July 25, 2011

Spotify: Renunciation Now Optional

By Daniel

I don’t remember when I first heard about Spotify, the all-you-can-stream free music service that friends across the pond may refer to as the dog’s bollocks. If you don’t yet have a subscription, you can get an invite code within hours thanks to the Googles. Justin Bieber invited me.

Who invited you?

Anyway, I’ve been playing with it for the past four or five days and while there’s a lot to love, I have a few nitpicks. I’ll start with the good though. First and foremost, it’s a free service that lets you play exactly what you want. Pandora has it’s place but more often than not I’m going to have something in mind to listen to.

Second, the application is super-responsive, every track I’ve played has started within a second of hitting play. I’ve had local files take longer due to the HDD spinning up.

Third, the social innovations are great; the service connects with Facebook, Twitter, Audioscrobbler (AKA last.fm), and its own in-built social network. Drop a song, album or playlist into someone else’s inbox to share it with them directly. Collaborate with a friend or music club on a community playlist. So many great ideas, cleanly implemented and unobtrusive at the same time.

Fourth, the audio quality is good for a streaming service, if I had to guess it’s 128 to 160kbps, and I’ve had absolutely no pauses for buffering, something I can’t say of MOG which would do it every other track or so.

Finally, the selection has been, overall and for the kind of stuff I look for, impressive. There are gaps but they’re either the old farts who are vehemently against this Internet business (looking at you, Led Zeppelin, Metallica and co.) or rather obscure acts who aren’t licensed on here. Licensing is something that generally improves with time, and when you look at it in the context that it’s been available in the US for less than a month, the selection is incredible.

Now the criticisms. I think my biggest gripe right now is the lack of ability to browse by genre, or anything remotely resembling such a feature. One feature I really like on Napster is their full Billboard lists, they have the Hot 100, Heatseekers, Album 50, and then a lot of genre-specific, Billboard-provided lists. This isn’t a feature that comes up all that often, but I do have to keep track of what’s hot at the moment, and having to bounce between Billboard and Spotify is a hassle.

The second piece regards the advertisements. Not the ads themselves, because they’re a brilliant solution to the business of satisfying the free crowd. I would like the ability to choose what type of advertisements I get. I’m less interested in hearing about how good Coca-Cola is (I’m familiar with it at this point), but I’ll sometimes get ads from new artists, or currently hot tracks/albums. Much more up my alley, and it’s the reason I’m here after all. One thing I learned in the business a long time ago is giving your customers the ability to choose the ad segment they prefer is not only going to lead to more conversions, but just lead to happier users and advertisers.

Third, I do plan on upgrading to one of the paid plans soon, but the way their pricing structure is laid out, the key feature I’m looking for (320kbps streaming) is only available at the top-tier plan, where I’d much prefer to buy that feature as an a la carte service in the range of $2-3 additional a month. I don’t honestly need the offline/mobile features, if I like an album enough to want it offline I’m going to buy it and support the artist. The difference between $7 or $8 and $10 a month is honestly not much, but mentally it feels like I’m overpaying for that one feature. Conversely, I suspect there are a lot of Premium members that don’t hear or care about the difference between the 320kbps stream and the 128 they were getting before.

But that’s really it. The good far outweighs the bad here, if you can get an invite I definitely recommend the service.