Spotify – How I Love Thee

I love music.

More accurately, I love good music.  And I absolutely love the joy of discovering an artist who is siren-song sweet, incredibly talented, unlike anything I’ve ever heard, toe-tappin’, wanna sing along, or is otherwise a bright spot in the middle of a Wednesday morning.

The problem is finding those musical gems.  I hate country music and I think most of Top 40/Pop being released is complete garbage, so I am simply not going to find a whole lot on the radio (especially the over the air stations in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska).  I’ve tried online radio stations, but if they’re playing a turd of a song, or it is a commercial break, you’re pretty much stuck.  Plus, sometimes when that great new song comes on, you have no idea who the artist is or what the song is called, so you’re essentially doomed to never hear it again.

Many people enjoy Pandora’s streaming player, which takes your favorite artist (Nickelback*, for example), runs it through some NASA supercomputer and gives you unlimited songs that have the same sound, genre, etc.

*Nickelback Bashing is close to surpassing baseball as the national pastime.  I understand it, I get it, and I’ve done it – most of their songs are cookie cutter pieces of crap, with clichéd lyrics and no original musical voice.  No argument here.

But if Nickelback sucks as much as everyone tells me they do, why do they have a bunch platinum records, and sell out tours across the country?  Do they have a mega-passionate fan base that buys multiple copies of each album and follows them on their big tours?  I’m guessing not. 

We all have our guilty pleasures and skeletons in our musical closets.  I loved “This is How You Remind Me” when it came out, and I still like it today.

Pandora is nice, but my main issue is their secret formula works too well:  that Nickelback channel has a bunch of artists who all sound the same (okay…Nickelback may have been a poor example, but you know what I mean).  Sometimes I like to have a little variety.  Give me “How You Remind Me”, but chase it with some James Brown or 311.  Or maybe I want to listen to a new album straight through or randomly play all of the songs by one of my favorite artists while I’m working.  And again, when I find something good I want to be able to come back to it later.

I have found a couple of websites that will play new releases (I used to have surprisingly good success with AOL, of all sites).  Those sites usually have a pretty good variety of popular and more obscure artists, and well as soundtracks and compilations.  Since they are promoting new releases, the selection changes weekly, and once it’s gone, you’ll have to go elsewhere to find it again.

And then I read about Spotify.

Spotify is pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in a music service:

  • Ability to listen to individual songs, entire albums, or everything by an artist?  Check.
  • Ability to play my music along with theirs?  Check.
  • Ability to create and save playlists?  Check.
  • Can use it on multiple PCs as well as my phone?  Check.
  • Free?  Check.
  • A “radio” feature like Pandora?  Check.

I love me some Spotify.

The free version is ad-supported.  You listen to about a minute’s worth of ads every 15-30 minutes – and many of those ads are either telling you about new releases or how to get more out of your account.  In addition, the player has banner ads featuring different artists and new releases.  I’ve been surprised with the effectiveness of these ads.  Several times, I’ve seen an ad and thought “oh yeah, I’ve heard of these guys and have been meaning to listen.  Let’s do that now”.

Recently, I was listening to an existing playlist and saw an ad for an artist named “Trombone Shorty”.  I really enjoy the 70’s sound with the full horn section (think James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire, or the early Chicago) so I was intrigued.  Seconds later, I’m grooving to Buckjump – a horn heavy tune with some hip hop influence.  Where am I going to hear that otherwise?

Obviously, no music service is perfect.  There are still a handful of big names (The Beatles, Garth Brooks, AC/DC) where your search results will probably be limited to covers, tribute albums, and interviews.  But with that said, many of the big names are there – Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Metallica, and as of this month, Led Zeppelin.

Spotify also pushes a social aspect a little too much for my tastes.  One of the first things you’ll want to do after you sign up is disable the feed to your Facebook wall.  Trust me, your friends don’t care what you’re listening to, and there may be times where you don’t want your guilty pleasure (or infatuation with gangsta rap) displayed for the world to see.  There is some potential with sharing tracks and playlists, but it is a minor feature in my eyes.

I’d also like to be able to access Spotify via my Roku player (and home stereo) without upgrading to their $9.99 a month Premium service.  For $10, I can deal with a few commercials and a “lower” sound quality.  But I can work around that as I can hook my phone into my speakers.  Spotify recently changed so you can play your playlists on phones and tablets, so I’m hopeful they make a similar change for Roku.

Even with those minor quibbles, Spotify has become my go-to music player.  During my workday, if I’m not in a meeting I’m probably listening to something on Spotify.  I cannot imagine a service that I could improve on their experience enough for me to switch.

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