Spotify

 

Spotify availability (April 2012)

Although I flatter myself its written content may have some intrinsic value, to get the full benefit of this site you’ll need a Spotify subscription.  Moreover, you could really do with the Unlimited option (currently £4.99 a month in the UK), or the tip-top Premium service (£9.99) for higher bitrate streaming and the ability to listen on-the-go.  There is a free version, which is a great way of testing the water, although after a six-month trial you find yourself restricted to ten hours’ listening per month, with the added drawback (from the start) of fairly frequent ads between tracks.  More serious still, the ads of course mean that you can’t listen to this site’s playlists uninterrupted, as they’re designed to be heard.  To do that, you have to pay.

For the uninitiated, Spotify is a streaming music provider.  That is, you listen via a downloaded app rather than having any music actually on your computer or device (nowadays you can log into a web player too, useful though in my experience not without its limitations).  Originating in Sweden in 2006 and publicly launched two years later, it makes available, for free or your monthly fee, upward of 20 million tracks.  Yes, you read right, TWENTY MILLION plus.  You might just want to pause for a little minute to try taking that in; you won’t succeed.  The service is by now available in over 30 countries including the US, Australia and most of Europe, with Canada and countries in Asia and South America on the cards.  I should perhaps make clear that I have no affiliation with the company – it doesn’t go in for that sort of thing – being simply a massive fan of what it provides.  As far as I’m concerned its arrival has been a great boon for which the musically curious should give thanks every day. Personally, it’s what I’ve waited for my whole adult life – literally in the case of certain albums I’ve never been able to track down and / or afford to buy, but am now able to listen to, for my £4.99 a month, as often as I like.  This state of things is surely too good to be true and can’t possibly last, so I for one am making the most.

What’s so great about it, then?  Apart from the improbable breadth and richness of the catalogue, mainly that it works so damn well (here‘s why).  Though you soon find yourself taking it for granted, most impressive of all is the fact that whizzing around those twenty million-plus tracks you can double click on any one of them at any time and expect it to start instantly – no extra process to go through, no buffering, no nonsense of any description.  As Spotify guru Jer White puts it, “it’s like you’ve bought all the songs on iTunes and you’ve got them on your massive hard drive already”.  Not that Spotify is immune to glitches taking it offline now and then, needless to say.  It’s a good idea to follow the service on Twitter for excellent real-time updates when this happens.

Spotify’s ready searchability is another triumph of user-friendliness, one achieved in some ways against the odds.  The search experience can in fact only ever be as good as the tagging of the music used, and this, originating as it does with the various record labels rather than Spotify, is patchy to say the very least.  Which can lead to trouble, above all when it comes to classical music.  To focus on one significant weakness, it’s unhelpful that composers’ names are omitted from many multi-composer CDs as tagged.  This means a Spotify tracklist will often consist of a list of titles containing no clue to who they’re by or even, if the titles refer only to the various movements, the name of the work they are from.  This randomly-chosen disc, for example, contains six trumpet concertos, but of the composers mentioned on the cover who wrote which?  For that matter, where does one concerto even end and the next begin?

This whole topic of what’s called metadata (relevant blogpost) is worth pausing over momentarily, if only to bemoan the apparent lack of rigour governing its production.  It’s a more complicated business than the layman can appreciate, no doubt, but in certain respects, like the one just specified, it’s one that could surely do with a firm grip being taken on it.  A good start might be to allocate each composer and performer a unique, universal identification number and have them on a big list somewhere.  Again, this might be a naive idea – I don’t know.  What I do know is that a protocol that doesn’t allow searchers to make a distinction between Engelbert Humperdinck, the composer of Hänsel und Gretel, and Engelbert Humperdinck, purveyor of cheese to ladies of a certain age, is simply not fit for purpose.

But I digress.  I was about to end by saying that, this metadata and certain other irritations aside, in searchability as in pretty much every other way Spotify is pleasingly well-conceived.  After all, you can usually find what you want if it’s there, and usually it is.  It’s then a breeze to create playlists, make them available to other users should you wish, bookmark what albums you choose, file them in folders, and so on.  Once again, give praise and fill your boots while the going’s good is my advice.

A few sources of further information:

  • The Spotify Wikipedia page has the basics.
  • On Spotify.com you can find out more (extensive list of FAQs) and subscribe.
  • There is a quasi-official forum in case of problems.
  • The Pansentient League blog, brainchild of the aforementioned Jer White (aka @Afront) is the source of information about the service and how to get the most from it.  Scroll through the items in the large green rectangle (arrow appears when you hover) on the Home page to access some of its primary resources, which include The Pansentient League’s Guide to Spotify, a dirt-cheap Kindle book distilling the site’s accumulated wisdom (up to August 2011).  Jer has also taken part in an informative podcast, a good place to start for anyone wanting a bit of background.
  • Those interested in the service and its development have another faithful friend in the indefatigable Ulyssestone, dedicatee of my first edition, whose invaluable blog Spotify Classical has given birth to a Spotify app facilitating exploration of its array of themed playlists (though these are usually banks of album rather than playlists in my sense).  I say we ‘have’ a friend, but in fact Ulysses had a change of circumstances at the start of 2013 and the flow of posts and tweets ceased.  A shame, but he’s OK, and if his blog has become an archive it retains value nonetheless.  If nothing else, check out this helpful discussion of / guide to searching Spotify.