From Spotify.com:

The award-winning music service that’s taken Europe by storm has now come to U.S. shores. Millions of tracks ready to play instantly, on your computer and your phone.

Spotify – the hugely popular music service from Europe – has finally come to America…sort of. Currently use of the Spotify service is by invite only, of which you can easily request your own invite directly from the website. However, be warned that people who requested invites months ago are just now getting theirs, therefore you may have to wait for a bit before trying this great new service for music fans.

What Is Spotify?

By now, most of you have heard of “cloud computing“, basically virtual storage that allows you access to all of your content and files (i.e. music, videos, documents, photos etc) remotely from any location and from a multitude of devices. Most recently you have probably been introduced to, “the cloud” through popular services such as, Amazon Cloud Player, DropBox, Apple’s iCloud and Google’s Music Beta.

For instance, I personally use all of the above mentioned services (with the exception of iCloud). In the example of Cloud Player, I have uploaded the lion’s share of my music collection to Amazon’s cloud. Now, whether I am on my phone, at a friend’s house, the office or home, I am able to easily access, buy, play and download my music from any computer without having to plug in, hassle with transferring files to and from a thumb drive or remember to load up an iPod. Every time I buy music from Amazon – doesn’t matter if I do it through my phone or a computer – it automatically saves it to my cloud drive and I am streaming or sharing it in seconds.

I mention cloud computing first, because this is not what Spotify does. Instead, Spotify gives you on-demand access to millions of songs (over 15 million at the time of this writing) for FREE and allows you to create playlists that you can listen to at any time or take with you on the go. It’s not like Pandora either, which suggests and plays songs for you based upon algorithmic musical preferences that you provide. And it’s not entirely like cloud computing, because it doesn’t just store and play music you already own (although there is a cloud component to Spotify, which I’ll mention later).

Answer The Damn Question, Dana

Fine. Fine. Who needs context anyway?

If you have ever used Grooveshark or iTunes, then Spotify should feel very intuitive to you. Let’s say you are having an 80’s themed party and want to build a huge playlist of great tunes from classic John Hughes films (raising my fist in the air and doing my best Judd Nelson impersonation) and other great classics from the decade of huge hair, huge cell phones and huge greed (“is good”). Or maybe you have a road trip planned and want to create the perfect mix. Maybe it’s a workout mix, a “chill” mix or sexy-time mix – but you don’t own (nor do you want to buy) all of the music that you need or want to hear – this is where Spotify excels.

Simply search for the songs you want, add it to a playlist and you’re done.

Searching for music using the Spotify desktop application

Along the way, you are also presented with a ton of additional cool features which includes:

  • Artist Bios: Learn more about the bands that you love, including album reviews

    Related Artists: For those of us always on the look-out for new music, related artists provides you with other bands similar to the ones you enjoy

    Flexibility: The ability to select, play & add individual albums, unlike Grooveshark

    Mobile App (Premium accounts): Take over 15 million songs with you on the go, including your current music library and listen to your created playlists

    Desktop Application: Easily manage your playlists on any computer with the desktop application and Spotify will sync everything for you. Did you create a playlist or add music while at work? Those changes will be synced and waiting for you when you get home (or on your cell phone, should you have a Premium account)

    Social Media Integration: Share playlists and songs with friends at the click of a button

    Offline Listening (Premium accounts): If you find yourself without an Internet connection, Spotify Offline keeps the music flowing

    Importing Your Existing Music Library: This is the cloud component in which you can add your music files, which syncs across all platforms and is always available to you, no matter where you are

    Wireless Sync on Mobile Devices: Even if you don’t have a Premium account, if you launch the Spotify mobile app while on the same WiFi network as your computer, the app will sync your music & playlists on your phone. Premium accounts will do this over 3G | 4G

Beyond these features, Spotify offers a clean UI (eerily similar to iTunes) which makes adding and organizing your playlists simple…just search for a song or artist, drag and drop a track into a playlist and that’s it. You also have the ability to shuffle songs, edit track information (for those of you who – *ahem* – find more “cost effective” ways of downloading music) and all of the other options you would expect from a robust music service.

Verdict

While Spotify isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel here (there are other similar services like Rhapsody and Napster), they do it better by offering more options, music and functionality for free; whereas the other services require a paid membership and less available music (Spotify = 15 million songs | Rhapsody = 10 Million). However it should be mentioned that there are limitations to the free account, the most prominent of which being advertisements and lack of mobile listening / syncing.

You can upgrade your account to an Unlimited ($4.99/mo) or Premium ($9.99/mo) account, which is where Spotify has me reevaluating the way that I consume music. Allow me to explain…

I am a HUGE music fan with a library of music to prove it…a library that takes up over 60 GB’s of space on my computer (not to mention the CD’s I have collected over the years and have yet to import to my hard drive).

I use and LOVE Amazon’s Cloud Player and, although they offer 5 GB’s for free, I obviously upgraded to a paid account that gives me unlimited storage for $20 a year. As someone who only buys music from Amazon, the beauty of their Cloud Player is the fact that, beyond the music from your computer that you upload initially to the cloud, any other music you buy from them is stored for free. So if I buy an album through the Amazon MP3 app on my phone or a computer, it is automatically saved to my cloud without deducting any storage space (this was more impressive before the unlimited storage offer I linked to earlier). Having every song, artist and album automatically synced to my cloud and accessible across all of my devices seamlessly is insanely convenient. And should I ever want to share a song or add it to my iPod for times when I can’t stream on my phone (i.e. a flight), I can easily download any of my music in the cloud.

Spotify Mobile App for Android: Requires a Premium Membership

However, this is only for music that I already own and have paid for…and this is where Spotify has me re-thinking things. The fact that I can not only import my entire current library and make it available across all of my devices (like Amazon’s Cloud Player), but can also add an unlimited amount of music on-demand into playlists and stream them without having to buy them – not to mention no longer needing to take up hard drive space backing up my music – is very appealing to me. I can find and play any song I want at any time, regardless of whether or not I own it, and essentially have a library of over 15 million songs available to me on my phone or computer if I were to upgrade to the Premium plan.

Certainly I spend more than $10 a month on music from Amazon, so wouldn’t that money be better spent on a monthly subscription that gives me access to millions of songs whenever I want them? I may not own the music for my monthly $10 membership, but $100 a year through Amazon purchases certainly doesn’t give me on-demand access to over 15 million songs, either.

So this is how I envision this playing out…for now:

I will continue to use Amazon’s Cloud Player since I already have thousands of songs uploaded or added to it through purchases. However, I will use Spotify’s free service for when I want to listen to a wide array of music that I may not currently own…and I have already added thousands of songs from my personal library to Spotify that did not involve lengthy upload times; I venture to guess that they are able to do this by matching the ID Tags of my music to their existing library. If a friend recommends a band, for instance, I will add their entire album to Spotify and give it a listen…if I truly love it, I will probably buy it. If I have friends over, I can use Spotify to create an incredible playlist and not be hindered by only selecting music from my current library. If I am in the mood for a particular genre of music, I can create a vast playlist that is not relegated to just music that I own. And, over time, if I find that I have created some badass playlists and want to have them available to me on my phone too…I will upgrade at that point.

Like the title of this post suggests, these are just my first impressions of Spotify, as I received my invite for it today. But already I can see how it has prompted me to re-think how I listen to music. Do I want to keep buying music…or simply pay a subscription to have access to any music I want, whenever I want it?

If you get a chance to try Spotify, I welcome your thoughts and opinions…but I would definitely recommend at least the free version. Although it is currently invite only, eventually it will be fully released and available to everyone…and like I mentioned previously, you can request an invite. My biggest hold out is the fact that I don’t really create “playlists” anymore unless for a specific reason. Lately I would rather keep adding to my collection and simply hit “shuffle” (surprise me, music!) or simply select the artist that I am in the mood to listen to. For the times that I want to hear a specific artist that I do not have a lot of tracks for or create a particular mood with music, that is where I can see the genius in using Spotify and its virtually unlimited catalog of music.

If you have any questions about Spotify, please feel free to add them to the comment section below and I will do my best to answer them.

Update: I have since upgraded my account to Premium and absolutely love it. I just might marry it…or at least dry hump it until I start to chafe.

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