What does Spotify mean?

Spotify

I’m a few months late to the game, but I’ve finally been trying out Spotify properly and using it to listen to music at home. Many other people have written about this service, most of whom seem to be hugely impressed with the depth of catalogue, the reduced buffering and the overall concept: all music, free and legal.

I have to say, I was initially skeptical. I’m a long term iTunes user, because I think it’s a brilliant music database manager and player. I also like the ease with which it integrates into a wireless playback system in my house, and that it’s also the way in which I subscribe to podcasts and synchronise my iPod.

I don’t buy music from the iTunes store. Only ever did that once for research purposes – and it made me cross. Usual reasons – DRM, cost per track, that sort of thing. I’m a big eMusic fan, actually – and I like the way it integrates with iTunes (though I wish they’d think to embed the album covers within the mp3s).

Learning to listen to the cloud
But I’m really warming to Spotify. Now that I’ve started messing around with it a little bit, created playlists and I’ve stumbled across Spotify Friends – a fledgling community (1200 users at present) of people who share Spotify playlists – it’s becoming more usable and more useful. I’m currently listening to Pitchfork’s top 100 songs of 2008.

I also quite like the idea of Mixifier, which allows you to send mixtapes via Facebook to other Spotify users, with a cool, oldschool cassette tape interface.

I do wish Spotify was skinned with black text on white background and a slightly larger font – but that’s just a design preference on my part. Doesn’t take away from the listening experience. I have the same niggle with Tweetdeck and I use that all the time and love it to bits.

Advertising-supported listening
I had my first Spotify audio ad today. Not bad after about 5 hours of solid listening. And it was fine. It was for an album by The Script, and it seemed to fit in very well with what was going on around it. It was streets ahead of most desperate, shouty radio ads: polite, informative and reasonably unobtrusive. The ad for Watchmen that turned up a dozen songs later was a bit more traditional “In a world…” movie trailer voiceover fare.

The fact that the ads played during a mixed playlist (and an hour or so apart) helped. Had they turned up in the middle of an album like, say, Astral Weeks, they might have been more offensive, and if I start using Spotify to listen to whole albums on a regular basis, I might pay the subscription.

But I own Astral Weeks and I can play the mp3s without interruption – and it’s one of those albums that I like enough to own on vinyl, so I might pour myself a glass of something nice and sit down to listen to side one, then side two. And that, again, means something different.

Music like water?
So Spotify seems to be (at least for Western European users) the all-you-can-eat free music platform. Of course, it doesn’t have everything I want to listen to – not by a country mile. But if you can refrain from throwing it some real curveballs, you’ll be amazed at what it does actually have. No Beatles of course, but I can’t help but think that most people who will ever buy a Beatles album probably already did.

Spotify passes the Alice Coltrane test (does it have ‘Journey in Satchidananda‘?), they have the brilliant Phantom Band album – and it even scrobbles to Last.fm (something that’s quite important to me) – though I’m one of the unlucky Mac users getting an unresolvable error that only a new Spotify version will fix.

French service Deezer came close, but Spotify takes the prize. This appears to be the music streaming platform solution, in the same way that Google emerged as the search platform, and Twitter became the default short message status update service.

If you’re outside Western Europe, you have something to look forward to. If you’re in the UK – the whole thing is up and fully running, premium service and all. Go for it.

All that said, I personally find it difficult to know where to start with Spotify most of the time. At least with a personal collection, you can scan through and think ‘what do I feel like listening to?’ with the fairly certain sense that you’re going to like whatever you pick – because, well… you own it, right?

But if you wanted to listen to a record you didn’t own – there hasn’t been a better and more convenient way to do that.

And not only will that provide a revenue stream for those music companies, it’ll also help drive traditional sales. People hear music, then like it, then buy it, remember? The fewer restrictions, the better.

The URL is the new mp3
The most significant thing about Spotify, I think, is the fact that every artist, every album and every track has a unique URL that can be sent via email, Twitter, IM, Facebook or any other kind of messaging system – and if the recipient also has Spotify installed, that music will play in exactly the same way it did for the person sending it.

There are no large files to send and no downloads to contend with. With the aid of a URL shortener like is.gd, Spotify links can be reduced to a mere 17 characters.

Promo-ing, sharing, recommending and discussing music as part of the cultural ‘meaning-making’ process around music has become virtually frictionless.

And it’s this simple fact that gets Spotify around one of its main criticisms: Unlike, say, Last.fm, there is no Spotify community. But this criticism misunderstands Spotify and how creating a Spotify community would be a redundant exercise. When every track is a URL, the music community is simply whatever your existing community is. If your people are on Twitter, then that’s your Spotify community.

New meaning – not new model
But as great as it seems to be – and as I’ve said many times before – don’t make the mistake of thinking this ‘the new model’. The way in which people consume music is interesting and diverse.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes pretty mainstream quite quickly.

That said, I still don’t think it’ll be the main way in which I personally listen to music. Perhaps I’m a bit of a throwback in this regard, but I genuinely think there’s something significant about the concept of listening to ‘my’ music.

Because (as my students become tired of hearing me repeat) music creates meaning for people.

Consuming music is more than about discovering, acquiring and listening to music. There’s something about collecting, organising, sharing and – yes – ‘owning’ music that people use to create personal narrative and a connection with creative works. It’s still a cultural artefact and a cultural experience with all of the complexity that implies.

And Spotify adds to this diversity of meaning and experience. It doesn’t replace anything. With a Spotify iPhone app rumoured on the way, and ubiquitous wifi (Wimax?) – promised just around the next corner, it could potentially play a large role in a transformed music listening ecology.

That’s not the same thing as being “the new model” for music consumption. It simply contributes to the diversity and personalisation of musical worlds.

Quality, sure – but mostly convenience
The streams sound pretty good because they’ve given some decent thought to bitrate and codecs. They’ve gone for Ogg Vorbis q5, streaming at around 160kb/s. Better than most.

Whatever the bitrate, however, its clear that the purpose of Spotify is not quality, but convenience. Those two things have always created a tension for music lovers. But for those seeking convenience and a way of listening to significant chunks of the popular recorded music canon, Spotify’s pretty bloody impressive.

Now all that remains is to get your own music on the system. It’d be interesting to find out what the routes are to achieve that, and who the aggregators are that can make that happen for you. If you have clues about that – leave them in the comments.

Spotify seems to divide people. I’m a reluctant convert, rather than a devoted early-adopter fan. What do you make of it?

31 thoughts on “What does Spotify mean?

  1. Julian Cheal says:

    Good Article, I too am new to Spotify and have a large CD/Vinyl collection, and as you have mentioned in this and previous articles they server a different listing enjoyment than these on-demand type music systems.

    I do agree with the hear, like, buy model. I’ve been trying to find if there is a plug-in available to link albums I like to Amazon, so I can buy them on CD. Hopefully something to this nature will come along when Spotify release their API.

  2. I imagine they will do deals with Tunecore, CD Baby, etc, the same as Last.fm and Imeem, so that even if they don’t offer direct upload for unsigned bands like Last.fm does, you’ll be able to get your tracks on there through other channels.

    For those who didn’t make it down to Open Music Media in London on Tuesday, where Spotify were the guest speakers, you can check out the Twitter feed here, http://twitter.com/openmusicmedia, which summarizes some of the points their CEO made about where he sees Spotify going this year.

  3. James Cator says:

    I have been a Spotify user since beta. I really like it for what it is – a useful and convenient method for listening to music. It will never be my only method of consuming music, but there is great value. My only query is how are they going to achieve the balance of advertising and subscription cost?
    At the moment, £10 is too much to pay just to miss out on an advert every hour or so. Will they increase the amount of adverts until a substantial userbase pays for the premium service? Or are consumers only interested in free music? I think that this could be an interesting experiment in finding the perceived value of ad-free music in the listener’s mind.

  4. Jim Offerman says:

    I’m waiting for them to offer the free version in my country, as my monthly appetite for new (recorded) music is well below €9,99. Other than that, the service looks pretty darn interesting to me!

  5. Chris says:

    I’m a firm believer that the future lies in the Spotify route.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there will be every other kind of service under-the-sun available (thats the great thing about the internet and new technologies), but the idea of huge amounts of music available and FREE – incredible (imagine it 20 years ago?! music geeks wet dream).

    When constraints like battery life on handheld devices improve and 3G networks are more easily available (or even better newer networks) – imagine the portability and usefulness of something like Spotify.

    The next step for Spotify? I’d like to see online radio and music recommendation services (after all a lot of people like the have it dictated to them what they listen too! – and record companies like to tell people what the listen too!)

    It would also be great if Spotify incorporated user uploads (I’m getting into a dream state here), like last.fm – but hey, in life, you can’t have it all.

  6. James says:

    Nice overview Andrew. I’m loving Spotify, but I do find myself going back to iTunes for the odd album/act that isn’t on there, or my favourite live bootleg I’ve downloaded etc. Not sure how they’ll ever truly replace these?

    I enquired about getting indie/unsigned releases added to Spotify about a month ago and got the following response:

    “Thanks for you mail and interest in Spotify! Our aim is to provide as much music as possible to our users and it is therefore great that so many content providers like you are continuously contacting us.

    As you may know, we have entered into agreement with the major labels and the biggest indie-aggregators such as the Orchard and Merlin. We are in process where we are updating our databases with new content from our existing partners. Thus, if you are distributing your content via any of the majors or through the aggregators mentioned above it will be easier and faster. Or, maybe you are distributing your content througt another aggregator? Please let us know! Maybe is one we have a deal with.

    If you want to deliver your content yourself, we would like to inform you that we are preparing an uploading platform where you as a rightholder can upload your content and metadata. Our aim is to launch this platform asap (app Q1 2009). If the uploading platform sounds interesting, please sign up here: https://www.spotify.com/en/work-with-us/labels-and-artists/ and we will contact you as soon as the platform is ready.”

    I’ve signed up and am waiting to hear more!

  7. As can been seen by following the tweets of many Birmingham City University students, Spotify has caught on with tremendous backing due to the talkings of Boy Wonder Records man Anthony Heron. After his brief mention of the music solution that is spotify during a music industries talk, word of mouth has spread meaning many Media students are constantly tweeting about their song of the day, and publishing their newly created playlists. With the viral backing that spotify is gaining, it will soon become very commercially known, and the playlist will expand as such. However, as already discussed in other blogs, this could lead to an explosion of advertising to keep current servers running, and buy more server farms, and when the iphone application becomes available, spotify may well overtake ITunes as a resource for the access of music. But at the cost of the original enjoyment of hearing hours of music before hearing one advert? The result of expansion may mean adverts every song, which would surely defeat the object of spotify?

  8. Spotify and Last.fm could effectively kill of iTunes here. I much prefer the cloud aspect here and I never bought an iPod. iTunes is a monopoly and goes against the Hear/Like/Buy idea.

    I like spotify and last.fm because I get to hear the songs I want…and if I love the songs and band enough I will find a way of paying the bands.

    I’ve blogged about this in a bit more detail
    http://atulsworld.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/spotify-is-about-to-shake-up-the-music-business/

  9. Sylvain says:

    I mainly use Spotify for new albums, and playlists. See http://spotwitfy.com which tracks all Spotify playlists shared on Twitter

  10. Sam says:

    Colin-

    The broader context here is that these are businesses and the occupying the kind of market and generating the kind of revenue that your distributed concept represents, implies small businesses since the leader in the space tends to drive towards 80% market share.

    The issue isn’t whether Spotify is a useful parallel to a suite of 5-10 other music platforms but whether that reality represents a viable business model and/or answering the persistent question of: who will be standing when the dust finally settles on the future of the music industry.

    “LEAVE IT THERE” means: keep paying staff, keep investing in new markets, keep investing in new technology, make promises to customers, vendors and shareholders, continue to operate as a going concern. So to do that you need a revenue stream. And in Spotify’s case, given how much money they raised and the valuation it implies, they need A LOT of revenue to justify the fees they’ll be paying for licensing and the investment they’ve made in their technology platform. It’s unlikely their business plan can succeed as ‘just one more music service in your tool kit’.

  11. Sam,

    I think we are discussing 2 separate things;

    1 The luxury of using Spotify
    2 The practicalities of operating Spotify

    As a user basking in the glory of this new service I’m happy, consideration of the capacity of their business model to sustain their service is not an issue for me. If they fail with an idea that consumers want then someone will take their place, that is after all the luxury of the consumer in a free market.

    I don’t dispute for one second your well put points about the challenges that face Spotify, although, I do have an issue with your final statement “It’s unlikely their business plan can succeed as ‘just one more music service in your tool kit’.”

    It is my contention that they have no choice in this matter, no one is going to voluntarily move over to accommodate them and the mantra of the Right will out “the market will decide”.

    Spotify can only be what it is to those who engage with it, they can’t force anyone to leave any service that they are happy using.

    Functionality is the ‘Fashion’ of emerging Web software services, the post-Web 2.0 economy. Across suppliers of tech services there are multiple shared functionalities, it only take an emerging service to shine a light on a certain functionality for existing services to appraise themselves differently.

    Just as Zuckerberg is aiming to make Facebook status updates challenge Twitter, so Apple or Amazon could make slight adjustments to their provision and seriously challenge Spotify’s business.

    Whatever way that cookie crumbles the consumer ends up with the same thing – a music listening system that gives them streamed songs, complete and minus ads if they pay a premium.

    As a consumer I don’t care who gives that to me, I just want it. If Spotify fall by the wayside then I’ll forget them, but I won’t forget what they started because it will always be part of the picture from hereon in.

    This will be true when google rule the cell pone market and the iPhone is the Psion in the background :-)

    PS The dust is unlikely to settle on the future of the music industry, there are to many futures to let it settle

  12. Felix says:

    I’ve been waiting for this to hit NZ for a while now.

    Bring it on.

  13. Felix says:

    From CD Baby just now:

    “CD Baby is thrilled to announce our partnership with a hip, new company called Spotify.”

    So that’s one way to get your music into the spotisphere.

  14. Lee Jarvis says:

    I can’t wait to sample this when it hits the US as I’ve been hearing so many good reports from my UK networks.

  15. Andrew, you asked how artists can get their music on Spotify. Christian and Felix mentioned CDBaby and that is one route, as they have an agreement with Spotify. Another way is http://recordunion.com, a new distribution service, just about to launch.
    But you can also contact them as a label and an artist directly, they have a contact page for this: http://www.spotify.com/en/work-with-us/labels-and-artists/
    I have spoken with the partner manager and got only positive vibes about this, so I have no doubts anymore about the independent catalogue in the future.
    The question mark to me are the back catalogues of the majors, which are huge and desirable for many. There is no way you can tell how these will act in the near future.

  16. Felix says:

    Par,

    That is the single most annoying website I’ve ever visited. It’s very hard to have any faith in their abilities as a “digital distribution” service if that’s their idea of how we use teh webz.

  17. Felix,
    you mean the talking dog? Yeah, that’s part of their brand. I was a little annoyed also at first. :-) I have spoken with them and looked at their offer and I think that they really break down a few more barriers with the distribution for artists. I will meet with them next week to speak with them about their plans. Will be interesting.

  18. Felix says:

    Par,
    I mean the whole thing is in flash and most of it doesn’t work properly.

  19. Andrew

    Agreed on many of your points, though would love to know how you found Journey to Satchidananda on Spotify! Often use Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Fire Engines or Flora Purim as my artists to test a new service.

    Clearly, Spotify will need to increase the depth of their offering. This will answer to the music ‘trainspotters’ out there. Last FM has a head start there as does e-music

    Our relationship with music has an emotional depth too. It triggers emotions, it makes us relive memories. So music energises us; it also comforts us. Yet music is about discovery too. And this I think is where Spotify is failing right now.

    Discovery (alternative versions of favourite songs; radio functions; other playlists) is presently secondary within the Spotify experience. That’s ok. A huge part of the music loving population just want to hear what they know. They want the Energy and the Comfort.

    Last FM presently has a better balance – Discovery is integral to the user’s experience with Last FM. Who knows what you will hear next. That is good for fresh music.

    In terms of the ads, I am also hardly hearing them. Works for me. However, I anticipate that Spotify will increase the ad count to create a wider differentiation between the ad-funded and the paid for service. Getting that balance right (pressure from advertisers and backers, vs what users will put up with) is going to be a huge issue for them.

    I agree with Sam’s point that if Spotify is to succeed on the long term, it has to ensure it grows from where it is now. People will not accept 10 different places to go for their music needs. Simplicity and ease will always be key driving forces. So Spotify will need to grow to stick around. The major companies will be circling now, waiting to pounce. Since Last FM sold to Viacom, I am not witnessing any increase in value in the Last FM experience. Don’t get me started on News Corp and myspace. So, let’s hope that when (not if) the spotify guys sell, it gets bought by a company that is ready to invest in scaling the business up and sorting out some of the glitches for the user – and one that doesn’t just focus on the dollar/Euro/pound signs from the ad revenue.

  20. Mark says:

    To me the sound seems good – but what I value most is the well thought-out structure. More like a library than a shop – I’ve found it useful for reference and discovery. I was brushing-up on my history, going through a few Bill Evans classics and then found, for the first time, Bill Evans the banjo player. Great! Thanks, Spotify!

  21. Can’t wait till they finally launch in the US

  22. Elliott says:

    Very nice article, and some even better comments! Like Dubber, I’ve only recently folded to the blogging hype about Spotify and I’m firmly in love.

    If they could eventually add a Store a la iTunes to buy the tracks you like from your media player, and get this app running so that Indie labels and artists can add their own music, I think they might have just cracked the “20th Century model” of listening to music.

    As for the adds, although they’re irritating it’s such a small price to pay considering how well the system works and all the high quality (in every sense) music you’re not paying for.

  23. Well chuffed that CD Baby have teamed up with Spotify. Bring on the FREE music :-)

  24. Guillaume says:

    You should keep in mind, that Deezer was launched 1,5years ago and has been way ahead of the curve.
    They’re the one who established the “streaming” model as the new paradigm, not Spotify.

    That being said, I think Spotify interface is really cool and esay to use.

    But I’m afraid they’ll have some problems developping interesting advertising solutions, because their desktop application offers less ad opportunities than a usual website, like Deezer (i’m responsible for Deezer’s advertisement e-marketing)

    Btw, Deezer is 4,8 Millions Unique Visitors a month, and 7,6 Millions members ww…

  25. I can’t say that I’m overly interested in this right now, but it may be the type of thing where I see someone else using it and think, “cool, maybe I should try it out”. Right now I’m happy with iTunes and have no reason to use any other program.

  26. Chris West says:

    Only just started using it and at the moment all I can think is that it’s amazing.

    No more P2P
    No more CDs
    No more huge hard drives to store my 1s and 0s
    LOADS more music!!

    It levels the playing field even more than all the global digital distribution stuff does.

    Theoretically all music could soon be availble to all people with an internet connection. I guess who does well now in the ‘music biz’ is now down to who has the best music (hoorah), who has the best marketing strategy (doh, not good for me personally), who is the best in a live situation (hoorah) and so on.

    Over all I think this is good for the musicians and good for the listeners.

  27. Hans says:

    I think that we have just started to see what Spotify ís able to do. They have opened their platform for other developers and Spotify sites are exploding as we speak. When they also launch on all mobile platforms the customer offer will be very, very strong.

  28. Mike says:

    Was waiting for CDbaby to start distributing as am desperate to get onto Spotify, but still nothing.
    http://www.dittomusic.com are now doing a free upload to Spotify service so i have so far uploaded three albums through them.
    It looks like i could be one of the first unsigned artists on Spotify, which is rather exciting!!!

  29. Peter Morgan says:

    The Spotify client operates as a partial P2P client, (my firewall went ape when it started, throwing up various domestic IPs). You can minimise this by reducing the cache size in prefs or alternatively doing what I did and uninstall the application.

    As a business, I think they will face severe difficulties keeping the longer term revenue flowing.

  30. Chun Centers says:

    Hi there, how’s it going? Just shared this post with a colleague, we had a good laugh.

  31. Basico says:

    Great post! Thanks!