Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spotify: First Impressions

I lucked into a Spotify invite earlier this week, and while the service has its pluses, it's a nice way to playing music, including music you don't own, it doesn't give you a good way of discovering new music. So you've got millions of songs to choose from, but someone's got to help you figure out what to listen to first.

Using Spotify on a computer is more or less like using iTunes, Winamp, or any other music player, only with the added benefit that "your library" includes both the songs on your hard drive the estimated 15 million songs in their catalog. Their selection is good but not perfect; I was able to find a handful of tracks that aren't available on Amazon's MP3 store, though a few UK remixes and albums from smaller pop-punk bands were still nowhere to be found. If your tastes in music run into obscure artists or remixes, Grooveshark is still the best bet. The basics of managing playlists, including Smart Playlists based on genre, rating, artist, etc., are all there. Also, if you're the type of nerd who likes to use to track your listening habits, Spotify integrates easy with your account there. The client is not web-based—it's a standalone program, similar to other music players—and in my brief use it felt more responsive than iTunes or Winamp, though I hear that the most recent iTunes update included a number of performance improvements.

Spotify is free if you're listening on a computer while connected to the internet, though you'll be paying for your music with time, as the audio stream will insert ads in between songs. For $10/month, you can access their entire catalog on a smartphone, as well as download songs for offline playback if you're headed somewhere without very good 3G coverage.

What Spotify doesn't do is give you a good way to find new music in their giant catalog. One would think that one of the great uses of having such a large music catalog would be to expose listeners to new music in the hope that they might go buy it. That's the idea behind Pandora,, Rdio, and ZunePass. Believe it or not, ZunePass has exactly what it is I'm looking for; the ability to blend a playlist full of songs I already own with similar music. If ZunePass ran on an Android Phone, I'd absolutely pay for a subscription. I hear Rdio might be able to give me what I'm looking for. But for now, I'll stick with Grooveshark for selection, Pandora to find music, and the stock Android music player when I'm on the go. To paraphrase William Gibson, the future is here, it's just not all in the same app yet.

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