section, but overall Spotify’s ability to suggest new music is pretty impersonal, even compared to iTunes. For really solid music suggestions, hit up Last.fm or The Hype Machine. Or your friends. Spotify does “scrobble” to Last.fm so you can still let everyone know that you listened to Dave Matthews Band 184 times this week.
Advertisement: This may be the biggest and most annoying part of the whole program. This has the potential to annoy partygoers if used as a playlist to entertain guests; I think most people will still stick to their Apple brand guns. Depending on the length of the album, you may have to deal with two or three ads causing some drama between you and your sweet, sweet jams. This makes it difficult to really engage with a full album without getting interrupted. Save the sentimental listening for vinyl.
STUFF I THINK IT COULD REALLY USE:
Shuffle: I love shuffling my iTunes. There is some sort of shuffle function, but it seems to only work on albums or playlists rather than allowing me to shuffle the ten bajillion songs they have streaming. Too much to ask?
Radio: It’s a sound salvation. Not totally necessary because the other features are enough to satisfy me, but sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I like to let the robots choose for me.
THE FINAL CALL: Download it.
Overall, it’s pretty darn good. I’m not sure if this is going to catch on in the US, though. We don’t want to pay for things, but we also don’t want to be bothered by ads when we get things for free. We’re greedy. Torrent downloading and other forms of Internet exploitation will still rule the land of digital music, and vinyl records are still the best medium through which to listen to the best music. But if you’re looking for a good way to give Steve Jobs and Youtube the finger via your computer, Spotify is your oasis in a desert of social media.