Tag Archives: itunes

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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The chase is over!

If you read Sunday’s article ‘The thrill of the chase’, (if not, go and read it now, then come back) you’ll know that there was still one record that has eluded me for the best part of 20 years.

‘Earthly powers’ by A Man Called Adam.

The one that got away - or did it?

The one that got away - or did it?

Well, inspired by a comment posted by ‘Don Pash’ this evening, I decided to pick up the trail that had gone cold for more than one of us for a considerably long time.

This time I decided to unleash all the powers of the Internet on my quarry and conduct the search in cyberspace.

Thrillingly, a Google search bore fruit instantly, with a link to this clip on Youtube, which enabled me to listen to this classic slab of Acid Jazz for the first time in 18 years.

For nine and a half minutes I was transported back to the very late eighties, and the last time I’d heard this song, travelling in a car with my parents and my little brother, who introduced me to the awesome tune in the first place.

Appetite duly whetted, I ploughed on through the many search results, some promising a tantalising download, but failing to produce the goods. However, I did finally manage to track down a retailer willing to supply the 12″ vinyl version, the aptly titled ‘Hard to find Records’. The only snag is of course, that I don’t own a record player.

Further diligence paid off though, and I tracked down the only CD in existence on which the track is included, Totally Wired & Illicit Grooves: Acid Jazz – The Birth of a Scene 1987-1990 which I have now ordered from Amazon and should be with me very soon.

That elusive, now deleted, track will be on my ipod within the week.

Not only am I delighted to be reunited with this great song after all this time, but it seems somehow fitting that I located it using the power of technology. The ‘search’ argument that started with Spotify, via independent record stores has come full circle and ended with Google. As another wise correspondent suggested earlier this week “vinyl, CD, mp3, itunes, Spotify, they all have their merits, why can’t we all get along?”.

I believe we can, and just to prove it, Don Pash, I bought the 12″ version from Hard To Find Records for you. After all, that’s what big brothers are for.

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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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What does your life sound like?

I’ve recently returned from a very enjoyable week’s holiday in a cottage in Brittany (I missed you too) and discovered an interesting note left for me on Facebook by a friend with impeccable (and eclectic) musical taste.

Apologies if you’ve already come across this little game, but although most of these FB quizzes suck (as Sarah rightly suggested) this one proved quite diverting and worth the four minutes or so it takes to complete.

If your life was a movie, what would the soundtrack be?

An intriguing premise for sure, and the rules are as follows:

  1. Open your library (itunes, ipod, Media Player etc)
  2. Put it on shuffle (very important!)
  3. Press play
  4. For every one of the ‘stages of life’ below, type the name of the song that’s playing
  5. When you go to the next ‘stage’, press the ‘next’ button
  6. Don’t lie in order to pretend you’re cool.
  7. Read through and be amused (or bemused) by the results
  8. Do the exercise again, picking the songs you would have preferred to turn up!

I’ve added the last couple of steps myself, (7) to replace the directive to pass it on to friends (in case you don’t want to!) and (8) to give you the chance to redeem yourself if the original answers turned out too embarrassing or just plain weird.

It’s your life, after all!

The movie soundtrack of my life is …..

The stages of life are listed below (in bold) together with my answers. I didn’t cheat, and got some interesting results …

Opening credits Connection – Elastica

Waking up Super-connected – Belly

First day of School Go Karts – The Bees

Falling in Love Easy Skanking – Bob Marley

Fight Song Up All Night – The Young Knives

Breaking Up Little Bear – Guillemots

Prom Why? – Tracy Chapman

Life Dolphins – Beth Orton

Mental Breakdown Look Up – Zero 7

Driving So Tonight That I Might See – Mazzy Star

Flashback I Love You – The Bees

Funeral Song Race For The Prize – The Flaming Lips

End credits

Song 1: The Fear by Travis; cross-fade into song 2: Radio Ga Ga by Frank Sidebottom

A strange mix, but not a bad soundtrack really. I was particularly impressed by the uncanny segue from the opening credits to the wake up song, and mightily pleased that the end credits finished with Frank Sidebottom’s mercurial take on Radio Ga Ga. Thank you.

How does your life sound?

What about you? Have a go and see how your soundtrack shapes up.

I’d be very interested to see your results – feel free to post as a comment below or write it on the wall of the Facebook group for this blog.

I’ll add my ‘Fantasy Soundtrack’ answers – see step 8 – in due course when I’ve had a bit more time to mull it over.

In the meantime, enjoy selecting the movie soundtrack of your life ……

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Spoilt for choice?

1000s of albums, one pair of ears!

1000s of albums, but only one pair of ears!

So, I discovered Spotify … then what happened?

I stopped blogging, for a start. You may have noticed. Or not. I also pretty much stopped listening to music for two days.

I think I got a bit overwhelmed by having such an incredible amount of exciting music at my fingertips, and the knowledge that I could seek out an infinity of new bands without it costing me a penny. It’s the audio equivalent of ‘Blockbuster Blindness’, that unfortunate condition that afflicts me every time I walk into a video store in search of cinematic entertainment. Left to my own devices I could probably think of five or six movies at any one time that I’d like to see, but stick me amidst all those stacks of DVDs and blu rays and I instantly cease to function.

Choice is a wonderful thing for sure, but it can also be quite tiring.

I guess we all approach the challenge of choice in different ways.

The other day a friend told me she’d taken the plunge and activated itunes genius, and she was getting frustrated with it. When I showed her how to use it to create playlists from her current library she was confused and not the least bit impressed. “But I’ve already got that music, why should I be interested in that? I want it to tell me what else I should listen to, based on what I like.” she countered. A fair point, but that was far from my motivation for using genius, as I’ve already explained in a previous post. I always saw the genius sidebar as a necessary evil, an irritating by-product you could thankfully hide in a corner. For that reason I’d never actually seen it until she showed me.

This got me to thinking about the different methods we employ to discover and purchase new music.

For me, I think it’s all about the three Rs.

  • Reviews
  • Recommendations
  • Roadtests (from now on, thanks to Spotify)


I find reviews can be useful, especially after years of reading between the lines and applying my own sense and judgement to cut through the hyperbole to ensure I don’t get hoodwinked into buying a duffer. Working in a marketing and PR environment I am naturally wary of taking things at face value or getting caught up in the hype. I mainly read reviews in Q magazine and The Word magazine – after a while you get used to which reviewers you trust; who seem to like the same type of music or appreciate the same musical values. Reviewing is quite a skill: if you don’t believe me, give it a try. Take an album you really like and try and evaluate it in an entertaining way in 300-500 words and not cringe when you read it.

Really well written reviews are often the catalyst for me to find out more and listen to bands I might not have heard of yet.


Word of mouth is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways of advertising, but it is completely dependent on trust. We’re a fickle bunch, us 21st century consumers, and if we suffer one bad experience as a result of a personal endorsement that’s probably the last time we’ll take notice of that particular source. We all have one or two (possibly many if you’re very lucky) friends or acquaintances whose musical taste we have complete confidence in and are prepared to follow, however left field their suggestions may first appear.

My top spotter is my little brother. Years ago, as sibling tradition dictates, we each ploughed our separate furrows and drew up the barricades: these are my bands, those are yours – none shall pass. However, we’re too old for that now, and not quite so competitive anymore, so it’s OK to swap recommendations.

Thanks to Jon I’ve discovered some great music including Grandaddy, Joanna Newsom and one of my favourites, Iron & Wine. The key to his recommendations was to actually play me the music, and I think that’s always far more successful than the ‘you should check out so-and-so’ comment in passing. This method also resulted in me discovering one of my favourite albums of all time, ‘Closing Time’ by Tom Waits, thanks to my friends Jen and Stacy Zosky on a long drive from Toronto to Quebec. The same trip garnered ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ by Cat Stevens and the self-titled album by Lyle Lovett and his Large Band.

Which leads me neatly to:


‘Try before you buy’ has got to be the best method. I was very excited when we first got a Borders store in Oxford, because of their unique CD listening stations through which you could sample a few tracks of virtually any CD in store by scanning its barcode. Sadly it didn’t last, the novelty wore off and the headphones (and most of the CDs) have disappeared completely now.

I guess the itunes store was the nearest equivalent I encountered next, with its 25 second previews, but these have always seemed rather hit and miss to me – I’m sure we all know songs with a really duff 25 seconds segment that are otherwise brilliant and vice versa.

Which brings me back to Spotify, which so far seems to be a faultless roadtesting platform. Although there will always be a slight delay between an album’s release and its availability on the library, they do seem to be fairly up to date – I had a quick listen to a few tracks from the new u2 album the other evening to see if it lived up to the hype of the Q review (it didn’t).

I’ve managed to find recent albums by My Morning Jacket and Los Campesinos! that I was interested in buying, and have been merrily listening to them for the past couple of days. So far, so good.

The only dilemma this final step in the process presents me with is should I bother getting the download, or just learn to be content with listening to these new discoveries for free on my laptop…..

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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.’


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.


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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A great band beginning with A: The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event's self-titled album

The Airborne Toxic Event's self-titled album

The what?

Their name may sound like a politically correct description of a chemical attack by terrorists, but at least they got your attention. In fact it was a fictional chemical spill in the novel White Noise by Don Delillo that inspired the band’s name.

Why do I like them?

There are a number of reasons. For starters, the lead singer and lyricist Mikel Jollett is an aspiring novelist who founded the band after the worst week of his life. In the space of seven days his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he found out he had a life-threatening autoimmune disease and his long-term girlfriend left him. And you think you’ve had a tough week!

His response to this triple tragedy was to form a rock band – I admire his style.

As a writer I always respond well to lyrics and really appreciate songs that are well told stories set to a rollicking fine tune. Jollet displays his novelist’s skill in capturing the essence of real life events and imbuing them with intense emotional depth. Sometime about Midnight, the stand out track from their self-titled debut album, illustrates this perfectly as it depicts a scene at a bar where a guy sees his ex-lover for the first time in a while, goes through the wringer of emotions, and then sees her leave with a stranger. The story unfolds in cinematic style, and because the song is written so it addresses the listener (“then she leaves with someone you don’t know”) you find yourself completely drawn into the scene and experiencing the agony of rejection (“your blood boiling, your stomach in ropes”). Lyrically it’s a bit reminiscent of ‘Mr Brightside’ by the Killers, but if anything more poignant. Great tune too, and it was voted song of the year in 2008 by itunes in the USA.

Another reason I’m a fan of this band is the Pitchfork incident. When their debut album was released in the States last year it got absolutely slated by the influential music review website Pitchfork, getting 1.6 out of 10 and a salvo of barely disguised sneering from the reviewer. Mikel Jollet responded by publishing an open letter on the band’s website which defended the band’s reputation with remarkable good grace and dignity. I think that shows great character in the face of spectacularly unfair criticism.

The album was released in the UK on 9 February and I warmly recommend it.

Best songs

  • Sometime around Midnight
  • Wishing Well
  • The Winning Side
  • Gasoline

You’ll probably like them if you’re partial to:

  • The Strokes
  • The Killers
  • Spoon
  • Kings of Leon

In a nutshell:

Intelligent indie rock from LA – who knew?!

Other great bands beginning with A:

  • Arcade Fire
  • Arctic Monkeys
  • Air
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