Spotify just launched in the United States this week, yet another music player entering the digital ecosystem. This time, however, we get one that has been around for awhile in Europe, and quite popular. In short, it’s an audio program that lets you stream millions of songs to your device, and has other functional features including Facebook integration to check out your friend’s playlists. One of the key features is that it functions much like Apple’s iCloud will, scanning your personal MP3 library and “mirroring” it on their servers, allowing you to stream that same library to any computer without needing to carry the physical media around with you. It will do the same thing with your mobile phone. Spotify’s library is substantially larger than many of the others (Pandora has maybe 800,000 songs, while Spotify has 13 million available), and most reviewers simply think it provides the better service for the money. You get about 20 hrs of listening time per month for free, $5/mo gets you no ads, and $10/mo gets you other features, including the ability to use the service on your mobile phone.
Digitaltrends has a good summary of the pros and cons of a few of the popular options.
Spotify is not alone in this venture, though it’s new to the U.S. Grooveshark is another, alternative, web-based application with a mobile version, though I question its legality. Like Spotify, it has a massive library, but it works a bit more like YouTube in that other users have uploaded music that you then stream to your computer or to your mobile device. While Spotify has high-quality, licensed music, your experience is more “hit or miss” with Grooveshark, as some people may have uploaded high bitrate versions of music (i.e. good sounding) while others uploaded lower bitrate versions (i.e. very, very bad sounding). Of course, Grooveshark is free, so most people don’t complain when the song selection is that good. They also charge various amounts for their services above and beyond the base service, but it doesn’t sound like many people do.
Pandora is the main competitor that folks in the United States have at least heard of, if not used. It’s much more of a radio system in that you select a station and then music will come up almost at random that you can then skip or “Thumbs Up” so that more music like it ends up in your station. You have no real choice in what the next song played is, though, while you can make your own playlists in Spotify and Grooveshark. Pandora also has a very nice mobile app and has been integrated into a wealth of home devices, including Bluray players. Their only paid plan is $36/yr, removes all ads, and grants you higher sound quality.
For now, I’ll give Spotify a quick go-round, though I doubt I’ll get much use out of it. The only computer in the house with good speakers attached is a Linux box, and as there is no native Linux client available, I can’t use it. I will probably try their “preview release” for Linux – thankfully, Linux is more popular in Europe, so this company actually has an incentive to make a client. Obviously, this is where its competitors, Grooveshark, Pandora, Google Music and Amazon MP3 shine, as they are almost completely multi-platform.
That said, the Spotify client under Windows is silky smooth, unlike iTunes. It’s nice to see iTunes finally getting some viable competition (and no, Windows Media Player is not “competition”…). It navigates similarly to iTunes, so if you’re familiar with its style of getting around your library and making playlists, you should feel right at home.
In the end, I’m glad there are plenty of options out there for your digital music needs. Gone are the days where you would walk down to the record store and thumb through various discs until you found something interesting, then bought it for $20. Now you can get your music in the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go, and it’s great that there are countless ways to do it effectively.