I’ve finally subscribed to Spotify Premium after freeloading for the past six months or so. You might be surprised that I wasn’t a premium subscriber already, given the nature of this blog. But regular readers will have seen my post from a couple of months ago where I gave my “Top 5 Reasons Why I Haven’t Subscribed to Spotify Yet.” It certainly provoked a lot of discussion, and while many of the reasons I stated are still true I’ve decided that now is the right time to open my wallet and subscribe to Spotify Premium.
So what’s changed? Well, a number of things but here’s the summary:
Five Reasons Why I Subscribed to Spotify Premium
- For high-quality audio streaming
- To support Spotify (i.e. maintain my supply)
- To support the artists who create the music
- To get rid of the commercials
- To use Spotify on my mobile phone
1. High-quality audio streaming
Last week saw the introduction of q9-encoded streaming as a premium-only feature on Spotify. This doubles the audio quality of the music (better than 320kbps mp3), providing a clearer, crisper, more dynamic sound. For the first time the Spotify blog and support forum saw lots of comments saying “I subscribed to premium for this!” along with general praise and thanks from the audiophiles.
I must confess to being a bit of an audiophile myself: for the past few years I’ve downloaded and ripped all my mp3s in 320kbps format only and actively avoided download stores that didn’t offer a high-bitrate or FLAC option. I have a fairly decent hi-fi in my living room (Yamaha amp, Kef speakers) and good cans for my mp3 player (Bose on-ear headphones), so I like the think I can appreciate good audio quality (despite the tinnitus in my right ear). I’m not a purist though, I don’t spend thousands on hi-fi equipment and I don’t insist on lossless encoding. I just like enough for better-than-average quality.
When Spotify came along with its ~160kbps stream, I thought this was just about acceptable: it was certainly better than other streaming sites, most of which were down at the 64kbps level. But turn up the volume to 11, or listen to some ambient, downtempo, or classical and the loss of fidelity becomes more apparent: high frequencies are clipped and sometimes tinny, bass rumble is missing, distortion seems to creep into loud sections. Spotify’s high bitrate option is a feature I’d hoped for but didn’t expect so soon. It’s a very tempting proposition to go premium for this alone.
2. Support Spotify (i.e. maintain my supply)
As any addict will know, maintaining your supply is always crucial. Spotify may be three years old but it’s still a start-up yet to make a profit. Spotify has publicly said their target is to be profitable by the end of the year (or the end of the new financial year), and if they fail to do this then some of the record labels may become nervous and pull their content. This would be the start of a downward spiral that could see Spotify join Spiral Frog or other former online music services. Of course Spotify is designed to thrive from its free ad-supported model, with premium providing a profitable top-up. But this may not have fully taken into account the current economic climate where online advertising budgets are at their lowest for years.
I love synthpop and electro music and post on various forums dedicated to this music genre. The Marsheaux forum, for example, is one place where I’ve recently started posting. It’s somewhere I can hear about all the great new synthpop bands that are out there. But whenever I mention Spotify I’m met with a stoney silence. I add Spotify links and synthpop playlists to my posts and it’s as if I’ve dropped a big turd into their punch bowl of pop. The whole notion of a streaming service is so unusual that I think they assume it’s illegal or somehow cheating the artist out of a CD sale. These are real music fans who want to support their favourite artists. Trouble is, I don’t think they see Spotify as a way of doing that. It’s this sort of assumption that Spotify needs to overcome.
So a combination of a difficult economic climate and misguided or old-world views of the service have made some people question Spotify’s viability as a business. Personally I think Music Ally have a more balanced view, where they quite rightly point out that “while you can look at this story as confirming that Spotify’s ad-supported model is flopping, you could just as easily say it’s doing better than expected at upselling to the premium model.”
As a music addict, I don’t want my supply of limitless quality music to dry up. I need my celestial jukebox man to be there whenever I need him. So a subscription to Spotify premium is one way I can make sure my source is always there.
3. Support the artists who create the music
I’m not a professional musician myself, but I’ve had a fringe involvement with various music-related events, websites, and CD releases over the years. I’m an amateur DJ and remixer and have made friends with a fair few artists and bands through my love of synthpop and electro music. I’m always in awe of a musician’s talent and ability: for someone who can barely play a few notes on a bass guitar, watching a musician record or play a song live has always amazed and humbled me. These guys are responsible for one of the most important things in my life. For many of them, making music is their occupation: it’s a day job on which they depend to support themselves and their families. Of course many more musicians just do it for the love of the music: it’s a secondary hobby that sometimes supplements the day job but usually is just a fun thing to do for a few years. But most music on Spotify was made by professional musicians with the help of professional sound engineers, producers, mixers, promoters, managers and a whole load of other specialists. Casual listeners may bemoan the fact that the greedy labels take such a large cut of sales from the artist, but the fact remains that there’s a whole chain of talent involved for every song you hear.
An artist’s percentage of my freemium contribution of nothing is still nothing. They’ll receive a tiny amount each time I listen to one of the songs, but now that I’m a premium subscriber perhaps they’ll receive a tiny bit more. If this helps with the costs of the next single or album, then it’s money well spent.
4. Get rid of the commercials
I’ve gotten over Roberta: she’s history. Jonathan I can handle, and all those things you’ve read about him are undoubtedly all lies (although perhaps he does iron his underpants). Some of the ads are even kinda fun: who could have predicted of the cult of Suitopia? But some days are worse that others. The ad frequency seems to vary on a daily basis: one day it’s once every 20 minutes or so, another day I get two ads every 14 minutes. And after a while they do become irritating, especially when I want a nice weekend with someone special.
Particularly annoying (for me at least) are the Spotify Voice Mail ads. I’ve nothing against this in principle – it’s actually quite interesting to hear what someone thinks is good about or missing from Spotify, but the problem for me is that I can’t stand the beep. At the start and end of each of these 30-seconds ads is a simulated voice-message beep which is at just the right frequency to make my tinnitus go crazy. I have a constant hum in my right ear (thanks to years of very load music and lots of gigs without earplugs: let that be a lesson to you, kids) but usually I don’t really notice it. A few things resonate it though: my office fire alarm, the high notes in Human League’s Open Your Heart, and now the beeps in the Spotify Voice Mail ads.
But instead of just sitting here whining and moaning about the ads like so many of the freetards, I simply subscribed to Spotify premium and all that nasty commercialism just went away. I’ll never have to hear those ads again. Now that I’m premium I can listen to full albums uninterrupted and in the way the artist intended. My long nights of entertaining and partying (such as they are these days) now flow as my playlists intended, without any jarring or disruptive commercial every few tracks. It really is quite blissful.
5. Have Spotify on my mobile phone
I’ve been holding this post back for quite a few weeks now, saying to myself that I would definitely go premium once the Google Android version of Spotify was released. It’s still not here yet though so I’m jumping the gun a little, but I’ve been assured that “it shouldn’t be too much longer.” The Spotify on Android demo at the recent Google conference proves it’s real so that’s good enough for me. I expect the delay may not be technical and is more to do with Spotify convincing the labels that the mobile version provides time-shifted streaming rather than music downloads. I expect the rights are different so this would need to be clarified and assurances made.
The mobile version of Spotify will be the biggest single change in Spotify’s history: it’s a deal-breaker that could turn Spotify into a killer app of itunes proportions. It could change the way we think about music ownership forever. You’ve heard all that before of course, but there are thousands of users all saying a mobile version is what they’ve been waiting for from Spotify to finally turn them into premium subscribers. Many of course will still complain (“I can’t store enough music offline”, “it’s not out for my XYZ phone yet”, etc.) but I reckon many music fans will finally return to paying for music after all those years of downloading torrents “to see if I’d like it“.
For the price of one CD a month, I now have these other premium features to look forward to as well as everything I’ve listed above.
So those were my reasons for going premium. What were yours?