The EFTM Review: Spotify subscription music service

Ever since Metallica left Napster as the “unforgiven” villain in online music, the world has waited for an affordable, all you can eat music subscription service. Spotify is one...

Ever since Metallica left Napster as the “unforgiven” villain in online music, the world has waited for an affordable, all you can eat music subscription service. Spotify is one of the best, but is it good enough to spend money on? The EFTM team join forces to give their verdict…

NICK: So Trev, you and I have both been testing out Spotify for a while now. Is it the future of music consumption? Can we all stop buying CDs and close our iTunes accounts? Or is it just another way to spend more money than you make?

TREV: Streaming music services are certainly here to stay. I was pretty impressed with Rdio and then Spotify and what they offered, both at the desktop and mobile platforms. They really do add value for the music lover.

But is it worth it? Personally, I think it’s a pretty easy choice to make, based off a single question: How much do you spend on music every year? If the answer is $150 or more, then streaming music is perfect for you. Because you get everything you want, as much as you want, for the price you used to pay. That said, almost everyone will find content gaps in these services, so maintaining your own existing collections is crucial.

How have you guys found the library of music? Is it big enough to walk away from needing to purchase tracks ever again?

NICK: I have to admit, when I first starting using the service (about two months before the official launch), there were a lot of gaps, especially in Australian music. Powderfinger wasn’t there, Birds of Tokyo only had their latest album available and last year’s ARIA award winning best album – Moonfire by Boy & Bear – was nowhere to be seen.

Since the launch though, things have gotten a lot better. Boy & Bear is there, Powderfinger is there and the Birds of Tokyo back catalogue has finally appeared. Of course, there’s no AC/DC or Beatles, but those bands are notoriously protective of their digital rights, so that’s not unexpected. I was surprised that Cold Chisel was there though, given how slow they were to get stuff onto iTunes.

Recently there hasn’t really been any gaps in the music I’ve wanted to listen to, which is awesome. But given I haven’t really tested out Rdio (or any of the other music streaming services, really), I’m interested to know whether or not Spotify’s library is better than others. How does it compare to Rdio, Trev?

TREV: As much as I loved the Rdio trial – and I gave it a hammering for three months – it does appear to me (anecdotally) that Spotify is bigger. Now, our music tastes are cleary very different, but Crowded House has a better selection on Spotify. It was the same for Adele, who only had one album on Rdio, but both were on Spotify. So at a glance, I do think Spotify have ticked more boxes. Certainly, neither are complete, which makes me wonder if we will ever get to a complete database?

And do you think there’s something to be said for the value of the iTunes exclusive stuff? They do some pretty good live events and those things are certainly not available on streaming services – could that be the future differentiation between how we access music in the future?

NICK: It’s definitely going to be one of the key differentiators, I think, just as it has been for artists coming to grips with the world of digital music. But for me the more impressive element of the Spotify experience was the mobile apps.

My iTunes library has something like 15,000 tracks in it. Even if I tried, I couldn’t get all of that copied over to my iPhone. Where Spotify impressed me was the ability to access pretty much anything from wherever I was. The audio quality streaming over NextG was pretty impressive, and the buffer was big enough that I only lost connection once or twice on the train going through the airport tunnel in Sydney.

Of course, I have a 6GB data plan on my smartphone, which meant I didn’t have to worry about data costs. Which is something that held back your experience, didn’t it Damo?

DAMO: Yep, totally. I really want to get on Spotify, but I live in an apartment without a phone line and I’m renting, so don’t want to spend the money installing one. Therefore I’m on mobile broadband plan which makes things really difficult because a 10GB limit just isn’t enough to enjoy Spotify. Having said that, getting Spotify wouldn’t stop me from buying CDs or downloading MP3s in high quality. Would it stop you, Nick?


NICK: Well, funnily enough, it actually encouraged me to buy my first album in ages. I’d been curious about the aforementioned Boy & Bear album Moonfire for a while, but it was only when I was able to listen to the whole thing in its entirety on Spotify that I decided I wanted to own it. So in a way, it was the opposite in that it encouraged me to purchase the good stuff I really liked.

The other thing I think is important here is that both Trev and I used the premium version. The thing that makes Spotify really stand out is that there’s a free ad-supported version as well. While it doesn’t include support for the mobile versions, as a way of discovering new music, having an ad-supported on demand service is brilliant. It may not pay the artists much, but it has certainly helped me discover some new musicians I may not have otherwise discovered.

I’m curious whether this approach is enough to get people on board the Spotify train. Are you planning on using Spotify long term Trev?

TREV: You just have to look at your inbox and see those “somebody is using Spotify” emails to confirm that this ad-supported model is getting people in the door. But are they listening much? Are they really using it or did they just check it out. I see a few people using it regularly but not as many as have signed up.

Personally, it’s not a long term thing. I don’t listen to enough ‘new’ music to justify it, quite frankly.

For those that are though, is the price about right? Or does it need a lower price point to get mass market take-up. We are still talking about early adopter numbers, after all.

NICK: As you said at the beginning mate, it all comes down to how much money you spend on music in the first place. At $7 a month for unlimited music streaming through your PC, or $12 a month for mobile access, I think it’s a pretty sweet proposition. But then again, I’m lucky if I buy three albums a year these days, so that would require a significant boost in my monthly spending.

But it’s almost worth it anyway. I got to listen to two full new albums I was considering buying (Tenacious D’s Rise of the Fenix and John Mayer’s Born and Raised, for those interested), and was happy to discover that I would have been disappointed paying full price for the John Mayer record. So in a way it actually saved me money.

I’ll go even further and say that if (and when!) I have a Sonos system set up at home, I will definitely subscribe to the full service. While “free” is the perfect asking price for a computer-based streaming solution, I like the idea of being able to listen to tunes on my expensive speakers, and given Spotify works through Sonos, that would be enough to persuade me to open my wallet, no questions asked.

What about you Damo? If you ever got yourself a real man’s internet connection, would you pay $12 a month for unlimited Avril Lavigne and Hillary Duff albums? Or is your current collection enough?

DAMO: Real men don’t need real men’s internet connections, as you term them. We are manly enough to deal with mobile broadband and the shit coverage. But yes, I would certainly through down the $12 each month to listen to Silversun Pickups, Garbage and Foster the People. I don’t know of those artists you mentioned though. The Spotify library and music quality is too good to pass up the offer if, like me, you love music.

NICK: I’ve seen your iTunes library Damo. I know the truth.

And what about you Trev. Are you destined to live life as a hoarder of CD jewel cases and an ever growing iTunes library, or can the streaming solution of Spotify or Rdio or JB HiFi Now or Zune music or Sony Music Unlimited or any of the other thousand music streaming services that have launched recently convince you to pay a regular fee for tunes?

TREV: I’m a known hoarder. I have two of those big Bunnings plastic boxes full of CD’s in storage, and all digitised on network storage and on my devices. I also prefer to own, not rent. So keeping a Spotify login will help me sample things, but a paid subscription is just not for me.

NICK: What about the social element? Do you like the fact that your friends using the service are sharing their musical tastes with you on Facebook? I mostly ignore it, but I did have one friend comment on a Weezer song I was listening to, which kind of shocked me. I didn’t mind exactly, I just kind of forgot that it was possible.

But I don’t really get the idea of “sending” music to friends so they can listen to it. And of course there’s the fact that people without Facebook accounts can’t sign up for Spotify at all, which sucks for those that are protective of their privacy.

I am a fan of being able to embed playlists and songs though. That’s a pretty awesome feature, so long as everyone reading has a Spotify account…

TREV: I was shocked on launch day how many people contacted me to say they wouldn’t sign up because a Facebook account was required. It’s pretty amazing they would make Facebook a requirement, but if you think about it a free account gives them no great value unless it drives more users. I think if you were signing up to pay dollars for it, you shouldn’t have to use Facebook if you don’t want – that would be reasonable.

I do like seeing what others are listening to as they do it, its a real social experience, and as we learn to share playlists and tracks that will just be enhanced. Rdio offers a similar feature, so I think we have to accept that for people who stream music, the sharing is part of the deal.

Is it a deal breaker for those not into the idea? Unlikely.

On that front, with embed, link, facebook share and more, Spotify seems to have the upper hand.

NICK: So with that in mind, two to one will keep using the service regularly. I’d say that’s a pretty good recommendation…

Categories
Entertainment

Nick Broughall is the Australian Editor of TechRadar.com, where he gets to indulge his passion for geekery and the lastest technology. He is also the Editor of EFTM.com.au, where he gets to indulge his passion for manliness, from sampling fine liquor to the joys of growing a beard. It's a pretty good life, really.
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