Spotify USA is real, and it's pretty spectacular: An EW review


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I was re-(re-re-re-re-)watching The Social Network a couple of days ago and one of the lines jumped out at me. Well, actually, all of the lines jumped out at me—oh, you and your snappy dialogue, Aaron Sorkin—but especially when Justin Timberlake, playing entrepreneurial roller coaster Sean Parker, explains that despite founding Napster, he was dead broke because “there’s not a lot of money in free music.”

While that was undoubtedly true in the days of Napster’s brave Lewis and Clark quest into the copyright wilderness, fending off vicious packs of feral Ulrichs, it looks like we’re edging closer to the point where the way we consume music has changed completely. In essence, iTunes isn’t much more than the online equivalent of a giant Sam Goody’s; but something like Spotify, which has finally made its debut in the United States after massive success overseas, signals many more possibilities.

The program isn’t shockingly new from things we’ve seen before—sites likes Grooveshark and Pandora gave us access to tons of songs for free, as well—but Spotify has an easy, Facebook-compatible system that encourages sharing. Structured around playlists, it allows users to build their own, pass them along to friends, and then trawl through those friends’ collections for songs they like.

In terms of content, Spotify says they have 15 million songs, but, in the words of Aaliyah, that ain’t nothing but a number. Importantly, that figure includes songs and albums that people care about right now, like the new Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.  There’s also variety: Just tooling around this afternoon, I found an extensive array of artists, along a ton of different axes, from Katy Perry to Panda Bear, Ke$ha to Tchaikov$ky, Bird to Birdman. Not everything is available just yet. For example, there a big, soulful hole where Adele’s 21 should be, even if they do have her previous album.

Here are the limitations: The basic free service—which, presumably, is what most will use—is ad-supported, and you are restricted to 20 hours per month. You can pay $4.99 a month for unlimited listening without ads, or $9.99 to stream on mobile devices, but the program is still impressive even if you aren’t Rich Uncle Pennybags. Free Spotify is invite-only at this point, but since early adopters get a free six months of unlimited service, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t gain quick traction over here as it already has done in Europe, where it has racked up more than 10 million registered users.

The program also allows syncing to your iPod, iPhone, and Android, which takes a bite out of iTunes’ functionality. Like I said, it’s not mind-blowingly new, but it’s still one of the best (legal) music-consumption systems we’ve seen so far.

Readers, have you tried it yet? Do you agree?

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Comments (34 total) Add your comment
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  • Anthony

    I’m excited to see this tool when I get invited :), but I’m dying for a decent tech critic to tell me how this service differs from Napster or Rhapsody in the current models today? I’m sure the subscriptions costs might vary slightly, but I’m pretty sure they all have similar features. smart phone apps, etc. Would be curious to see a break down like that, rather than people comparing it to Pandora, which Spotify isn’t really that similar to.

    • SpunOut4Him

      Spotify = Rhapsody from 5-10 yrs ago with a better selection and available streaming.

      Unfortunately, that means you have to download a client to your desktop, which makes it useless for those that would like to have it in the office and don’t have the ability to install programs due to company restrictions.

      The phone client is great if you have a Droid or iPhone. SOL to those of you with Blackberries. Also, streaming via the phone would be great, except, who has a truly unlimited data plan anymore where it won’t cost you a fortune to enjoy your tunes? Wifi is great, but again with the office thing.

      • Jay

        BTW, anyone with Sprint has a full-on unlimited data plan

      • Tom

        First impression. I liked it. Then my firewall told me it was sending stealthy encrypted SMS messages out to an unknown location. Free music. Sure. Free. Riiight.

  • Massive attack

    I am pretty sure you meant Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, not Lee Unkrich the director of Toy Story 3.
    I guess I wouldn’t expect you to know the difference, except for the fact that you are paid to write about music for a living . . .

    • yeahhhh

      It wasn’t that long ago even I remember it was Lars Ulrich and I was about 14 at the time.

      • Keith Staskiewicz

        To be fair, Toy Story 3 covers remarkably similar thematic ground as “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Yeah, that was an especially bad case of brain flatulence. Apologies to Mr. Unkrich.

  • DV

    Nice Seinfeld reference!

  • Tom

    It works on Android and Linux devices. Good job!

  • Erik

    It’s a pretty nice tool to use.
    I’ve been using it for two years now (with an english c.card) and I have no complaints.
    I can’t believe I’m saying this but being a mac user I’m surprised I’m not using iTunes anymore.

  • Marc

    All the bloggers raving about Spotify sound like they have never tried (really tried) any of the alternatives. Right now MOG tops Spotify by a long run. You get roughly the same music selection and playlist capabilitis, plus radio and a very good android and Ios App. The one thing that does impress me about Spotify is the speed at which they deliver the music — searching and streaming.

    • topcat

      I’ve used Spotify in Europe for two years. The main difference is the streaming speed and sound quality. On the premium service all music is in 320kbps Ogg Zorbis format. It is amazing they can stream at this quality with no perceptible buffering. I believe they use torrent technology to achieve this, hence the need for a fat client. The free service is 160 Ogg Zorbis still far better than most. A song from Spotify typically commences playing faster than it would in Itunes from my local HD. With premium you can play 320kbps from your mobile offline. You can then listen to loads of new music without needing 3g or wifi as long as your spotify client sees a network within 30 days to check your subscription status. I use to discover new music – i use spotify to listen to it.

      • Tom

        I use Frostwire to browse/listen to music for free. No spyware. Works perfectly. And if I love what I hear, I go down to my old fashioned record store and support them, I support the artist/band/whatever and have a really nice physical copy I can hold in my hot little hand, play in my car, or bring to a friend’s party. Honestly. Why would I want to use anything else? Is Spotify giving you guys lossless FLAC quality? Even the best 360k mp3 music file in no competition for a silver pressed music CD. Oh, yeah the cloud is convenient, until the big solar x-flare comes and wipes out your collection of digital bits and bytes, lost to some server failure. Like that’s never happened to anyone.

  • Linn

    Ive had it since the release in Sweden, when it still was invites only, after a year or so upgraded to premium for.. well in these times I would have to say 18 dollars a month, still is for me because of the currency. And it has changed my life. I love it and everyone I know loves it. and i have to say that I find it unfair that an american only has to pay 9.99.. hehe

    • Linn

      Also, as something that differs is probably the fact that you dont have to be online to listen to your music.. perhaps some other music-service has that very same abilitys, but nothing I´ve encountered.

  • michael

    Hey Linn.My situation is near your`s.Sitting in portugal.Sunny Greats

  • Marcus

    Why do people get so excited about renting music? I can’t imagine the audio gluttony demonstrated by the users of these services. Unplug from the cloud and be liberated.

    • Kelcie

      Um, WHAT??

    • Johan

      I’ve been using it in sweden since release when it was invite only and the reason I use it is because it is very convenient, especially when you are checking out albums etc. If I really like the album I buy a vinyl copy of it (if I buy a physical version of it I want it to be truly physical and analog, not just a hard copy of the same stuff i can stream.)

      As stated by someone already, the biggest plus is how fast and seamless it is. Just type either album, artist or song, click enter and double click the song. Voila! The song starts instantly, and you won’t even notice the buffering (unless you’re on a 56k modem from -96.)

  • Irf

    It’s been available in the UK for the last 2 years now. I was just like you guys with the “ooohs” and “ahhhs”, but now they are charging for use and capping tracks to just 5 listens. It’s a ploy to get you hooked and then milk you.

    • Brent

      “now they are charging for use and capping tracks to just 5 listens. It’s a ploy to get you hooked and then milk you”

      The most expensive plan in the US is $9.99/month (about 33 cents/day) – For unlimited access to a 15million+ track library with no ads, 320bps quality, and offline mobile support. To the contrary, I would say that is a real bargain.

  • Marcus

    I tried it out, and about half the tracks I tried to listen to, it told me they weren’t available unless I had them on my computer. If I had them on my computer, what the hell would I need the service for?

  • Sharon

    After reading Tom’s comments, I am at a loss as to why anyone would want this service on his or her computer. Big Brother is taking yet another bite.


      Come on Sharon, big brother knows what you are doing anyway. This is your way to show big brother that you have good taste in music. For big brother not to know what you are doing you have to go off the grid. Even then I don’t know how successful that would be.

  • JPX

    Only 20 free hours? No thanks, I”ll stick with Pandora, which I listen to all day long.

  • Marcia

    I LOVE Spotify! I am rediscovering some of my old vinyls that I haven’t heard in years! It is like being transported to my youth. Tracks that I didn’t buy iTunes to save $$$. Love, love, love it!

  • Joakim

    Do you want a spotify invite ?
    Let me know, I got ALOT of them. We have had Spotify a while here in Norway. If u dont have spotify u’ll missing alot of music. Spotify is a must have !

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