Why I’m Wired to Spotify

I was recently interviewed by Wired Magazine (USA version), where I was asked about my thoughts on Spotify: how it had changed how I listen to music, how I saw Spotify’s impact in Europe and whether I thought a US release would be good for Spotify. Here is the complete “director’s cut” of my responses.

1. How has Spotify changed the way you listen to and consume music?


I discovered Spotify at the start of 2009, at a time when I was buying four or five CDs a month and downloading many more. I still buy the occasional CD, but my downloading days are over: Spotify is faster and easier to use than fiddling about with torrents, it’s available where-ever and whenever I want it (at home, at work, at a friend’s or on-the-move), and has changed my musical life forever.

Before Spotify, I would lurk on various forums and music sites waiting for recommendations. With a limited budget for CDs (and a constant angst over shady torrenting), I would carefully research and select music I might like. It was often a hit-and-miss affair, and I’d frequently end up thinking what a waste of time/money I’d spent on an album. Spotify has freed me to sample as much music as I can handle, legally and with zero download time. With Spotify (and its army of dedicated community sites) there are all sorts of ways to discover new music and new releases. I’ve always been keen on hearing new music, but Spotify takes it to a whole new level: they add on average 14,000 new tracks per day. That’s pretty amazing. They cover every genre imaginable. And new albums are usually available on Spotify on the day of release, so there’s no waiting for the post to arrive with the CD or waiting for your torrent ratio to catch up.

As well as new music, Spotify has let me live my youth again with all those disco favourites and cool bands from my high-school days. It’s a fabulous nostalgia trip and always fun to fill in the gaps and hear albums from an older band’s catalogue that I’d missed. Many of these bands continued to release music long after I’d forgotten about them, but Spotify makes it simple as pie to hear what they’ve been up to and make your own compilation of favourites.

I still remember what a revelation it was when I first used Spotify. I searched for an artist, saw some albums, clicked on a track. It started playing instantly. At first I thought it must be playing an MP3 version I already had on my hard drive, so I clicked on a song I knew I didn’t have. It started playing instantly too. I clicked halfway through the track and it picked up from there instantly. Successful apps usually have one killer feature but Spotify has several: instant play, access to all the music in the world (or as good as), and URL-based playlists.

For me, a Spotify subscription has become one of the essential monthly utility bills along with electricity, broadband, and TV. For the cost of a CD a month, I get permanent access to over eleven million tracks (which with my meagre meatbrain is essentially “all the music in the world“). I’ve no need for masses of local storage (I deleted all my MP3s ages ago), and my Android phone is the only music playing device I need out-and-about. A few thousand MP3s on your iPod sir? No thanks, I have 11 million on my smartphone!

2. How has Spotify influenced music culture in Britain?

As one of the top 3 exporters of music, the UK was always going to be an essential territory for Spotify. The UK has always loved its music and I think Spotify now has more users here than in any other country in Europe.

Many music sites and blogs in the UK will now include a Spotify link to albums or artists they’re reviewing. This means that you can instantly start listening to the album while reading the review. Most bands here now post details about their new albums as being available “On CD, iTunes, and Spotify.”

I go to see lots of bands live. Before each gig I use Spotify to both remind me of the band’s songs and check out what the support band sounds like too.

But the biggest impact is with music sharing. A Spotify playlist can be a single song, an album, or a custom collection of tracks (just like all those mixtapes you used to make!) Each playlist has its own unique URL which you can post on Facebook, Twitter, forums, email to friends etc. Spotify playlist sharing sites are extremely popular in Europe; they let you paste a URL of your playlist for others to enjoy, rate and comment on.

I’ve made lots of new friends through Spotify playlist sharing sites and shared playlist links on the likes of Twitter. Spotify’s in-client social area lets you share music with friends directly: a personal recommendation in your Spotify inbox just can’t be beaten!

3. How can Spotify be improved/what are its flaws?

Spotify’s core desktop client hasn’t changed since the beginning. Naturally they’ve been bolting on new features and enhancements every few months but I do feel that a completely rewritten client is inevitable. In particular, with so much music available, managing all those playlists is a challenge. Spotify recently (and belatedly) added folders to help ease this problem, but you can’t easily sort or move your playlists about and it’s especially difficult to navigate through them on the mobile version.

Some people say that needing to download a client app (rather than web-based) is a flaw, but personally I don’t mind this. Updates are pushed out automatically anyway.

Perhaps Spotify’s biggest flaw though is outside its control. Despite adding so much new music every week, a small but noticiable amount is also removed. One day a band’s full catalogue will be on there, the next (and without warning or notification) it’s gone, removed usually at the behest of the record label. It’s a real annoyance to find your favourites removed and it can play havoc with all your carefully constructed playlists. Sometimes the removed music might reappear again a few weeks later (for example, from a different distributor or after the band’s new album promotion campaign has ended) but often once they’re gone they’re gone. This removal policy isn’t unique to Spotify, but until it stops you can’t abandon your MP3s completely.

4. Do you think launching in the U.S. will help or hurt Spotify?

As a Spotify user in the UK, I’m happy with the things just as they are: it’s not often we get something here that’s better than anything the US has to offer! For a while Spotify was Europe’s best kept musical secret, which had the advantage of keeping it under the radar of big American guns like Apple and Google. As awareness of Spotify grows in the US, that could only attract more unwelcome attention from competitors wanting to kill it or buy it (or both). A U.S. launch has long been a goal for Spotify though, and if that’s what’s needed to keep the service alive for us here in Europe then so be it. I say Europe but don’t forget that Spotify is only available in 7 of the 47 European countries. It’s not available in Germany, Italy, or Denmark yet for example. But I guess seven markets is enough to prove the concept and pave the way for the biggest music market in the world.

I can see why the temptation to jump the pond so quickly must be so strong. So I think launching in the U.S. will help Spotify (the company) to grow and help Spotify (the service) to keep on getting better and better. I’m sure the shareholders would be delighted and I think the American record labels will come to love it too. Spotify is easier and faster than illegal downloading, it should be a no-brainer to the labels if they really want to stop the torrenting. It may not earn quite as much as an equivalant purchase from iTunes, but it’s a heck of a lot more income for them than nothing. It’s ironic really: Spotify is built upon the very same technology (peer-to-peer) that the record labels fear so much.