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Sucked into the brave new world of rented music
I have to admit it: after some months of resisting, I've turned into something of a Spotify addict.

For those who haven't tried it yet, Spotify is one of the hot new cloud systems -- basically a near-infinite jukebox. You sign up, tell it what music tracks you like, and *poof*, you can listen to them.

The catch, of course, is that it's not free, or even especially cheap. The Free version includes enough ads to drive me to distraction. (Truth to tell, I wouldn't even mind those so much if they had enough variety, but they are very inbred and repetitive, mostly for the service itself.) The "Unlimited" version does away with the ads for $5/month -- a price I can afford, but had to think about seriously. The "Premium" package adds in mobile access, for $10/month -- I signed up for that by accident, until I realized just *how* expensive it was.

Of course, having paid the membership fee, I'm bloody well going to get my money's worth. Which reminded me that the nice thing about a garage startup is that I can play whatever the heck music I want all day, blaring from the speakers. So I often have Spotify on for several hours a day.

Benefits of the system:
  • Their catalog is surprisingly deep. It doesn't have all the richness of something like CDBaby, but I've been pleasantly surprised that it is *not* confined to big-name groups. For example (indeed, what inspired this post), I'm currently catching up on filkertom's recent albums.

  • Because of that, it's an excellent way to explore music that I might be interested in. My biggest playlist is "To Listen To" -- whenever I come across a group that seems good, I'm just slapping all of their albums into there as a bookmark for future exploration.

  • They have a "Radio" concept throughout -- basically, from any playlist, you can say "Start Radio", and it will begin to play you music *like* that playlist but mostly not *from* it. This is especially great for exploration: for example, the other day I was in the mood for weird Scandanavian music, so I built a playlist around Garmarna and started the Radio riffing on it; that produced several more groups for me to explore.
On the other hand, there are some surprising weaknesses:
  • There is no actual music *store* as far as I can tell. That's actually quite distressing to me: when I find a musician or track I *really* like, I would like to support them properly by buying their music for my iPod. To do this, I've had to hack an approach: I have a "To Buy" playlist for bookmarking those tracks, and then I have to go buy them separately from Amazon or CDBaby.

  • The Radio concept is clever and fun, but the implementation needs work. I've found that it gets horribly stuck on local minima, and in particular, if I thumbs-up a track, it then desperately tries to give me every other track from that album in the following days. My "Starred" playlist in particular -- my across-the-board collection of favorite music -- is especially prone to this, and that's quite annoying: it's a pretty diverse playlist, and I resent winding up with an *un*-diverse Radio station derived from it.

  • It is *remarkably* crappy about de-duping playlists. If I add an album to a playlist, and I already had the album there, it simply adds another copy. I suppose that might make sense if you think of a playlist as an ordered list to play straight through, but it's simply an annoyance for someone like me, who mostly thinks in terms of shuffle play.
Still and all, it's the first implementation of streaming music that I've found good enough to stick with for more than a month or so. I don't love the long-term implications -- I *like* buying my music, and this sort of strictly-rental approach makes me a little queasy. But as a way to explore, it's pretty excellent.

Of course, being a cloud-based service, it's got this whole social media aspect -- you can see your friends' playlists and what they've been listening to, and so on. I don't mind playing that game, so folks can find me there through my Facebook account. My quickly-growing "Starred" playlist is really the heart of what I listen to, if you've ever been curious about my tastes. (I'll share that to my FB feed so folks can find it -- they don't appear to make that simple, surprisingly...)

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I was trying Spotify out a while ago, except the Linux client they had at the time was nigh-unusable (could not log in via GUI, got stuck on scanning my hard disk) and the client I could get running via WINE had issues (it could play tracks remote tracks fine, but if it tried to play something from my library, there was no audio).

which is a shame, since Pandora doesn't have enough breadth, but it is the only one that consistently works for me.

Hmm. They recently released a much more serious browser-based client, with at least much of the functionality of the installed one. Don't know if it's a good solution for you, but you might want to give it a try -- it seems to work decently for me, and the Windows/Linux differences tend to be a lot less deadly inside the browser...

There are downsides for the artists on Spotify, though.

Yep. That's why I'm unhappy about the lack of a related store -- I want a smoother way to go from "have found someone's music" to "actually supporting this artist". I consider Spotify a great way to *find* artists, and I think that it's quite useful to the industry in that capacity. But it would prefer you to *just* stream the music, and that's quite damaging...

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I've been enjoying Spotify for a while. Everything you said about the ads is true, but Blockify takes care of them nicely.

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