The new era of music consumption

Christopher J. Browne test-drives Spotify, the streaming app giving you access to over 15 million songs.

Online music streaming in Australia has faced a shaky start. First there was Pandora, shut down due to copyright legislation. Now Spotify looks set to join ‘rdio’ and the upcoming ‘MOG’ in giving users access to a treasure trove of music.

Having never used a music-streaming service at length before (I basically only ever listen to MDNA on loop), I decided to dive in and give Spotify a try.

After months of false starts, the Swedish service has reached our shores. Launched in Australia on May 22, Spotify offers free access to over 15 million songs from your computer – provided you’re happy to put up with a Macca’s ad every now and again. Spotify boasts over 10 million users worldwide, and if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, it is looking to be a hit here too.

Spotify gives you free access to an online library of music streamed to your computer. The service is ad-supported, with audio and visual ads occasionally playing between songs. For many this is a price well worth paying, but for those who can’t bear it you can upgrade to the ad-free Spotify Unlimited for $6.99 a month.

On top of this basic music streaming service, Spotify has a bunch of cool features to help you get the most out of your music listening. At its core Spotify is highly social, boasting a live feed of what your friends are listening to and listings of popular tracks in Australia or worldwide. You can also recommend tracks to friends or collaborate on playlists.

Spotify is also tightly integrated with Facebook – if you choose, the current song your friends are listening to will show up on their Facebook profile under Recent Activity, and if you click on the cover art for the song it will start playing in Spotify. For that occasional sneaky One Direction session you can switch into Spotify’s private mode which lets you listen to your embarrassing music collection without sharing it with your friends.

One of Spotify’s strengths is the ability to create a ‘Radio Station’ based on track or artist (similar features exist in most music streaming services). Once you create a station Spotify will stream music that is similar to the track or artist, which is a great way to find new music that you might not have otherwise. During my time using Spotify, I’ve spent the largest amount of my time using this feature and listening to new music.

The rest of Spotify’s features are available only for subscribers to Spotify Premium, for $11.99 a month. On top of an ad-free stream, Premium users are able to stream to mobile devices (currently available for iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows Phone, Palm, and Blackberry).

You can also synchronise playlists to your computer or mobile device, for listening when out of range of an internet connection. Premium users can also stream music at a higher bitrate, offering better quality audio — 320kbps compared to the usual 160kbps.

Spotify is already popular worldwide, and is looking to grow in Australia. However, there are a few factors that could limit its adoption. In a country like Australia where unlimited mobile data plans are rare, users may be concerned about using the streaming service on their mobile devices. As an example, an average monthly mobile data plan of 2GB would allow one to stream Spotify for less than an hour a day — assuming that you didn’t use your data plan for anything else but music streaming.  Another factor is artist availability: not all popular artists are available through the service. Some artists and labels have pulled out amid concern that services such as Spotify damage traditional sales, and that Spotify does not pay independent artists enough. Late last year UK musician Jon Hopkins notably tweeted: “Got paid £8 for 90,000 plays. Fuck spotify”.

There are many instances of similar negative views online, including several misleading infographics that suggest an artist would need to have over four million hits per month on a a single track in order to make minimum wage. Many of these views are based on inaccurate calculations, especially given that the amount of money artists earn from individual plays in Spotify fluctuates over time based on a number of factors, and figures on exact values are not published online.

Critics of Spotify’s model also fail to take into account the increased exposure of artists through Spotify which, ideally, would lead to increased record and ticket sales.

Spotify founder Daniel Ek
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