Who doesn’t like free? That’s what Spotify is counting on with the announcement today that its mobile smartphone and tablet apps will let users stream their favorite artists and playlists for free. The catch with smartphones is that you can’t select particular songs. Instead, Spotify is channeling the iPod Shuffle, letting you randomly “shuffle play” a playlist or an entire artist’s catalog. Tablet users will get the same experience as the desktop, being able to select specific albums and songs, as well as listening to playlists in order, not randomly.
Up to now only paid subscribers could access their playlists or choose specific artists on mobile devices. Of course, those subscribers still have the advantage of picking particular songs on smartphones and not hearing advertisements. Free users will still be subjected to commercials, which apparently are paying off well enough to sponsor the enhanced free service.
I gave the new free service a spin on my iPhone today. My first choice was to listen to the new EP from the Julie Ruin, the new group featuring Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre and Bikini Girl fame. After playing the first track I was next delivered a new Katy Perry song as a suggestion. I found this puzzling. While the Julie Ruin has female vocals and band members, they play music more like indie rock with dance punk leanings than Katy Perry’s dance pop. I had no problems skipping that track and heard Julie Ruin next. But then the third some was Katy Perry, too. There’s no “unlike” or “thumbs down,” just skip. So I did, but with no guarantee that I wouldn’t get another Katy Perry track. Simply put, that was annoying.
In an effort to give Spotify a little less of a challenge I went with Michael Jackson next and was given a stream of both hits and album tracks from the King of Pop, without any unexpected intrusions from other artists.
I will need to spend more time with the app to see if it will compete with Pandora and Slacker for my smartphone listening. I already suspect it will beat iTunes Radio, which I find disappointing compared to these other aforementioned apps.
Spotify also announced that it will have an exclusive on the Led Zepplelin catalog. So, yay for 70s classic rock, I guess. I presume this exclusive is only for on-demand services, since Pandora and other radio-like platforms don’t contract with individual labels and artists, operating under a different license than Spotify. I confirmed this by pulling up a Led Zeppelin station on Pandora and instantly being treated to “Kashmir.”