Category Archives: spotify

Spotify iphone app: the missing link?

The missing link?

The missing link?

Ah, so that’s how they’re going to stay in business!

Ever since I first discovered the delights of Spotify back in March I’d been wondering how they were going to generate sufficient revenue to make a success of the Swedish Streaming Sensation in the long-term. In fact, I so was doubtful that they would be able to get sufficient advertisers and subscribers on board that I began preparing myself for the sad day some time in the future when the service got turned off, or stopped being available for free.

However, yesterday the Spotify app for the iphone was released, to generally positive reviews.  The Times covered it in brief on their Tech Central blog with a link to the YouTube preview that’s been doing the rounds for a while now, and there’s a much more in depth and interesting review on the Telegraph’s site today.

The app seems to do all you would expect and more, including letting you store up to 3,333 songs on your iphone to listen to while offline, bringing it into itunes territory, and the main drawback appears to be that you have to keep it open in order to listen to music, rather than running in the background like it does on an Android phone.

The interesting thing about all this for me though, is the fact that you can’t operate the Spotify iphone app unless you have a Spotify Premium subscription.  So, although the itunes store advertises the app for free, you have to pay £9.99 a month to Spotify to be able to use it. Clever! Suddenly I can see a reason why many more people would decide to take up a subscription rather than just stream music on their computer for free.

After success in Europe Spotify have been trying to break into the US market for a while, and this iphone app/Premium subscription tie-in is clearly the missing piece of the jigsaw to make that work, and probably secure the future of the business.

I wish them all the very best, and hope that this gamble pays off. Although a gadget fan, my deliberately phone-free existence (I use my ancient Nokia as an alarm clock and very little else) has no room or purpose for an iphone, but I’d be more than happy if the enthusiasm of those hundreds of thousands of devotees worldwide guarantees that I can keep on streaming The Broken Family Band for free indefinitely.

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Spotify update

It's fabulous. And free!

It's fabulous. And free!

In the past week several people have informed me that they have downloaded and are using Spotify as a result of reading this blog, which is really pleasing. At least one brave soul had also been listening to some of my recent recommendations – thanks Jim! As a result, I thought it was about time to write another article updating you with the latest developments surrounding the Swedish streaming sensation.

At the end of April there was an interesting interview on the Guardian’s Digital Content Blog with Paul Brown, Spotify’s new UK managing director. Worth a read, but some of the main points he touched on were:

  • There are now more than a million registered users in the UK
  • A “decent proportion” are paying for the service (either £0.99 per day or £9.99 per month)
  • They have launched a partnership with 7 Digital to sell downloads which is likely to expand
  • They are looking to extend the range of quality content available, including things like Peel sessions that were locked up by radio contracts
  • They are looking seriously at portability and specifically, paid services available on the iphone.

Spotify and I

From a personal viewpoint, using Spotify for the past two months has transformed my relationship with music, in terms of how I listen and what I listen to.

For a start, it’s proving to be a solid gold ‘try before you buy’ tool and more effective than any other I have used. For the record I have actually bought more albums than usual during that period (although that’s partly due to birthday vouchers etc) so listening to streamed music for free has not stopped me buying music, it has just helped me make even better choices.

I roadtested and later purchased the following excellent albums:

  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
  • The Decemberists – The Crane Wife, Picaresque
  • Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara, Lost Channels
  • Vetiver – Tight Knit
  • Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
  • Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Being There
  • Staff Benda Bilili – Tres Tres Fort
  • Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

On the other hand, I chose not to buy a few others after giving them a Spotify spin (U2 and Doves take the walk of shame – although I did download “Kingdom of Rust”).

It is also a fantastic way to discover bands you’ve not heard before. Before Spotify I was not really aware of The Decemberists, Great Lake Swimmers, My Morning Jacket or Wilco and had never even heard of Cara Dillon or Staff Benda Bilili. The first couple have fast become two of my very favourite bands and I’m gradually working my way through their impressive back catalogues.

Spotify is also a fast and efficient record identifier. Last week Nic mentioned a couple of times that she’d heard a song on the radio she really liked and wanted to download it from itunes. Only problem was she had no idea of the artist, only a rough idea of the title. Thankfully that was enough, and within about 20 seconds I’d discovered the song in question. In the days before Spotify it would have taken a great deal longer to track it down and may have been quite a frustrating process.

If you’re a new user you might be too spoilt for choice to decide what to listen to, faced with such a huge array of great music. If that’s the case, help is at hand. There are a number of web sites where people are sharing the playlists they have compiled, and two of the best are Spotify Playlists and ShareMyPlaylists. Once you’ve got the hang of it of course, you can join in the fun by sharing your own selections.

I haven’t got that far yet, as I’m still wading my way through all the albums I have identified from reviews in Q and The Word magazines.

What price freedom?

I’m beginning to wonder what we ever did without Spotify to be honest, and I can’t believe that (at least for now) it’s still free. The adverts have become slightly more irritating but an occasional 15 seconds of Iggy Pop shouting on behalf of an insurance company is a small price to pay for so much great music.

However, as the company explores more revenue streams and looks to develop its business model they will undoubtedly try to tempt more of us to pay for the privilege. Back in March if you’d asked me if I’d pay £9.99 per month for the premium service I would have resolutely said “Never!”. But if that price were to cover an ad-free service and unlimited downloads as is the current rumour, I’d have to give the proposition some serious thought.

And so would Apple!

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Wired for sound

The Wire: listen carefully!

The Wire: listen carefully!

Thanks to Spotify, the other day I discovered quite by accident, the version of Tom Waits‘s song ‘Way Down In The Hole’ by The Blind Boys of Alabama.

I’d only ever heard it before as the theme song from The Wire, and as I’ve only watched season one on DVD so far I’d never seen the credits for long enough to find out the identity of the artists.

It’s a fantastic song and it suits the opening credits of the show so well, it’s hard to think of one existing without the other. As a big Tom Waits fan I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard his version of the song before and wrongly assumed it had been composed for the TV show.

Anyway, it got me to thinking that it’s probably my favourite TV show theme song ever. I’m specifying song rather than theme tune, as that accolade would have to go to the hot slab of funk that precedes each episode of Starsky and Hutch.

I’d also like to suggest that children’s TV programme themes are a different category too, but if we’re going there I’m voting for Banana Splits as the theme tune, and ‘White Horses’ (theme song to obscure ancient TV show about horses featuring a pretty girl who was my first crush, when I was five!) a version of which I tracked down last year and actually have on my ipod for nostalgia purposes.

Go on then, I’ve set my stall out, now shoot me down in flames with your own favourites.

For me it’s fitting that The Wire, the series most critics consider to be the best TV drama ever made, should also have the best theme song.

But you may beg to differ……….

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The thrill of the chase

Amidst all the debates about how Spotify is changing music, and what the long term effects of this might be for the industry and consumers, one thing remains clear – it’s a brilliant way of discovering new music and re-discovering tunes you’ve loved and lost.

I’ve benefitted from this greatly in the last few weeks and have a stock of playlists that are providing new delights on a daily basis. For example, only yesterday my birthday was made all the more enjoyable by discovering Great Lake Swimmers, a band from Toronto I’d never previously heard of, whose album ‘Ongiara’ provided a great soundtrack to a relaxing afternoon thanks to my fabulous new Sony laptop speakers.

The only downside though, is that it’s all really easy. Type in the name of the artist or song, and a split-second later you either have what you’re looking for, or you don’t, because it’s not in the library yet. Despite the ludicrous convenience of being able to do this so quickly and for free it is somehow less satisfying than spending ages tracking down an obscure album yourself by trawling through the CD racks of whatever independent record stores you can find still in business.

I’m sure I’m not alone in revelling in the thrill of the chase, and the immense sense of satisfaction you feel when you finally corner your quarry and bring back the spoils. Here are three of my most pleasing ‘old school’ searches for albums/songs that would probably be filed under ‘obscure’:

What treasures lurk within the racks?

What treasures lurk within the racks?

‘Century Flower’ by Shelleyan Orphan

Tracked down in Toronto

Tracked down in Toronto

Many moons ago, during the early days of The Tube, Channel 4’s first and probably best music show, I saw a performance of a song by Shelleyan Orphan which transfixed me. An impressionable teenager with artistic tendencies, seeing a band named after a Romantic Poet and featuring a pre-Raphelite beauty playing a cello, on a song that sounded like nothing I’d previously encountered, it was bound to leave a significant mark.

I can’t even remember which song it was now, but I distinctly remember the many occasions over the following decade when I’d scan the shelves in any record store I happened to be in, hoping to find their album ‘Century Flower’. Once or twice I found it, but in those days the lack of a disposable income and any opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ resulted in me leaving my treasure unclaimed, just in case I’d end up blowing my meagre funds on a duffer.

So, the years passed, and the urgency faded. Then, on holiday in Toronto in December 1996, approximately nine years after the original search began I found myself in a small independent store in the downtown area and out of habit I did a quick flick through under ‘F’ for Felt (another occasional obsession) to no avail, and then on to ‘S’, where I found one copy of ‘Century Flower’. I remember being shocked, then excitement took over and I pounced to secure the purchase, all the caution of yesteryear cast to the winds.

Sadly, this is one example where the delicious anticipation of the chase proved more enjoyable and rewarding than the prize. It wasn’t exactly a duffer, but the fact that only one track, ‘The Silent Day’ appears on my ipod today tells its own story. As a footnote to this tale I should advise you that the four or five seconds it takes to type ‘Shelleyan Orphan’ and press enter, yields 34 tracks on Spotify – it may be time to give them another try.

‘The bushes scream while my daddy prunes’ by The Very Things

Best song title ever?

Best song title ever?

This was another classic Tube moment that gripped me around the same time. If you remember it, or have ever seen the video you will understand why. Being a words man from an early age, the song title itself struck me as a work of genius, and the cod horror film style delivery of the quite baffling lyric (reminiscent of ‘Monster Mash’ or ‘The Munsters’) amused me and my little brother no end. Incessant impersonations of the song ensued around the Cook household for weeks after, much to the bafflement and dismay of our parents.

This was a hard one to track down, because The Very Things did not really become a household name, as you might imagine – probably quite rightly if we’re honest. I don’t recall ever being able to find it in a record store, though I always checked the ‘V’ rack just in case an album containing the track was lying in wait.

Then early last year, 24 years after the song originally appeared, I decided to give the itunes store what I considered to be its ultimate test. To my utter amazement, there it was, and for the princely sum of £0.79 I had captured a song that had eluded me for the best part of a quarter of a century. This time there was no disappointment – I was instantly transported back to 1984 and recaptured my initial excitement at the slightly unhinged ‘singing’ and occasionally discordant accompaniment.

I just checked Spotify and although it took about seven seconds to type in the song title, that track and the whole album of the same name are available – I might be brave enough to check out ‘Shearing machine’ tomorrow!

‘The Forest is Crying’ by the Trio Bulgarka

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

This one is my favourite search story because it’s a real saga. I first heard the Trio Bulgarka on Kate Bush’s album ‘The Sensual World’ and fell in love with their magical, mystical vocals which were obviously complete gibberish to me, yet sounded strangely compelling. I bought their album ‘The Forest is Crying’ when it came out in 1988, and played it very often, especially the track ‘Mari Tudoro’ which was just hauntingly beautiful and became a firm favourite.

‘So where’s the search in that?’ you may ask. Well, let’s cut to the chase. Just over a decade later, someone borrowed some of my CDs to take to work, including that one. When they were returned, the case for this album was empty and the person concerned made no attempt to find it or even apologise. One might even conclude that they’d done it on purpose. Bulgarian folk music may not be everyone’s bag, but that’s just rude.

So, as it was a treasured album, the search for its replacement was fervent and relentless. And seemingly doomed. After putting in the usual legwork in record stores proved fruitless, I took advantage of access to the new internet technology and extended the search online. It was then that I discovered that the album had been deleted by the record label Hannibal, and was subsequently unavailable for purchase. Refusing to accept defeat I tried various other routes, including registering a reservation request on Amazon, which again, eventually proved to be a frustrating dead end. By this time (about four or five years later!) I was feeling like the online equivalent of J R Hartley from the old Yellow Pages ad, hapless and defeated.

So I gave up. Forgot all about it, and moved on.

Until this time last year, when on a week’s holiday to New York I was pottering around the Virgin Megastore in Union Square after a fabulous breakfast burrito. On a whim, I ventured into the World Music section which I hadn’t done for several years, and had a quick look under T. And there it was, in all its glory, with the same CD cover. Just one copy.

I instinctively grabbed it, to ensure no-one else beat me to it, before laughing out loud at how ridiculous the gesture was. I was so surprised by my find I had a job explaining the significance of it to Nic (my wonderful wife) when I found her in the Pop section. To her immense credit she didn’t look at me as if I was insane, and seemed to understand my joy, even if it would have been hard for her to share my enthusiasm for the album.

There was one further slight twist, when we got to the checkout and my credit card was originally refused (due to the over-enthusiastic fraud protection measures practised by certain British banks that fail to consider you might be legitimately buying things on holiday abroad). I was not about to let that prevent me from claiming my prize, and although I was prepared to get as dramatic as circumstances required, the cash machine in the shop had less scruples and paved the way to purchase.

Twenty years after I originally owned it, and ten years after it had been cast asunder, I finally had it back in my possession. As soon as we got back to the UK it was transferred to my ipod and I was enjoying the delights of those strange ethereal warblings once again.

Satisfyingly, you can’t get this album on Spotify …. yet.

The one that got away

There’s still one song that has eluded me over the past two decades, and I haven’t even got very close. That’s partly due to the fact that I can’t remember if it was called ‘Heavenly powers’ or ‘Earthly powers’ but it was by A Man Called Adam (that’s the real group name, not further proof of my dodgy memory skills).

I’ve scoured record stores, drawn a blank with Amazon and itunes, and Spotify has also failed me to date.

If anyone out there can point me in the right direction I will be ridiculously grateful.

The chase is on …….

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Is Spotify really killing music … already?

Spotify - ooh isn't it evil!

Spotify - oooh isn't it evil!

I’ve been using Spotify for nearly three weeks now, and have managed to convince a lot of other people to give it a try. Everyone who has done so has been very impressed, from techie expert work colleagues who have quoted my blog article on Twitter (thanks Patrick!), via old friends I’ve caught up with online who confess to being addicted (cheers Martine!) through to my dear old dad (a sprightly 66 year-old ‘silver surfer’) who’s quite besotted with his new toy.

However, as media coverage of Spotify increases and more and more people are discovering its benefits (40,000 new subscribers per day in the UK and counting) I’ve noticed several articles and opinion pieces that suggest its widespread popularity is not such good news after all.

It is perhaps unsurprising that some scaremongers and professional pessimists are trying to suggest that Spotify is evil, arguing that it is the noughties equivalent of home taping (which did kill music, obviously!) in the early eighties. This is the UK after all, and we never miss an opportunity to respond to something innovative and useful by shooting it down with a barrage of cynicism.

Apparently many people have reacted to the concept of Spotify’s huge music library being available for free by claiming that they (and by extension everyone they know) will never buy another CD or pay for a download as long as they live.

Utter nonsense.

Why that argument is rubbish

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the opposite is true, and that Spotify is a catalyst for music lovers buying more CDs than ever. In the online forum debates I’ve monitored (including an interesting one on the Word magazine website) Spotify enthusiasts are openly confessing to having bought a plethora of new CDs because they have discovered new bands or as a direct result of having so many more opportunities to ‘try before you buy’.

I’m sure it’s true for a lot of us that the more we listen to good music (and new music especially), the more we want. I call it the expanding appetite argument, and it’s holding as true for me as I search for more and more new bands on Spotify as it did on holiday in Brittany with regard to fine cheese, fresh baguettes and good wine! I haven’t yet converted my newly researched albums into actual purchases, but it’s only a matter of time, especially with a birthday coming up on Saturday……

I also think people will use Spotify to track down music they’ve lost touch with and then seek to purchase elsewhere. My dad and his best mate have already done this with a couple of obscure 60’s tracks that they couldn’t locate on itunes, and then realised via Spotify that they’d been looking for the right song titles but the wrong artists. The ‘correct’ tracks are now duly downloaded from itunes as required.

Another reason the ‘killing music’ argument is bunk is that a lot of people will always prefer the physical product to a download, even more so to a track they just ‘stream’ whilst online and never actually ‘own’. For the same reason Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader will never replace actual books in the hearts and hands of the world’s readers. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling oddly dissatisfied when I can’t check the lyrics of an intriguing song because I’ve downloaded the album rather than having a CD booklet.

It’s equally true that it’s far too early to expect Spotify to achieve domination over the music industry, despite its impressive impact so far. For a start, there are still way too many holes in the library at the moment for it to pose a serious threat. Although there are millions of songs available to stream in an instant, that’s not always such a big deal if it doesn’t include the ones you’re looking for. Whilst I have been very impressed to find many new albums available on the day of release, there are still several offerings by fairly high profile artists missing. I’ve been seeking one or two albums I expected to find for well over a week, and eventually my impatience may get the better of me and send me to itunes or Amazon. I’ll then offset such a purchase by settling for keeping another couple of albums on Spotify playlists for the time being.

Having a huge selection of songs to stream to your laptop is brilliant, but it’s actually quite irritating when you’re away from your computer, or without wireless broadband access and the only songs you want to listen to are of course on Spotify rather than your ipod. That happened to me several times whilst on holiday the other week, and it proved to me that I’ll never stop buying music in favour of the streaming alternative.

For all these reasons (and the simple fact that even though many of us have got excited about Spotify, the majority of the British public if asked would still probably think it was an acne treatment) I’m sure that the doom merchants predicting the death of music (again) at the hands of this latest Internet phenomenon are a little premature.

But, watch this space ….

However, this state of affairs may depend on what the creators of Spotify have up their sleeves in terms of new developments and changes to the business model. With rumours that they are developing a Spotify app for the iphone gaining more credence, and Daniel Eck’s assertion that “people will pay for music if packaged correctly and it offers them something special” we may be seeing major changes to this product that will make it considerably more of a threat.

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Spotify: give it a try?

My article about Spotify has proved very popular. Top post so far by a country mile.

Some of you have even said you’ve downloaded it on my recommendation and been very grateful for the tip off. That makes me very happy.

So, let’s strike while the iron’s hot(ish) and have a poll!


I’d like to add another massive thumbs up for Spotify while I’m here – in the past 24 hours I’ve been able to listen to “It’s Blitz” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and “The Hazards of Love” by The Decemberists just hours after the albums were available as downloads and released in the shops.

Now, that’s what I call service!

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Spotify: the ultimate jukebox?

ipod killer?

The future of music?

I have tasted the future. And it’s not garlic bread.

It’s Spotify.

Those clever Swedes – first they revolutionise furniture with the blessing or curse of ikea (depending on how you like to spend your weekends) and now they’re set to change the way we listen to music. Instead of encouraging us to ‘chuck out our chintz!’, they will soon be ‘incapacitating our ipods.’

Why?

Because a group of Swedish boffins have only gone and invented what could prove to be the ultimate digital jukebox, and unleashed it on a largely unaware but soon to be very grateful British public.

What is it?

Spotify is a digital music streaming program that you download to your computer, and then use to listen to any music you choose on demand via your Internet connection, without the need to store terabytes of MP3 files on your computer. It’s a bit like itunes, but even better in some ways.

For starters, it has a much larger library. They are currently adding around 10,000 tracks per day, and seem to have pretty much every song in existence. And of course, unlike itunes you get to listen to the whole song for free, rather than around 20 seconds worth.

Free?

Oh, yes. Did I mention that it’s free? The beta system is currently available throughout Europe, but for those of us living in the UK, since 10 February we have been able to join for free. For once, it pays to be living here rather than elsewhere in Europe! ‘What’s the catch?’ I hear you cry? Well, to listen for free you have to be prepared to listen to an advert every 10 songs or so. Big woop. They last about 5-10 seconds. And they’re not like the cringeworthy ones you get on local radio that make you want to disembowel yourself with a teaspoon. They are quite inoffensive and you hardly even notice them.If you are completely ad averse you can subscribe to the absolutely ad-free version for £9.99 a month, but that seems a bit of a waste of cash to me.

The only other downside is that you can’t transfer the tracks to your ipod or any other device. On the face of it that may seem a fairly big flaw, but to be honest it isn’t. So long as you’re near your computer and connected to the Internet you can play whatever you want, whenever you want. For no money!

Save money!

In these credit crunch crazy times, here is a great way to listen to new music without paying for it, or at the very least the opportunity to try before you buy. Whilst writing this I have been very happily listening to my first Spotify playlist made up of ‘Picaresque’ by The Decemberists and ‘Songbook’ by Woodpigeon, two albums I intend to purchase (or at least request for my birthday). I searched for the two albums, then literally dragged and dropped the songs into a playlist, hit the shuffle button and I was away (with the fairies, in the case of The Decemberists). I can listen to those albums as often as I like now, and I might even decide not to buy them after all. Although I think I’d find it hard not to have Woodpigeon’s ‘Death by Ninja (A Love Song)’ on my ipod.

It’s easy!

The more technically challenged amongst you might be thinking that there’s a large hurdle between you and this Promised Land of Digital Delights: downloading the software. Don’t worry for a second, it’s a cinch! Go to the website, choose the free option, follow the very easy steps and with a decent Broadband connection you’ll be up and running in about 5 minutes or less.

Be your own DJ

Spotify also allows you to share music with your friends. You can create playlists and send them to anyone else you know who uses it, which gives you plenty of incentive to encourage your mates to join up (apart from those who might inflict dodgy tunes on you of course). A clever twist is that you or they can change any playlist while they’re being played, so you can collaborate with like-minded friends and hold your own virtual festival.

The end for the ipod?

I’ve heard and read it suggested that Spotify could kill off the ipod: tales of people who’ve left their little black (white or garish-coloured) box of tricks untouched for days at a time in favour of the unrivalled variety on offer from the Swedish streaming sensation. I doubt it myself, mainly because there are so many situations where an mp3 player is so more versatile than lugging a laptop around with you. However, if the clever folk at Spotify ever find a way of making this thing mobile and providing truly portable access to their infinite playlist, it could be a whole different story.

In the meantime, I’m like a kid in a sweetshop of sounds, totally mesmerised by the vast array of treasures to be sampled.

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