Technology is causing another shift in the way we listen to music. There’s no right or wrong answer but Spotify has some advantages over many of the other choices.
A quick recap of how we’ve listened to music over the years.
• Baby boomers started with vinyl LPs. Cassettes were the mobile alternative in the 70s.
• In the 80s the recording industry successfully convinced us to replace our vinyl LPs with CDs of the same music, and lived high for years on our constantly growing CD collections.
• Another shift began with the introduction of the iPod and other MP3 players in the early 2000s. We created music collections on our computers, ripping our CDs and eventually putting them in the closet. We transferred the music to handheld devices through USB cables.
• Apple’s iTunes Store took the lead in selling music online to add to our collections. That business was built on songs that were downloaded to our computers, then transferred to our iPhones with USB cables. More recently Apple, Amazon and Google have made it easier to stream those songs from a cloud version of our collection.
There’s another shift going on. Many people are giving up the idea of buying songs and owning their own curated collection of music and listening instead to streaming music on their phones and computers.
Streaming music and Spotify
Pandora is the most successful and best-known online streaming music service in the United States. It is the high-tech equivalent of a radio, with clever features that respond to your choices and make it more likely that it will play songs you’ll like. The free player is supported by ads that can be removed with a small monthly payment. It has a deep library of songs and it can be installed on almost every device, big and small.
There’s nothing wrong with Pandora. Lots of people like it – 80 million users in the US, far more than any other service. It’s great. If you like Pandora, use it.
Apple is still making money selling music through the iTunes Store but it can see the handwriting on the wall as sales of music slow down. Six months ago Apple introduced iTunes Radio as a direct competitor to Pandora, with similar concept and features. It is not yet available on as many types of devices as Pandora (and is currently only available in the US and Australia) but Apple will continue to expand its reach.
Spotify is far less well known in the US, despite three years of promotion. Pandora dominates the market; another radio service, iHeartRadio, is number two, and Apple iTunes Radio is climbing fast. Spotify is stuck behind them.
Why do I like Spotify better than the others?
On Spotify you can choose what you want to play. Find a song, play a song. If you’re a baby boomer who grew up on albums, you can find an album and play the whole thing. Spotify has licensed a huge amount of all the music released in the last fifty years and you can play just about anything you can think of, old or new.
Although Spotify can be used for free, you’ll have to pay for the premium subscription for $9.99/month to get the full benefit of the service. The free version lets you pick an artist and listen in shuffle mode, or choose a playlist, or start a radio station like Pandora. When you start the paid subscription, you can play anything you like – plus the ads are removed, the limits are removed on how much music you can stream, and you can download music to a mobile device so you can listen to it while you’re offline.
Spotify has apps for every device, all the phones and tablets and computers and living room devices. It can be integrated with Facebook and other services but that’s optional. You can try the premium service for thirty days free.
It’s a little unclear why Spotify has such a low profile in the US. It is so dominant in Europe that it may soon overtake Apple as Europe’s biggest digital music service.
I listen to albums, not songs. Ten bucks a month for unlimited music that I get to choose – that’s a fair deal. In the last few years I’ve tested many ways to get music from Apple, Amazon, Google, Pandora, Microsoft (XBox Music was supposed to be the service that has it all but lord, what a mess it is), and others. Spotify is the keeper. I’m going to download less and stream more.