Tag 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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The Hazards of Life

It seems to be a bit of a theme that recent posts start with an apology for absence, but at least this time there’s a decent excuse. After spending most of June on a fantastic holiday in Canada I managed to fall off a mountain bike on a particularly tricky and apparently notorious stretch of the Spray River Trail in Banff on the last day, breaking my left elbow and badly spraining my forearm and wrist.

Consequently blogging’s been on the back burner since arriving home, as one-handed typing doesn’t really lend itself to anything other than the absolutely necessary. Such as work!

The accident didn’t spoil an amazing holiday though, and the various great experiences and gorgeous scenery we enjoyed were enhanced by a varied and uniformly excellent soundtrack, thanks in part to the fact that Jo and Gary (sister and brother-in-law) our travelling companions have a very similar taste in music to mine.

There were many music-related highlights of the trip, particularly the day we drove along the Icefield Parkway from Jasper to Banff to an exclusively Canadian soundtrack, including Joni Mitchell, Great Lake Swimmers and Arcade Fire. However, one particular album emerged as a firm favourite from the holiday, and I was delighted that Gary in particular shared my enthusiasm for it.

Beware: Hazards ahead

Beware: Hazards ahead

‘The Hazards of Love’ by The Decemberists. And herein hangs many a tale.

Although I’d had a couple of sneak previews of it on Spotify, I’d been deliberately saving this new album for the holiday when I could give it the time, attention and repeated plays it undoubtedly deserved. Regular readers will know that it was thanks to reading rave reviews of this album and interviews with the band before its release that led me to research and discover the delights of their back catalogue, to the extent that they have now surpassed all other bands in my affections.

Acquiring this greatly acclaimed masterpiece, “The best record ever made” according to one of the writers for The Word magazine, was clearly a priority and I wasted no time when that very publication advertised a free copy of the CD in exchange for placing a subscription. I did so on my birthday in April, and eagerly awaited my copy of the May issue. Which arrived with no CD.

After ringing the magazine I discovered the CD would be sent separately within 28 days. Cue 28 days of very impatient huffing and puffing when it never materialised. What made it worse was that thanks to the generosity of friends and family for my birthday I’d purchased about 15 other albums with my many vouchers, none of which I wanted as much as this one. I could have bought it so many times over, but decided to wait for the free copy.

Except, my patience finally evaporated the day before we went on holiday and I downloaded the album from itunes instead. I couldn’t wait any longer, and I listened to it all the way through for the first time on the flight to Vancouver the next day. It was awesome, and I listened to it all again straight afterwards. It’s 17 tracks and well over an hour long. And well worth the wait.

You can read reviews here and here, and if you’re not familiar with The Decemberists it’s probably not the best place to start, but it is lyrically, musically and conceptually a stunning piece of work. It’s a post-modern concept album, telling the tale of a maiden ‘romanced’ by a shape-shifting beast in an enchanted forest and a rake, an ‘irascible blackguard’ who unburdens himself of parental responsibility by murdering his offspring.

Nice.

Oh, and there’s also a pretty scary sounding Queen in there somewhere, who holds the key to the mysterious provenance of the shape-shifting fawn/human.

Steps it ain’t.

On a first listen it might seem a bit much, and be rather overpowering, but repeated listens reveal more and more layers, you start to notice repeated musical themes and motifs and the story becomes clearer. Many of the songs are outstanding on their own, but when you hear them in order and in context they are somehow even more impressive. It’s a grower!

There’s something special about sharing your excitement about music you’ve discovered, and the first time we listened to this album in our fabulous suite at L’Hermitage hotel in Vancouver it was brilliant watching and hearing Gary’s reactions – his overwhelming positivity added even more to my enjoyment. We had a couple of repeat performances during the holiday, most notably on the last day after we’d got back from the hospital and I was struggling with the pain. Laughter is often the best medicine, but this time it was music.

And today, finally and almost miraculously, my free copy of ‘The Hazards of Love’ arrived in the post. It had taken another phone call, and the rectification of a shocking administrative error, but at last, the spoils.

And so ends a tale of acquisition almost as lengthy, rambling and unexpected as that depicted by the album itself.

Bet you wish I’d broken my right elbow too!

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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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Awkward Family Photos

I know this has nothing to do with music, but I make no apologies for drawing your attention to this wonderful blog which has had me in stitches for ages this evening when I should have been writing here.

Awkward Family Photos is such a brilliantly simple idea, but so hilarious.

There are so many great pictures up there, but my favourites have to be the two in the ‘Awkward Family Holiday Cards’ Archive. I’m sorry if it’s cruel but there’s something so endearingly hilarious about ’30/80′ (those eyes, that sweater!) and as for ‘Tis the Season’, I don’t know where to begin. Is he serious with that sweater – you just know that her matching one says ‘World’s Best Mom’. Oh Munchkin, with these his ‘n hers festive tops you are spoiling us!

It also reminded me of a fantastic photo of my family at Christmas, possibly 1978, when everyone dutifully posed for the camera apart from my Grandad and Uncle who carried on watching the telly regardless. If my dad or brother can oblige with a copy I’ll happily include it here for your delectation and delight. Worth it for the fashion infractions, hideous carpet and sofa alone.

In the meantime, enjoy the horrors of countless American family albums ….

….. and then come back here to read more about Spotify!

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Now playing: Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers

Current favourite albums: 1 of 3

Thanks to Spotify I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently, and have discovered some great albums and artists I hadn’t heard before. As a result, I’ve picked three albums out for special attention this month, with a longer than usual list of other notable mentions. Don’t worry, I’m going to spread them out over three articles so you won’t have a marathon to negotiate.

First up and top billing this month goes to:

Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

Great Lake Swimmers - Ongiara

Ongiara: even the sleeve art is beautiful

Until a week or so ago, I’d never heard of Great Lake Swimmers.

I read a review of their latest album ‘Lost Channels’ which prompted me to add them to my list of new discoveries to check out. As a result, I came across their previous release from 2007, which I fell in love with on first listen, and have been playing regularly ever since.

These days I find myself increasingly drawn to acoustic, folky music. Some might put it down to my age, but I just appreciate the simplicity of the sound and find its melodic qualities incredibly soothing and relaxing. Most of my favourite bands producing this music seems to originate from North America. And many of them are in some way quirky. Great Lake Swimmers are no exception, and as their name hints, they hail from Canada, and Ontario specifically.

From the outset they have made something of a habit of recording in eccentric places – their debut was created in a grain silo, and Ongiara, their third album was recorded in Aeolian Hall, in London, Ontario which was built in 1884 and originally a town hall, but is now a heritage site and a music and arts venue renowned for its fabulous acoustics.

If you are curious enough to give this album a listen, you’ll hear that the decision paid off: the guitar, banjo and strings all sound fantastic and the instrumentation perfectly complements the melodic vocals of lead singer, guitarist and founder Tony Dekker.

I’m not going to attempt a full review here – there are plenty online if you’re interested ranging from the ecstatic to the downright mean (Pitchfork again!). The point of these ‘now playing’ features is to highlight something I’ve really enjoyed, nudge others to seek it out for themselves and hopefully really appreciate it too.

If you’re a fan of folky, rootsy singer/songwriter type stuff such as Iron & Wine, or possibly even Nick Drake, then this will probably be your bag. I was sold by the end of the first few banjo bars of opener ‘Your Rocky Spine’ and it just got better. The second track ‘Backstage with the Modern Dancers’ is really exquisite – I can’t really describe why: it just is, and one of those songs you happen to stumble upon that you then can’t imagine being without.

My other favourites are ‘Catcher Song’, ‘Changing Colours’ and ‘There is a light’. That’s not to say that the remaining tracks aren’t really good too – it’s just that the first five really stand out. In fact, it’s the kind of album that serenades you slowly rather than grabbing you by the ears and demanding attention, but actually leaves you wanting more. More than once I’ve got to the end and started playing it again from the beginning: that’s not something I do often.

Great Lake Swimmers have sometimes been criticised for producing slight, fragile music and not really rocking out. Tony Dekker’s voice is, according to some, too quiet and not strong enough.

I think that’s just harsh and ungrateful.

You don’t always want to listen to brash, piercing vocals, thrashing guitars and a pounding beat.

It’s very pleasant sometimes, as Dekker sings on ‘There is a light’, to just “Stop, listen and feel” .

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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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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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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)

Reviews

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.

Recommendations

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:

Roadtests

‘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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