Now Spotify has announced a new version of its radio feature that is available with the preview version of the Mac, Windows and Blackberry apps. The company says it has a an “all-new intelligent recommendation and multi-million track library.” But the thing that sets it apart from the likes of Pandora and last.fm is the ability to skip an unlimited number of tracks. By comparison the other services only allow a limited number of skipped tracks.
This difference stems from the different types of licenses the services operate under. Pandora and last.fm operate under the same license terms as internet radio station, which restrict the ability of listeners to select specific artists and songs, in addition to restricting the number of tracks by an artist or from a single artist that may be played in a row. Spotify, on the other hand, has worked out individual agreements with all the labels that provide music to the service that allow the service to permit listeners to select the artists, albums and songs they want to listen to. However, these agreements cost Spotify much more in licensing costs than what Pandora or last.fm pay.
While this would seem to give the competitive advantage to Spotify, it results in gaps in the service’s catalog where labels or artists will not license their music at all. Pandora, on the other hand, takes advantage of a statutory license which does not require individual deals with labels. For the Pandora listener this means she can hear bands like the Beatles and Metallica which are absent from the Spotify roster.
Another difference is that Pandora and last.fm have many more station building options, allowing you to specify additional artists and songs to add to an existing station, or use your own music library as a seed. As far as I can tell Spotify offers none of these options. You can simply select an artist to use as a radio seed source and that’s it.
In my limited listening to the new Spotify Radio I find that the range of artists is still not as broad or varied as Pandora. Spotify seems to stick pretty closely to genre and style. While there are times that I may want to listen to some music closely related to an artist, it’s doubtful I’m going to listen for more than an hour or so without getting bored. Pandora does a better job of holding my attention with variation and tunes I’m less familiar with.