I’m seldom on the cutting edge of new media or technologies. I usually start watching a new television series after it’s had at least three or four critically-acclaimed seasons. My smartphone is four or five generations old. And I only just recently discovered Spotify.
Like a lot of things in my life, I came across it accidentally. That is, I had accidentally deleted a few gigabytes of my .mp3 files and all of a sudden found myself without any music to listen to at work. Oh, the horror! Unable (and unwilling) to spend hours sorting through iTunes to try to recover what I’d lost, I resigned myself to settling for one of the various online streaming music sites — the only question was which one?
Pandora was one I was vaguely familiar with, but I quickly found it too limiting. If I wanted to listen to “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin (better than coffee for an early morning pick-me-up!), Pandora would instead play songs “similar” to the one I’d chosen. I don’t know who programs those things, but “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” ain’t in the same ballpark. It’s not in the same league, it ain’t even the same sport!
Google suggested a site “Beats Music” and something called “Grooveshark.” Beats was out because it only offered a 7-day free trial before charging $10 a month. $10 a month, what am I, a Rockefeller? Who pays for music anymore? Grooveshark’s navigation was wonky, and seemed to be aping the Facebook model of total social media integration. I’ll pass.
Another Google search suggested something called “AOL Radio,” but then I remembered it wasn’t 1997 anymore, so I decided against giving AOL another chance at anything. Part of it, I admit, was an irrational fear they’d somehow find a way to send more CD-ROMs to my house offering “Free America Online.”
The next site I found was Spotify. I typed in “A Warm Place” by Nine Inch Nails (a gloomy yet soothing tune to work to) to find out what “similar” songs they suggested. Nickleback, perhaps? I was surprised to find it took me directly to the song itself. Impressive. A quick glance showed that it had the band’s entire catalog. Whoa. So I check Pearl Jam (a band notorious for limiting access to their work) and surprise, surprise, every album was there. Most impressive! I’d finally found a winner.
Another feature I discovered was the “Radio” function. Best used when you want to listen to a certain style of song, band, or genre. For example, a few weeks back when learning of Pete Seeger’s death, I wanted to listen to some music evocative of that era. I went to Seeger’s page on Spotify and clicked the “Start Radio” button. For the next couple hours the site cycled through a random playlist of songs by Seeger and many such contemporaries as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and even tangentially related acts like The Carter Family (distant cousins of mine, on my father’s side).
If you’re not wanting to listen to a specific band, but want music of a certain “feel” you can check out Spotify’s numerous site-generated playlists based on such esoteric categories like “I’m An 80’s Baby,” “Songs For A Rainy Day,” and “Picnic In The Park.” During my family’s road trip down to Austin and back I chose a “Driving Music” playlist that featured Steppenwolf’s classic “Born To Be Wild” and “No Particular Place To Go” by Chuck Berry. Awesome.
There’s even audiobooks and children’s stories on Spotify. For those of you who, like me, often find yourself criss-crossing Rusk County with a carload of noisy kids, I recommend some Tolkien, Rowling, or Brothers Grimm to chill them right out.
I’ve been using Spotify at work, at home, and on the road for a few months now, and I’m downright evangelical about what it offers but there are a few minor drawbacks you should know about.
For one, navigating it takes a little getting used to, though if you use iTunes it should seem rather familiar. In addition, there are commercials. Granted, they’re quite rare (far more infrequent than what you’ll get over terrestrial radio) and equally as annoying, but if you’re willing to drop $10 a month, they’re gone — plus a subscription allows you to download your playlists for off-line listening. Spotify is also a bandwidth hog. I don’t recommend using it much on your smartphone unless you have unlimited data. If you have an older computer or a spotty Internet connection, you may run into some problems, a side effect of the high bitrate (audio quality) of the music you’re streaming.
Like most web-based technologies, there’s an option to connect your Spotify account with social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but that’s only advisable if your friends have good taste in music… like me.