I can barely believe that it’s been over a year since I wrote my first review of Spotify, which itself came a month after the service debuted in the US. At the time I was most critical of the relative rarity of free Spotify accounts, in addition to a monthly limit of 10 listening hours with a free account. After a year of using Spotify I have to report that those two limitations have effectively disappeared.
An invitation is no longer necessary to get a free account; they’re available to anyone. I also have not yet run into any listening limits. In fact, the US version currently has no limits at all. This contrasts with the older UK version which does impose a limit that starts at 10 hours, and then refreshes by 2.5 hours each week, but never surpasses 10 hours banked up.
The other limitation that I criticized has to do with Spotify’s library of music. On the one hand, the range and depth of artists and music available is impressive. Even if your taste leans towards the esoteric and experimental you’re certain to find artists that you’re familiar with or like. But on the other hand, the gaps in the catalog can be both frustrating and confusing.
On more than one occasion I’ve gone to listen to an album, only to find that only some of the songs are available One example is Bruce Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome” album of Pete Seeger songs, in which only 3 out of 13 songs are available. With the recent re-release of the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” the second disc of rarities is exclusive to premium users. There also are still plenty of artists and labels that are missing entirely, including such prominent artists like the Beatles. Nevertheless, for a free, on-demand service, these are relatively minor complaints.
In the last year I have become a regular user of Spotify. I do not necessarily listen every day, but I probably do listen most weeks. What I like most about the service is the ability to seek out artists or albums that are new to me and that I would like to sample. It’s also great for previewing new releases that I am interested in buying. Some artists or albums benefit from a few listens before their appeal sinks in. Spotify helps me give this music a fair chance, rather than trying to assess them by listening to 30 second snippets.
While there is quite a bit of debate about the fairness of Spotify’s terms and how much it pays out to labels and artists for each play, I would rather that the artist get something from each listen rather than nothing. That said, I still make an effort to buy the music that I end up listening to regularly, rather than listening exclusively on Spotify. Ethics is one reason for this decision, but so is practicality. I want the ability to listen to my music on any device, not just a computer, and that is most feasible when I buy it outright either as a CD or file download.
Now, I do understand that a premium subscription would extend Spotify’s service to smartphones, tablets and other networked audio devices, in addition to letting me cache songs on smartphones for playback offline. But this service doesn’t appeal to me for several reasons.
First, I have enough conventional stereo equipment like CD players and receivers which aren’t Spotify-enabled that I don’t want to replace or have to connect to a smartphone. Second, I’m not yet comfortable always relying on network connectivity or a networked device to listen to music. I’ve been unexpectedly deprived of a network or had a digital device fail on me enough times that I still like to rely on comparatively simple and old fashioned devices like CD players, turntables and radio for music listening.
Finally, and most importantly, with a subscription to Spotify, or similar services, your music is available only as long as your subscription is active. Admittedly, I often spend more money in a month buying music than what a premium subscription costs. But that purchased music is mine (more or less) forever, even if I never spend another dime on music again. If a period of financial strain causes me to cancel a Spotify subscription, then I immediately lose all the premium benefits.
However, to be fair, I must acknowledge that reverting to a free subscription doesn’t mean you lose access to all your music and playlists, although some percentage of it will likely go away. The generous free subscription–in the US–is certainly one of Spotify’s chief strengths, and provides a certain kind of insurance to a someone who may want to upgrade to premium service.
On the whole I am a very satisfied user of Spotify’s free service, but not at all tempted to upgrade to a paid premium or unlimited subscription. While I am occasionally annoyed by Spotify’s ads, they’re no more obnoxious than those on Pandora, and the blocks of ads are much shorter than what’s heard on commercial radio. The ability to sample music I haven’t heard before or quickly remind myself of a particular tune far outweighs the minor inconvenience of advertisements.
After a year of using the service I can see the appeal of becoming a paid subscriber, even I’m not yet ready to take the leap. In fact, I’m more likely to spring for satellite radio in order to obtain more live and curated music, in addition to live talk programming. At the same time, I can see how subscription services like Spotify are becoming a significant element of the music and media industry. I won’t be surprised, nor will I complain, if Spotify or similar services end up being bundled in with home or mobile broadband services. That is, as long as artists don’t get screwed in the process.