When I was 18 and went off to Northwestern, I thought the newfound ability to centrally store, play and enlarge my music library through compressed MP3 files was the coolest thing ever. (Then-beloved Winamp also had those great skins: The purple theme and NU logo from Daniel’s Winamp Skins (still online since 1998!) went so well with Busch Light and DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” in a Bobb dorm room.)
When I was 23 and got around to an iTunes account and MP3 player, I thought being able to legally buy music for cheap and run the whole library on a handheld device was the coolest thing ever. (You gotta outgrow the college piracy at some point.)
Yet eventually my fascination with those two digital-music mediums wore out, and the poor interface and DRM annoyances, respectively, sank me into sonic complacence. But based on my experience, the newest (at least to the U.S.) digital-music wunderkind has the promise to stick around for a lifetime of ear-splitting goodness: Spotify.
I’ve had a Spotify paid account for almost two months now, and this fits into my “the bomb” pantheon of software. For $10 a month, I get access to unlimited plays of more than 15 million instantly retrieved songs, whenever and wherever I want. The Spotify Android app duplicates all of this functionality on my phone, including being able to play tracks without the Internet connection if I’ve created and synced the tunes to a playlist. Normally I’m a cheap bastard online, but hell yeah I’ll pay $10 for that type of music-fan elation and convenience.
Spotify has been an iTunes killer for me because its catalog has just one DRM gate. I have no idea how $10 per month makes enough money for Spotify to get access to the Universal, Warner, EMI, Sony and Merlin catalogs (UPDATE 10/11 – Seems they aren’t making enough money to do that) — according to The Guardian, it’s because the creative talent is getting screwed on their share (shocking) — but for us end users, the goal has always been to get in the door and gorge on as many songs as we want. Spotify chief Daniel Ek is completely correct in this article when he says that any music service needs to be more convenient than piracy to be successful, and Spotify miraculously does that with the companies’ cooperation.
Providing this single, convenient gate is where the main competitors fall short. iTunes’ single-track DRM means it would theoretically cost me $14 million to fully access the catalog, which is quite a bit more than the $12,000 I’d pay to access Spotify for 100 years. Spotify may tie me to its application for playing any Spotify-accessed music, and I have to add tracks to a playlist to take them with me offline, but so many iTunes downloads restrict playability to iTunes and Apple systems that this is basically a wash between the two. (I’ve lost several purchased albums by switching out of iTunes, the most anger-inducing being Meantime by Helmet, which was a great “time to kick ass at weights or PowerPoint” album.) On the unlimited-play side, Grooveshark ostensibly does a lot of the same stuff as Spotify for free, but it’s got huge shortcomings: Grooveshark’s catalog depends on user uploads, playing local files is a convoluted pain in the ass, the mobile app requires a paid subscription, and I have to be connected to the Internet to play anything.
The importance of playlists in Spotify means I’ve made some themed gems, including “Destroy All Workouts”, “Your Basic NYC Meat-Market Bar Circa 2004”, “Yes, I Sometimes Listen to Hipster/Indie Shit” and “Music For Baby Boomers in Powerboats at the Three Rivers Regatta”. I also use the Starred playlist to rotate songs in and out of music-binge mode, so that’s a pretty eclectic grouping that currently features Lil’ Wayne, The National, Megadeth, Nicki Minaj, Nirvana, The Kills and The Archies. (“Sugar Sugar” is still the shit after 40 years.) The best part? You too can subscribe to “Music For Baby Boomers in Powerboats at the Three Rivers Regatta”, because Spotify did a great job with playlist sharing across Facebook friends using the service.
To close, the executive summary of this post: Spotify is great.