Future of Digital Music Has Arrive

By Rob Patterson

The online music world radically changed for Americans back in mid July when Spotify hit the US market. The streaming music service developed in Sweden first bowed in Europe in 2008, and the word filtering across the Atlantic on it from music buffs and digital experts had been quite positive. After getting an invite for its free service and spending a few hours on it, this semi-Luddite already loves it.

For starters, Spotify currently allows you to listen to some 15 million tracks (with more being added every week), and all the major record labels and many independents have signed on. I started randomly poking around through the library to see how deep the catalog is and was happily surprised to find all sorts of stuff I loved from the past, deep catalogs on obscure artists, and even discover some wonderful surprises I wasn’t aware of before.

Once you sign up, Spotify allows you to download its app on as many computers as you own. The app easily allows you to find what you are looking for — you can search by artist, song, album, style and even era. You can then star songs onto your own list that becomes like a personal radio station, and create playlists with a simple drag and drop — a wonderful feature for people like me that love making mix CDs. It accesses your iTunes library as well, and though it doesn’t sell you tracks (as yet here; in Europe it links to retail services), in the final analysis who really cares? You can preview music on Spotify and then go buy the physical or digital copy any number of other places.

And in a masterful marketing move, Spotify offers a free level of service that for at least an introductory period allows unlimited listening. And after the intro time one can still play music for 20 hours a month. Unlimited access is only $4.99 a month. And for a $9.99/month Premium you can get higher sound quality, an app for your iPhone, Android or other cell devices to access its 15 million tracks anywhere you get Internet access, store 10,000 tracks to listen to offline, and enjoy exclusive content.

Up to now, other than iTunes, I’ve avoided almost all online music streaming, radio and retail services. But Spotify is so customizable to one’s tastes that it’s irresistible. Just a short test run sold me on the premium deal, and a deal it is.

Spotify also interacts with Facebook to share songs, albums and playlists with others, and you can send and receive tracks with fellow member friends on the service. People may no longer gather to listen to albums together like they used to, but Spotify does renew some of recorded music’s social aspects. It’s hardly perfect but certainly very user friendly, and the service seems to have a culture of constant innovation and updating. To my way of thinking, it’s the future of listening for true music lovers with wide and varied tastes.

There are some downsides. The sound quality still comes nowhere close to what the vinyl record offers. And some major artists like Led Zeppelin and Oasis have withheld their music from Spotify.

Also on what some may consider the negative side, it may well be the great digital music leap forward that all but kills the compact disc in the same way that the CD killed vinyl as a common medium (12-inch albums are making a comeback with music fanatics.) And that will further crumble the already plagued major record labels. But they brought their demise on themselves by ignoring the potential for online music marketing to begin with.

Since some news reports say the payment to labels system with Spotify can favor the majors over indies, as much as this may be unfair to smaller artists, the poor failing major labels can use all the help they can get.

I also took delight in being an early adopter in even using my own name as my Spotify user name. “RobPatterson” may have already been taken, but I snared “TheRobPatterson.”

If you love music, Spotify is for you, and even casual listeners should enjoy it. The future of digital music has arrived.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2011


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