I’ve been meaning to post about Spotify — a European audio service that music biz journalist Eliot Van Buskirk says is “like a magical version of iTunes in which you’ve already bought every song in the world” — for a wee little while. Now, I shall reveal its awesomeness to you.
Spotify has catalog from all four of the major labels as well as indie aggregators The Orchard and Merlin. (Truly unaffiliated artists can get their stuff on Spotify via CD Baby.) The graphic interface is straightforward (and very iTunes-like), and, since it employs a robust desktop client, there is zero buffer time. I mean zero. And unlike other streaming music services, Spotify uses the superior Ogg Vorbis format, which means it actually sounds good. The service is free to use — as long as you don’t mind hearing a solitary audio ad every half-hour or so — and compensates artists (well, at least the sound copyright owners, who should be compensating the artists.)
The catch? It’s not yet available in the U.S.
I’m using the beta of Spotify through an arcane method that I’m not at liberty to divulge. But I’d happily switch over to the paid, ad-free version as soon as it arrives Stateside — it’s just that good. (So good, in fact, that I’ve dropped my Rhapsody subscription, and I like those guys.)
Music-tech pundit Andrew Dubber gives a useful overview of Spotify, which you can read here. Among his favorite features:
. . .every artist, every album and every track has a unique URL that can be sent via email, Twitter, IM, Facebook or any other kind of messaging system – and if the recipient also has Spotify installed, that music will play in exactly the same way it did for the person sending it.
That is pretty cool. Recently, Andrew made a recommendation via his Twitter feed; I clicked the link, and the album he was talking about immediately popped up and began playing on my Spotify client. With the ubiquity of social media, it’s easy to imagine this becoming a powerful, cost-effective and legal way to share music.
Some have complained that Spotify, while rock-solid performance-wise, is lacking some essential features. Yet unlike Twitter, which sits on a mountain of venture capital while other entrepreneurs make money marketing useful enhancements to its basic service, the Spotify folks have decided to take a page out of the Apple playbook and allow some outside development. Basically, approved third-party devices and services would be able to use Spotify’s engine and catalog, which would be particularly exciting in the mobile space. (I generally like the concept of crowdsourced generation on semi-open platforms, with the parent company acting as “benevolent” gatekeeper. This kind of symbiosis splits the difference between walled gardens and unsecure and potentially dangerous open-source schemes. It might even inspire another “gold rush.”)
So why isn’t Spotify available in the States yet? I’ve asked the question myself, but have yet to find a straightforward answer. I’m guessing the holdup is over bulk licensing terms with the US divisions of the major labels. Which probably means those American indies that are chomping at the bit to get on the service are being unfairly held back from the domestic market by major label foot-dragging. Hooray for market efficiency!
In my view, Spotify can’t get here soon enough, Once developers liberate the service from its desktop client, it could be a major step toward “the celestial jukebox,” where your listening choices would be seemingly infinite, on demand and — important to rights holders — monetizable through the economics of scale.
In the meantime, you can keep holding your breath.