There has been much activity in the digital music space for the pat couple months. Google and Amazon have launched music storage lockers to upload your music and stream it to your wireless devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc…) Apple acquired La La, and plans to roll out it’s service as well. But those big three companies may have a problem. Spotify.
Spotify, a legend in the U.K. and now available in the U.S. has the features a good music service should have; unlimited streaming, a large catalog, a music storage locker, social features, offline mode, mobile apps for iPhone, Android, etc… and high bit rate sound quality. So Spotify is a winner, right?
A Brief Look Back
I’m old enough to remember when people used records and cassettes. In my early teens, we got the CD, which was a nice step for most. A decade later I was occasionally downloading music, and five years later that became my near exclusive means of acquiring and dealing with music. Aside from the occasional purchase at a concert, I haven’t purchased a packaged CD in years.
Napster is credited with the technology that changed everything. I always felt it wasn’t just the free aspect of Napster, but the insane ease of use. I could just type a name of a song, artist, album, whatever, and get the music I wanted. For something so illegitimate in nature, it had a better user interface than many services even today.
It was around this time the iPod came out, and it seemed the circle was complete. I ripped all my CD’s, downloaded stuff through Napster, put them to my iPod, and the world was great. Except of course for the musicians. The RIAA hired an army of lawyers and went after everyone they could.
One sad side note on this time. I think we can all agree that Metallica has done well for themselves. With their album sales and concerts, one can only imagine the fortunes they have amassed. And since they are a metal band, I’m sure they consider themselves cool. But when a group puts together a list of fans who downloaded their music from Napster, and hand it over to the RIAA lawyers, and law enforcement, they stop being cool. Being part of Gen X, I understand our rules of cool, one of which is “the only thing worse than a thief is a snitch”. Fans are fans, even if they didn’t pay for a download. And a snitch is a snitch, Metallica. And now back to the story at hand.
After the legal carnage of Napster, a few other services like Limewire, Bearshare and others popped up. But most of these software packages came with extras, like spyware and viruses. It got to the point where only the most dedicated and courageous music thieves would download anything.
Then along comes iTunes, the could be savior of the record labels. At this point it was clear that the RIAA was asleep at the wheel, not thinking much about technology when Napster came along. And now they were awake, and cranky. They pushed back on Apple to try and get what they thought was the best deal. And in the end, we ended up with a decent service, that worked well with our portable players. We have seen Microsoft make laughable attempts at this market, only to crash and burn because Microsoft is not a consumer electronics company. Sony, who is a consumer electronics company, has also made attempts, but the are not a computer company. Apple has the rare advantage of keeping a foot in both the consumer electronics, and computer worlds.
Napster was acquired and re-launched as a music subscription site, and Rhapsody sprouted up with their service. For $60 – $120 per year, you could get unlimited music streamed to your desktop, and mobile devices. A couple years ago, they even started allowing you to download for offline listening. These were great services, but the lacked a few key elements. First off, the sound quality wasn’t as good as an iTunes download on your iPod. And second, these services were not well marketed. Just a few days ago I mentioned Rhapsody to someone in the tech space who had never heard of it. When I explained what it was, they were shocked they never heard of it because it sounded like a great service. This smells of bad leadership and lack of marketing focus.
The Current Trend
I used Rhapsody for about 18 months, and a couple months ago switch to MOG, based on a recommendation from Leo Leporte. And I purchased a Napster account for my mother to go along with her iPad and Sonos system I set up for her.
My personal set is iTunes and MOG hooked up to a Sonos system, connected to speakers in my ceiling. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to use your iPhone as a remote for music. I play anything I want from my iTunes, and if I don’t have something new I’m interested in, I just play it through MOG. MOG comes through at 320 bit, so the sound is good. And all this coming from invisible speakers is even better.
Google and Amazon have been pushing out their new services, which I considered, but decided I don’t really need. Which is a shame, because they are essentially free. But why would I need to store my music on their servers? I have them on my computer and phone already. And eventually they will charge a fee for this service.
Add this to the fact that many younger people are getting used to the idea of not owning music. I’m betting that less than 10% of teenagers under 16 have ever purchased a CD, and are now highly unlikely to do so. Having their music through a service, like their mobile phone, won’t be an unusual idea for them.
One service I, like every other user, love is Pandora. It fits perfectly into my Sonos setup. I just wish the sound quality was a bit better. But the personalized radio feature is one of my favorite new technologies.
And this brings us to Spotify. Spotify has an emphasis on sharing music through social networks, and along with a large catalog of music, allows you to upload your music to your mobile devices wirelessly. This is not the true cloud solution of Google and Amazon, or that Apple will push out. But it’s a nice thing to have.
The catalog is decent, not the best from my personal tests. And you can push up to 320 bit rate for good sound quality. But Spotify is a few features short of being a killer app.
First, there is no radio functionality, like Pandora. And no selection of Internet radio, which is surprising. The mobile app is pretty bare bones. And how none of these companies seem to have the ability to design a mobile app worth a damn, Spotify is especially lackluster.
So far the only thing I like about Spotify over MOG is the social features, but I don’t really see using those. So I will put Spotify through the paces for the next month or two, and then make my decision.
One advantage to Spotify is that there is a free option. Right now you need an invite, so feel free to leave a comment if you need one, and I’ll send one out to you.
Where It’s Going
Apple has yet to roll out their music locker service. But I can already tell it’s going to be extremely easy to use and and well integrated into iPhones. And I have a lot of faith in Apple’s Airplay plans. I think it’s likely Apple will move into the music subscription space within the next year or so. It would instantly be the most successful option in the market.
I also see Pandora getting into this space, as well as potentially a music locker service.
In the end, I get the feeling we will not be talking a lot about Spotify in a couple years. What do you think?