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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Does Spotify hit your Spot?

Posted on August 9, 2011 at 6:15 PM

I’m going to be totally honest and up front before I even begin here… I have yet to use Spotify’s music service. (Even though I signed myself up and someone else says they sent me an invite. Harumpf!) So, I am going to be throwing out some gripes and comparisons and some, “What the hell’s?!” here against a service that I haven’t actually personally used yet. Which is not normally how I likes to do. So, if I’m off in some area, please correct me. If I’ve missed the ball on see key point, tell me where I’m wrong. If I have blundered some bit of research, tell me that I’m a big, fat, stupid head. Or just tell me all of the reasons why you think Spotify is the greatest musical coming, since the wax cylinder. Or iTunes. Or whatever your personal musical coming moment happens to be.


Because, there is a ton of hype and pomp AND circumstance surrounding Spotify and frankly, I don’t get any of it.


There are celebrities like Demi Moore (or @mrskutcher, and seriously, does she ever REALLY call or even think of herself as Mrs. Kutcher? In fact, if you were to run into her home in the middle of the night and scream, “Mrs. Kutcher! Mrs. Kutcher!” she would probably go, “Who? Just what are you rambling on about?!") saying, “Spotify is genius!” and Mr. Facebook himself, Mark Zuckerberg broke out all his Harvard book learnin’ and adjective prowess and then probably had an entire team tasked to rating the Social Media impact of his pro-Spotify statement, “Spotify is so good.” (Really? That’s your pull quote? I mean…really? “Spotify = cool” would have even been better. Or maybe it was originally “Spotify is nice” and the marketing guys decided to punch it up a bit. Whatever.) Even the LA Times, Wired, Time and Billboard jumped into the Spotify praise-wagon.


But from what I can gather, Spotify isn’t really offering anything new or revolutionary or blowing "the doors off anything on the market." (LA Times) And what I don’t get is why EVERYONE seems to be acting like Spotify is the First Coming of on-demand music. Because, well, it TOTALLY ISN’T! That musical messiah arrived back in 2001 with Rhapsody. And to me, Spotify just seems like the other subscription music services. Except, well, it is missing some of the cooler features like artist channels and makes you be both ON Spotify AND Facebook to share music. But other than the things it doesn’t offer, it seems pretty much like the other services.


I’ve been using Rhapsody and Napster for a while, so I totally get the “unlimited jukebox in the sky” concept. And while it is VERY cool to be able to call up just about any song you can think of for instant playback, that’s, uh, pretty much what Spotify is offering, right? (Again, I will reiterate that I have YET to use the service. So, if I am missing something, PLEASE tell me where I am blind and yet need to see. Or rather where I am deaf and yet need to hear. On demand. With Spotify.) Time Magazine, your quote of, “The celestial jukebox is no pipe dream; it’s here now” might have been real news like last millennium, but, buddy, it HAS been here for quite some time. Maybe you guys have just been too busy covering budget crisis and plummeting dollars to notice.


And yet, with all of its apparent sameness, you don’t see quotes from The Zuck saying, “Spotify is so like the other things that have already been around for awhile.” Or Mrs. Kutcher opining, “Spotify is so of average intelligence.”


So I was reading a Bloomberg Businessweek the other day – I know, that bit of info is jaw-dropping enough in itself. Look, I finished my book – “Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein---As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture” -- our Entertainment Weekly subscription has run out, and Dana couponed us up for a free subscription of Bloomberg so there it was. Just sitting there. All taunting me with its business-ey self. And anyhow, there was giant spread on Spotify and how it is taking over the music world and all that and so I read it trying to gain some insight. And, well, I didn’t really learn anything new. What I did find very interesting was this graph. (Information reprinted from Bloomberg Businessweek, July 18-July 24, 2011 issue; I’d put a page number but I can’t find one! And, serioulsy, my rules of proper bibliography and citation are woefully out of date. I'm sorry, Mrs. Russi!)




(First, I can tell you are all pretty impressed with my Excel skills. So, I will just admit that I can be a real freak with the spreadsheets.)


Now, what I REALLY learned from that chart is why it seems that I keep hearing the SAME songs over and over (AND OVER!) on Pandora. At only 800,000 songs – with about 237,688 of them being various iterations of the same Jack Johnson tunes by my unofficial tally – it is definitely why it seems like ALL of my stations end up sounding the same and playing the same tunes over and over. Look, don’t create 8 They Might Be Giants stations; trust me; they are ALL the same in the end!


My editorial pal, Al Griffin, over at Sound + Vision did a nice official deathmatch comparison of Spotify to Mog. And, well, I’ll let you read it but let’s just say that Spotify didn’t win a SINGLE round against Mog.


Clearly what Spotify HAS done WAY better than the other guys is to figure out that exclusivity creates demand; demand creates buzz; buzz creates hype; hype creates business; and hate leads to suffering. Or something. Look, I’m several (like ALL) credits short on getting a marketing degree, but by having their service ONLY available in Europe, you know that us Americans TOTALLY wanted it. It’s like absinthe. We couldn’t have it so we HAD to have it. What’s that; the actual wormwood is thought to be poison or hallucinogenic and there is a possibility we’ll go on an ear-chopping tear? Don’t care! You’ve made it illegal, so now I will drink nothing until I can have it with absinthe! (Sorry. Channeled a little Wilkinson there. Now I’m all sweaty and fever-dreamy and have that not-so-fresh feeling down below.)  It’s like those weird flavors of soda at the Coke museum in Atlanta. (If you’ve ever been there you’ll know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.) Sure they’re gross and horrible, but they aren’t available here so, dammit, pour me a frickin’ glass of Beverly and Root Water and shut the hell up!


Then, once Spotify came across the Pond to the US, they didn’t just stand on a corner pimping their gal out for five bucks a go. No. They gave her a shower, cleaned her up and dressed her all up in celebrity quoted finery, and then they trickled out invites like you were being shoulder-tapped to sneak behind the velvet ropes. Eww! I got an invite! I’m so special! Look, they're all drinking Cristal and smoking Cubans! That’s genius. It creates a total “in” vibe like, “Oh, yeah, did I mention that I’ve been using Spotify?”


“Really? What’s that? Some stain remover?”


“No. It's this totally awesome new music service. It’s like impossible to get invited. But, I’m using it. I’m in.”  


“Oh, really?  Is it really that good? Think I can get an invite.”


“Oh, yeah, it’s totally that good. I mean, it’s SO good just like my man Zuck says. So...good. Did you see that? I used air quotes. Cause that is exactly what Zuck said." 


“Yeah. Nice with the quotes. What is it even?”


“An on-demand music service. In the cloud. Like every song. Like ever song EVER made in the world.”


“Really?"


"No. They are missing a bunch. But like A LOT of songs."


"So, it's like Rhapsody? Or Napster? Or Mog? Or...”


“Look. It’s like all those things. But for cool people.”


“How’d you get in?”


“Well, I just know this guy and he is friends with this other guy, and yeah, well, anyhow, I totally got the hook-up invite and it’s totally cool. If you want I could maybe see what I can do for you.”


“That’d be great.”


“Look, I’m not making any promises, so totally don’t get your hopes up, OK? This things pretty  frickin’ cool and limited so, you know, I’ll see what I can do.”


To me, the whole Spotify craze boils down to one thing at this point: We want what we cannot have. It is human nature. Exhibit A: Me and the Black Card.


OK. What am I missing? Now’s the part where you tell me what a naïve, Spotify-less idiot I am. I’m waiting...

Categories: August 2011, Music

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9 Comments

Reply Chris Heinonen
7:38 PM on August 9, 2011 
Alright, so I've used Pandora for years, and I bit on Spotify and now pay the $10/month to have it unlimited, and here's why:

- Everything streams at 320 kbit/sec VBR. It's not quite lossless but it's a whole lot closer than any other provider
- My Squeezebox Touch can play all my playlists through my main stereo without a problem. Pandora One doesn't support the Touch, and I never used Napster on it.
- I can copy full playlists and albums straight to my iPhone. I keep my whole music library at home in FLAC, which the iPhone and iPad hate. Since it's a 300+ GB library, I really don't want to keep two copies of it so I can have it setup to copy over, and I don't want to use the less common Apple Lossless instead of FLAC. Other than some live bootlegs and other obscure things, this eliminates that issue. And I can add an album anywhere I am.
- Any album I want to listen to? It's probably there. Today I added the first few albums from Beirut since they had a new album, and I liked their track on the Dark Was the Night compilation. No searching for a Torrent, no ads, a high quality stream, and then I can decide if I want it on vinyl or not.

Maybe Rhapsody lets me copy things to all my devices from anywhere, I'm not sure as I haven't used it in a long, long time. But if it's just streaming, that would kill my cheap data plan on my iPhone in an instant, whereas now I can find a WiFi hotspot with my phone (Starbucks, McDonalds, virtually any corner in Portland), download an album, and then have it handy with me. I'm finishing up listening to Beirut now, and then I'm finally going to listen to all of Take Five, as I've only actually heard 2 of the 7 tracks before, before I decide to plunk down $60 for that 200g vinyl edition of it.
Reply John Sciacca
10:20 AM on August 10, 2011 
Thanks, Chris. Excellent, thorough comment! And not once did you call me a big, fat stupid head! Napster allows you to go mobile (at least on an iPad/Phone) not sure about other mobile devices. But you've definitely shed some more light on the Spot for me!
Thanks!
Reply Al Griffin
11:46 AM on August 10, 2011 
Ha, nice work. Especially like the Absinthe comparison. And thanks for the shout-out. (Maybe it will help me claw my way back to the top of the Most Viewed list on soundanvisionmag.com.)

BTW, your commenter is wrong about Spotify audio quality. 320-kbps high-quality mode is only available for streaming to the computer. For and mobile app and other devices, the streaming bit rate is only 160-kbps. MOG retains 320-kbps quality on both mobile app and other devices as long as you're using 4G or Wi-Fi.

Sure. Here's what Spotify says about it on its site:

"Premium members deserve premium sound quality. To be precise, you can stream music at a higher bitrate of up to 320kbps ON YOUR COMPUTER (not all tracks are currently available in high bitrate)."

Al Griffin
Reply Richard Fregosa
2:15 PM on August 10, 2011 
Part of the reason was to try to toe the line between all you can eat wi-fi access for mobile devices and the more likely "pay as you go" bandwidth limitations of most US Cell providers - although I'm not crazy about it since I'm grandfathered in on an AT&T unlimited data plan, I could see that higher streaming bandwidth could start putting dents in someone's data plan. MOG is an amazing service unfortunately it just doesn't have the traction or will likely ever get the traction that Spotify will generate. I personally think the Spotify sync options trump the lower bandwidth debate.

Al Griffin says...
Ha, nice work. Especially like the Absinthe comparison. And thanks for the shout-out. (Maybe it will help me claw my way back to the top of the Most Viewed list on soundanvisionmag.com.)

BTW, your commenter is wrong about Spotify audio quality. 320-kbps high-quality mode is only available for streaming to the computer. For and mobile app and other devices, the streaming bit rate is only 160-kbps. MOG retains 320-kbps quality on both mobile app and other devices as long as you're using 4G or Wi-Fi.

Sure. Here's what Spotify says about it on its site:

"Premium members deserve premium sound quality. To be precise, you can stream music at a higher bitrate of up to 320kbps ON YOUR COMPUTER (not all tracks are currently available in high bitrate)."

Al Griffin
Reply Richard Fregosa
2:28 PM on August 10, 2011 
John,

I like this piece and yes Spotify has a great marketing approach but I think there are times two things can be equally true - they are absolutely leveraging the exclusivity angle *and* there are things that it does really really well as compared some to the other services. Your friend's article hits the nail on the head MOG is the amazing service that * no one * knows about. Spotify is late to the party but it's gaining momentum... After my own shootout of the services, Spotify separates itself in a few ways. The problem with any huge music collection is where to start... and how to go about listening to something you might not normally choose off the top of your head. MOG and Rhapsody are awesome because they allow you to be in essence a music voyeur. If you normally listen solo then the radio function and access to random user's playlists allows you to listen in on their tastes and no one's the wiser. If someone's got the gumption to dive into that level of minutia, then good on 'em. Spotify to me is more like friends handing out their mix tapes to one another or talking about music over a glass of wine. I don't care what some random guy in Parsippany is listening to, I want to listen to what someone I hang out with away from a computer is jamming to. What Spotify does well I think is it easily allows for the sharing of music *IF* you have friends who are also using the service. Listening to music alone is like drinking alone, sure you can do it, but it's a lot more enjoyable among friends. Some of the cool features I found in Spotify to use as a complement to iTunes 1. Spotify "fills in the blanks" - this is a little promoted feature that absolutely rocks. Say you have 3 tracks on an album on your computer, Spotify recognizes this and fills in the rest of the album for you if it can from the cloud. 2. Spotify sync's your collection easily; while it's not as feature rich as Mog or Rhapsody, I've discovered when I'm in a rush - who cares? 3. As mentioned by your other comment, it sounds good; in the grand scheme, 320kps still isn't great, but it is a noticeable difference on the most basic of rigs. Spotify isn't the cloud music messiah by a long shot, but having first been exposed to the service outside of the US, I was impressed by it then and was one of those people who was first in line to get it once the legal issues were worked out to get it to come stateside. Just my thoughts on this?

Rich
Reply Richard Fregosa
2:38 PM on August 10, 2011 
Addendum:

Spotify has launched their "Artist Radio" section now as well to give you a Pandora like experience in the Spotify ecosystem with the bonus of:

1. Being able to send songs you like that appear on the Radio player to your friends
2. "Starring" the song, meaning that you can save it to your Library for future playback
3. Save the Radio queue as a playlist

Not a perfect system but it's getting better on a weekly basis.
Reply Bradford Benn
5:18 PM on August 10, 2011 
Allow me to sum up my Spotify experience so far. I forget I have it. I have not really explored it either. I have lots of music already on my network at home that I paid for and want to listen does not move me toward a reason to use Spotify.

The one thing that it could do, although other services do it as well, is help me discover music. But I have not figured that out yet.

So far for me it is a big yawn. But then again it could end up being Google+ to Facebook in some situations.
Reply Bradford Benn
6:07 PM on August 10, 2011 
Bradford Benn says...
Allow me to sum up my Spotify experience so far. I forget I have it.


I think I might have just found a use for it, I wanted to listen to the new Mike Doughty album. I want to listen before purchase - I learned that the hard way as I am sure we all have. So I dialed up the Spotify, set the artist search for Doughty and I am listening to the "album" is that even a word anymore?
Reply John Sciacca
6:11 PM on August 10, 2011 
Bradford Benn says...
I think I might have just found a use for it, I wanted to listen to the new Mike Doughty album. I want to listen before purchase - I learned that the hard way as I am sure we all have. So I dialed up the Spotify, set the artist search for Doughty and I am listening to the "album" is that even a word anymore?

Yeah, "album" seems like it is a vestige leftover from a past, kinder, simpler, gentler time. But this "use" is pretty much available on all the other services. I've done that on Rhapsody and Napster bunches... Then I'm like, "Wait. I can just listen to this anytime I want for free. Why should I BUY it?" Then I don't.