Forget about the gold rush of trying to get a Google+ invite – that’s so last week. Today’s invite grab (at least in the U.S.) for geeksters (geek+hipster) is for Spotify, the music service from Europe that launched today in the U.S. Luckily, I was able to get an invite via Spotify’s P.R. team, and have been trying it out for most of the day.
Originally launched in Sweden in 2008, Spotify says it’s now the second largest source of digital music revenue for labels in Europe, and has more than 10 million registered users (1.6 million paying subscribers). Spotify gives users on-demand access to more than 15 million songs, and you can import your own MP3 files as well to create “the ultimate music player”. During the invite-only phase, users will be able to listen for free (some reports have it at 20 hours per month), along with occasional advertising. The service also offers Spotify Unlimited ($4.99 per month for ad-free access to Spotify on a computer), and Spotify Premium ($9.99 per month for access on the computer and mobile devices).
There’s a social aspect of this as well – you can connect to Facebook and create public playlists that your friends can see. In addition, if you find a song that you like, you can “send” the song to your friend, and they get an inbox notification, letting you hear the song. With only a few hours experienced, there’s still more for me to try out (for example, trying it on my home Mac with more local files, as well as synching with my iPhone), but here are some early loves and not loves about Spotify:
1) Spotify gets me excited again about music discovery: During my hours on the service, I’ve been able to hear songs that I currently don’t own, bringing me back to the early days of Napster, when I first got excited about finding new bands and music to listen to. For example, I was able to listen to the soundtrack for The Book of Mormon (2011 Tony Award Winner), Bon Iver’s new album and a bunch of other random tracks (“I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” by Blotto!). Doing this via iTunes means only getting to listen to portions of the song. A colleague mentions that you can do this on Grooveshark, too, but I’m not reviewing that service.
2) I get to learn even more about my friends' tastes: Some may say this is a downside, but I do think that seeing what other people are willing to publicly admit to liking may help me discover more music. Plus, it brings up more conversation topics the next time we see each other in person (“So, Jim, I see that you’re a fan of Miley Cyrus…”)
3) It’s very easy to use: The desktop interface, at least, is easy to navigate – just clicking a song title or band name or album quickly brings it up to let you listen. Sharing songs is as easy as dragging-and-dropping the song onto your friend list.
Here’s what I don’t like at the moment:
1) Not all local song types are supported: Spotify can play MP3, MP4, M4A and M4R files. The company says M4P is supported, but the files are usually protected by iTunes. The service tries to match them against the corresponding Spotify track, but isn’t always successful. In my case, files I’d ripped with iTunes in MP3 format didn’t play either – I got an error that read “There is a problem with the sound decoder. Spotify can’t play music.” This issue also caused the service to not be able to play the songs/those albums from the cloud as well. Very weird bug.
2) iPod synchronization may be tricky: A friend pointed me to this page, which states that “only music from your Downloads list, and music that you have imported into Local Files, will be transferred.” It also states that when you sync with Spotify, music, movies, TV shows and Audiobooks will be erased from an iPod, and then the music will be replaced by music from your computer. Ummmmm, wha? For iPhones, there’s a requirement that the device and the computer be on the same Wi-Fi network at the same time, and then you can synchronize your playlists for offline listening on the device later. This sounds pretty complicated (granted, I haven’t tried this yet).
3) Other alternatives seem to exist: Colleagues have pointed out Grooveshark, Rdio and Rhapsody already exists as well for people to listen to unlimited music for a monthly fee. There’s also Slacker and Pandora for streaming music (although you don’t get to pick and choose exactly). Unless you’re really into the social sharing aspect of it (and I’m not completely there yet), there’s a bit of “Umm, yeah, so what?” when it comes to Spotify at the moment. Perhaps with more time I’ll be more excited about Spotify, or there's something that I'm missing. If you can tell me why Spotify is so awesome, please do so in the comments...