So I accidentally got an invitation to use Spotify recently (don’t ask), and my instinctive reaction was as one would expect from someone already devoted to another music platform. ‘Surely this can’t be better than Last.fm‘, I thought to myself as I reluctantly proceeded to sign up — albeit semi-curiously hitting download for the client application. From the outset, it had already been obvious: Spotify’s marketing ploy was envisaged in a byline beaming about its effortlessness, ease, and sheer simplicity. ‘The best thing about music is that you can just listen to it,’ it modestly informed. ‘It doesn’t have to be hard, and neither does using Spotify.’ Minutes later, the introduction screen appeared with an invitation to ‘dive in’. So I did. Naturally, I searched for Trentemøller, and 118 tracks soon appeared in a list, to my surprise including several mixes I’d actually not had the pleasure of hearing before. So three minutes into Djosos Krost’s reworked ‘Chapter One‘, I had already reached my tentative verdict of approval. And that was certainly more favourable if not entirely contrary to my prematurely predicted reflex derived from a growing distaste towards the onslaught of new online and mobile applications seeming to be cropping up by the thousands at breakneck speed.
So what is Spotify and what’s the catch? The Anglo-Swedish cloud-based, peer-to-peer networking service provides unlimited access to a music library, with or without the optional paid subscriptions. It essentially allows you to stream tracks via a player that very much resembles iTunes — or the iTunes Store, rather, only with track-preview in full. Instead of being modeled on profile-driven network interaction as is Last.fm, it allows you to ‘share’ tracks and create collaborative playlists via e-mail and instant messenger with fellow Spotify users. Somewhat similar to Last.fm is the radio available for less autonomous, more exploratory listening (though it limits you to too simplistic a selection for tuning based on music decade or genre), allowing you to skip from song to song as you wish. Integration with Last.fm’s Audioscrobbler is also made possible through enabling preferences in the menu, so you can continue listening without abandoning your chart data collection. And of course conveniently placed are links to purchase the tracks being listened to, helping to fulfill Spotify’s apparent aim to spread the music whilst fairly compensating the artists featured by agreement.
As such, you can reasonably imagine that the legal framework binding this project together is pretty watertight, having to clear rights for use which — for example — would limit you from using it to entertain customers at a restaurant or club. It grants a limited, non-exclusive, and revocable license for personal, non-commercial use, and arbitration arising from legal disputes is administered as per Swedish jurisdiction. But having said that, the audio quality is quite good for a streaming player, using the Ogg Vorbis q5 codec offering a satisfying 160kb/s rate on decent speakers or headphones. And the catch? Well, advertising — like with most things these days — is the primary pool of revenue, and a single advertisement resembling the sort you might hear on local radio programming is evenly distributed (though not distractingly so) between every few songs. Purchasing subscription access does away with the adverts and allows for more invites and more selective radio-listening at a £9.99 premium. The Spotify team are also in the process of exploring options to branch out on mobile and other platforms, so watch this space…
Now the question that remains is how extensive the catalogue may become. In terms of prompt updating, the Fever Ray album that was released digitally last Tuesday is already available; Telefon Tel Aviv‘s latest, however, isn’t there. In fact, few tracks by them are available, and the same goes for The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Radiohead, on the other hand, is included — which says a lot considering the fact they weren’t on offer via iTunes until only earlier last year. I still do wonder if and when more will eventually come; but for the time being, it’s nice to have the option of using a platform friendly to both users and music, where you’re relatively free to select, enjoy, and (as a musician) earn your keep. I have no doubt that Last.fm is far better in terms of ‘musicability’ through its taste-gauging, music-trekking neighbourhood approach that I’ve loved all these years. But the two in fact cannot be directly compared within the confines of being the same type of product. Because they do differ in both purpose, function and presentation — a point clearly concluded when you use Last.fm’s player to ‘heart’ Spotify’s tracks.
It’s still in its beta phase and free service is available only via invitation in Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, and the UK (Spotify Premium is more widespread otherwise). But I might have one or two invitations going spare, so if you’re interested in trying it out, just drop me a line.
Sarah Badr © MMIX
See also: Love thy neighbour (pieces at random)