Tag Archives: mp3

Google Music Beta vs. Spotify

Google Music Beta is a cloud-based music locker service that lets you store up to 20,000 tracks for free. You can then play back your music either via a Flash-enabled webpage or an Android smartphone app. The Android app includes an offline option to store local copies of your songs.

I’ve been using Google Music Beta for the past couple of weeks, putting it through its paces and comparing how it handles versus Spotify. Overall I’ve been impressed with its performance and ease-of-use. Read on for more.


Uploading Tracks

I have about 10,000 songs in my music library that aren’t available on Spotify. This includes some of the obvious no-shows (The Beatles, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Arcade File etc.) as well as around 700 albums from artists that only have one or two releases on Spotify (for example, English punk-rockers The Toy Dolls have only two of their dozen albums on Spotify).

Google Music is not licensed by the record labels, so there’s no matching option: you need to upload your files to Google’s locker to be able to stream them. My 10,000 songs took about two weeks to upload (with my PC left on most nights) but this will of course vary depending on how many tracks you add and your bandwidth. You can specify which folders to monitor, as well as set how much of your upload bandwidth you want to dedicate to Google Music.


The Music Manager lets you select where to upload from and set various options.



Uploaded music appears in “My Library” with areas to list by artist, album, song and genre. Your MP3’s ID3 tags are used for the metadata, but you can easily right-click and edit tracks (as well as upload album cover art). Some albums I ripped from CD and noticed they already had album art when viewed in Google Music, but most I had to add the art manually.

The New and Recent area shows a coverart view of what you’ve uploaded or played recently, while a Recently Added area lists everything added in reverse order.

You can like (“Thumb Up”) a song, and view an auto-generated playlist of these. You can create custom playlists which you can name but not add any coverart to. There’s also an “Instant Mix” feature which auto-generates a playlist of similar tracks based on a seed song.

Artist, Album and Genre library views show up to five album covers per item, and the number of items shown on a row changes as you widen or shrink your browser (so no unnecessary scroll bars). Clicking through to an artist lists the albums in alphabetical order. There’s no way to sort based on e.g. year released or date added unfortunately, even though the metadata’s there to do that. There’s also no distinction between a full album or, say, a single or EP: they’re all listed alphabetically. Tracks have both Artist and Album Artist tags though, so Various Artist albums are handled well.

The search bar is instant, so results are filtered as you type and match anywhere in the name. The instant results indicate whether it’s an album, artist or song which is handy too.


Artist view.



Playback is surprisingly fast, with songs starting almost instantly after clicking them. Sound quality is as good as the uploaded version: there’s no downsampling, meaning that 320kbps songs stay at that high bitrate. Google Music also uploads FLAC files, although these are transcoded to 320kbps MP3s.

The interface includes all the usual playback controls, including shuffle and repeat play. The gap between songs is also almost (but not quite) gapless for albums ripped with an indication of the gap length.



Google Music has pretty much all you’d need already, but there’s one essential add-on I highly recommend. Music Plus for Google Music is a Chrome extension that adds scrobbling, artist biographies, toast-style notifications, lyrics and hotkeys. It also adds a mini-player to the address bar, with playback controls and a full library search, so you can control your music no matter which tab you’re working in.


Music Plus for Google Music mini player.



The Google Music app for Android is a slick music player that’s fast and responsive, is easy to use and has almost all the features you’d expect. It does seem that your music is downsampled when streaming over 3G though, so you’re not getting the full high-quality as you do on the desktop.


What’s Not So Good about Google Music Beta

There are a few minor quirks and things I think are missing. I’ve already mentioned that you can’t sort albums or artists (e.g. by release date), and I’d like to be able to add coverart to the playlists I create. Albums with the same name seem to confuse Google Music (if you click on the album it shows it as one album with two track 1s, two track 2s etc.) and of course with the licensing deals, the initial upload time can seem like forever. The mobile app looks good but the downsampling is disappointing, and for those looking for true lossless streaming the transcoding of FLAC files to 320 MP3s is a let down.


Google Music Beta vs. Spotify

I’ve now uploaded all my local music to Google Music, amounting to around 10,000 songs. Without Spotify my “local library” would be at least ten times that size though, so I can’t use Google Music exclusively due to its 20,000 tracks limit. So for now my choices are:

  • Spotify streaming access + Spotify for local music
  • Spotify streaming access + Google Music Beta for local music

You might think this’d be a no-brainer: why use two different services when you can use one? Well, there’s more to it than that. It might come as a surprise to long-term readers of this blog, but I’ve decided to remove my local music from Spotify and use Google Music Beta instead. Here’s why.

Google Music is a cloud-based locker service like Amazon Cloud Drive and Apple’s iCloud. Spotify, on the other hand, is a music streaming subscription service so not directly comparable. However, Spotify does include a local files option so that you can use it to play and sync music that’s not in the Spotify catalog. So on the face of it, Spotify is all you need. Why bother with cloud locker services at all, if Spotify can be used for everything?

There are several reasons why I’ve decided to use Google Music instead of Spotify for local music:

  • Local music doesn’t work across desktops. If you use Spotify on more than one desktop (for example at home and at work), your local music from home is not available at work (and vice versa). In other words, your local music stays local to the machine it came from, unless you subscribe to Spotify Mobile. Since Google Music stores all your files in the cloud, you can access that one library from anywhere and from as many PCs as you want.
  • The Google Music interface is cleaner and easier to use. Spotify handles its own catalog reasonably well, but Local Files is a late arrival and a bit of a mess. You can’t easily view both Spotify and local music at the same time (it usually fails to include local files in artist view), and unless you make a playlist out of each local album the whole lot is grouped together in one giant list. I could just about put up with this on the desktop, but on mobile it’s practically unusable.
  • All my music is in high-quality 320kbps. I always rip my CDs at 320kbps and only purchase MP3s at that bitrate too. So when I listen to my tunes on Google Music, I know it’s all in high-quality. Not so with Spotify: everything’s capped at 160kbps on mobile, at there’s no guarantee that songs you listen to on the desktop are at 320kbps. Spotify claim that “not all tracks are currently available in high bitrate” but refuse to reveal the numbers (or add a bitrate indicator in the client). There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that more popular albums are more likely to be in high-bitrate, but since I mostly listen to obscure synthpop and electro music that doesn’t really help me.
  • Gaps between songs (for gapless playback) are shorter than on Spotify. I don’t think Google Music does any pre-fetching, but it does seem that for gapless albums (where I’ve enabled “detect gap” while ripping the CD), the gap is very short indeed and almost imperceptible.
  • I can listen on the desktop at work (where Spotify is banned). This is probably the clincher for me. I’m not allowed to install non-work related apps on my work PC, and Spotify has been explicitly named as a banned app. That left me fiddling with my smartphone all day and the 160kbps capped Spotify Android app. Spotify on Android does the basics, but it’s many versions behind the iPhone version and trying to manage more than a few dozen playlists with it is frustrating to say the least. Google Music is web-based however, so not subject to the same restrictions. I can use Google Music on the desktop (taking advantage of all that widescreen real estate) and have guaranteed high-quality audio.

Android apps: Google Music (left) vs. Spotify (right)



I’m not suggesting a move from Spotify to Google Music Beta for all music, just for music that’s not on Spotify in the first place. Of course there’s a complication here in that content comes and goes on Spotify. For example, John Lennon was completely missing from Spotify for years. His entire catalog was finally added to much fanfare back in October 2010 only for it to all be quietly removed again a few months later.

So keeping track of what’s on Spotify is an essential but annoying chore for any serious music fan. I’m currently using half my storage quota on Google Music Beta, so at least I have some spare space for whenever I discover another favorite has been pulled.

Google Music isn’t the first music locker service, and without record label support and music matching it’s probably not be the best either. But it works well (considering the “beta” moniker is hard-coded in the name), and for me is a better proposition than things like, say, Audiogalaxy where I have to leave my PC on all the time to stream music from it. Playback performance is impressive: in over a week of using Google Music every day on the desktop, I’ve yet to notice a single stutter or drop in sound.


Use It or Lose It! Spotify’s Download Expiration Policy

Spotify’s new MP3 download store has been getting lots of press lately, usually with the angle that Spotify is now gunning for Apple’s iTunes and other MP3 stores. One thing that most reports miss though (and which several followers on Twitter have asked me about) is the 30-day download expiration policy.

To buy an MP3 on Spotify, you must first purchase a download bundle of 1, 10, 15, 40 or 100 downloads. This work a bit like Xbox tokens or other credit purchase schemes. You then use these tokens to grab the tracks you want. However, if you don’t use the downloads within 30 days you lose them for good. From the Spotify FAQ:

“When you buy downloads they are valid for 30 days from the purchase date.”

So if you don’t use all of your download bundle in time, any remaining downloads will disappear and you’ll need to buy some more if you want more MP3s. There are extensions, but only by another 30 days:

“If you buy further downloads before your unused downloads expire their validity is extended by 30 days from the newest purchase date. The validity of downloads can be extended in this way up to a maximum of 90 days.”

Of course, the MP3s themselves aren’t expiring, just the download bundles you buy to get them in the first place. For some users though, that’s not the point.

Several Spotfy users have expressed concern over the expiration policy, claiming that it’s unfair and fearing that it could leave them out-of-pocket. For example, you might spend £50 to buy a download bundle of 100 tracks, since that’s the cheapest option and works out at only 50 pence a track. You make your purchase then grab all the songs in your favorite 30-track playlist. You then go off into the night, traveling the world with your iPod and not logging in to Spotify for a couple of months… by which time your remaining downloads have expired and you’ve lost £35 worth of music you thought you’d paid for.

Spotify claims that the download expiry dates are “in order for us to provide you the most competitive prices.” This sounds like Spotify-speak for “We got a great discount deal from the record labels for cheap downloads, but we had to build-in some restrictions.

Maybe that’s true. Either way, the expiration rule seems like an attempt to make sure you keep coming back to Spotify. In the above example, you’d most likely try to return to Spotify within 30 days so that you can use up your remaining downloads. This makes Spotify and their advertisers happy, since you’re back using the client, listening to ads and ooh look! The new Gaga album is out, think I’ll buy that while I’m here!

Personally, I don’t really see the download expiration rule as that much of an issue. Apart from the fact that I’m Strictly Streaming, if I did download some songs then I’d probably just use up all my downloads when I bought them. And an expiration model isn’t really that unusual: for example, Microsoft’s Skype works the same way. You purchase credit (i.e. time) on Skype and if you don’t use it within 180 days then it expires. Of course there’s a big difference between 30 days and six months. Skype will also send you several reminder emails before your credit expires, something I sincerely hope Spotify will do too.


Do you think the expiration rule is a big deal? Will it make you less likely to try out the Spotify MP3 download store? Let us know in the comments below!

10 Reasons Why Spotify’s MP3 Store is Awesome!

Despite my reservations about “saying hello to the iPod,” the new Spotify download service does offer several unique features and is more ground-breaking than it perhaps at first appears. For Premium users it’s mostly business as usual, but for freemiums there’s much to entice you to spend a few pennies. Plus it’s a doddle to use! There’s lots of benefits for both you the listener and Spotify the company: read on for the low-down.


Why Spotify’s MP3 Store is Awesome for Music Fans!

  • Despite the advances of music streaming, most people still want to own their music rather than rent it. Spotify’s MP3 store makes this easy to do, and offers a variety of money-saving purchasing options.
  • It’s great for casual listeners who don’t want to pay a monthly fee. They can cherry-pick a few tracks or albums to purchase, safe in the knowledge that the MP3s are theirs to own forever.
  • It’s perfect for iPod owners who are fed up with the bloat in iTunes and want the flexibility of choosing what they use to sync their music. Not only do they get cheaper downloads, they can also finally do away with fiddling about with wires and sync all their music wirelessly.
  • Anyone can now use Spotify on their mobile without have to pay for a monthly subscription. They won’t get access to the Spotify stream, but the mobile app is fast, slick, lets you play all your purchased music and wirelessly syncs with Spotify on your desktop.
  • It’s designed for the modern user who listens to playlists, not albums. The demise of the album has been expected for a few years now, as single-track purchases have become the favored way to buy music. And Spotify’s own data seems to bear this up: Spotify users mostly listen to collections of hand-picked songs rather than entire albums. Wheras other MP3 stores may force you to buy tracks bundled up as albums, the Spotify store lets you decide exactly which tracks you want in your bundle. This is quite unique for music purchasing, and offers you much better value for money.



Why Spotify’s MP3 Store is Awesome for Spotify!

  • Spotify is now a one-stop source for music, no matter how you want to pay (or even if you don’t). You now have a variety of ways to engage with the service, meaning you’re more likely to hang about in the Spotify client. This is great news for Spotify’s advertisers.
  • Around 90% of Spotify’s users weren’t paying a dime, happy (ish) to sit through some ads in exchange for some free music. In almost two years many of these users have never upgraded to Premium so it’s probably safe to say that they never will. But with an MP3 download store, there’s a chance they might now buy the occasional track. In fact, the 5-play-limit was probably designed with exactly that in mind.
  • Directly competing with Apple and iTunes might be a risky move, but for those desperate for an alternative: here it is. With its unique wireless syncing and streamlined app that’s just about the music, there’s a good chance that Spotify can pull in at least some of the 300 million or so iTunes users.
  • A service that sells MP3s is a lot easier to understand and more acceptable for those who don’t get or doubt the income potential from a music streaming subscription model. It’s commonly felt that Spotify has had to make various concessions to enable a launch in America. This might be one of them but don’t forget: it hasn’t limited or restricted the Premium subscription model in any way.


Finally, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek tweeted me yesterday to explain why he thought freemium users who wouldn’t pay a mere £5/month to stream music would now consider paying to purchase tracks:


So there you have it: ten reasons of “awsomeness.” I won’t be using any of the store features myself – I’m a streaming boy now – but for those that it’s aimed at, Spotify seem to have done a pretty fine job.

The new Spotify client is rolling out automatically over the next few days, but if you just can’t wait, download and install it directly from Spotify.

Spotify Says Hello to the Walkman

Spotify’s new feature announcement is great news for its freemium users, casual listeners and iPod owners. If you’re one of these: rejoice! You can now benefit from cheaper-than-iTunes MP3 purchases, wireless syncing and Spotify-lite on your mobile. But for Premium users like myself there’s not too much here to get excited about.

When I signed up back in ’09 for Spotify’s cloud service in the sky, I shifted from downloading MP3s to accessing Spotify’s near-infinite stream of on-demand music. This was a complete pardigm shift in the same way that vinyl to CD was (actually, more so). So this week’s introduction of an MP3 download store seems a bit of a backwards step to me. Granted it’s bound to hoover up some pennies from the freemium users (who were probably never going to upgrade anyway), but it also waters-down Spotify’s unique selling point (on-demand, P2P-based streaming music service) and further muddies Spotify’s message of being “the best alternative to piracy.”

The whole notion of MP3s and iPods seems so last-century to me now that I’m left somewhat perplexed about Spotify’s direction and wondering what’s happened to its bold, pioneering vision of a music-streaming future. Whether this diversification was self-driven or inflicted on Spotify by the record labels we’ll probably never know. I guess the figures didn’t add up and there are still too many “legacy” downloaders and iPod owners who aren’t yet ready to exchange file ownership for streamed music access.

Don’t get me wrong though: I think it’s fantastic that freemium users now finally have a chance to use Spotify Mobile: it’s a brilliant app – mobile’s killer app – but Spotify Free for Mobile doesn’t access the Spotify stream, making it essentially just another way to play MP3s (albeit one with a unique wireless syncing feature that’s bound to appeal to iTunes users).

Spotify have lost some friends of late (a bunch of freemium users and oh yes, 7digital) but I still have true faith in the company: despite the focus and innovation seemingly aimed solely at free users, their Premium streaming service still remains second-to-none.


Needless to say, many stories and reactions to this latest Spotify news have appeared throughout the day. Here’s a selection of the best:


Replacing your mp3 Collection with Spotify Shortcuts

Did you know you can drag-and-drop an album or playlist from Spotify onto your desktop or into any folder?

Using this technique you can easily replace your mp3s with Spotify shortcuts. I did this at the weekend and now have a much more manageable music collection.

For the past decade or so, almost all my music listening has been through my PC. I use Windows Media Player as my main mp3 player. Instead of storing my mp3s in alphabetical artist folders (like iTunes), and since I don’t use genre tagging in my mp3s, I created a dozen or so high-level folders in the My Music folder based on genres I like:


Electronic / Synthpop

Hiphop / Dub / Reggae
Industrial / EBM / Futurepop

Pop / Funk


Rock / Indie / Punk

Soundtracks / Classical

Swing / Jazz / Folk / Trad

Trance / Psybient

Whenever I rip a CD or buy a download, I copy the mp3 files to an artist folder within a main genre (or sometimes a sub-genre folder). To date this has worked pretty well for me; most music I like fits into one of these genres.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of about 120 GB of music. A lot of this music is now on Spotify. This has several advantages over my mp3 versions:

  • I can access from anywhere (home, work, laptop, friend’s house)
  • Sound quality is 320kbps, whereas my older mp3s are only 192kbs
  • It doesn’t take up any of my disk space (except for the cache)
  • I can easily (and legally) share new finds with friends

This weekend I decided to consolidate my music collection: I deleted all my local copies of albums that are on Spotify. Once complete, I’d reduced my mp3 collection from 113GB down to 73GB – I’d reclaimed 40GB of disk space and hopefully made my Windows Media Player load and run a little faster in the process.

If you fancy doing the same, here’s what to do:

1. Backup your mp3 collection

Unfortunately Spotify sometimes removes existing music from its database. This means that I cannot commit to Spotify completely, I must keep my mp3 backups just in case. Sometimes whole artist catalogues are removed, sometimes just an album or single, sometimes even tracks within albums are removed (see this Stone Roses album for example). So, until Spotify sort out this issue I recommend you make a backup of your music files or at least be sure not to ebay off all those CDs!

I have a second 500GB hard disk in my PC which acts as a backup disk in case my main C drive fails. I don’t bother with any fancy software to manage this, I just periodically copy across My Music and My Pictures.

2. For each artist in your mp3 collection:

  1. Search on Spotify.
  2. Delete the mp3 files for albums found.
  3. Drag-and-drop the album from Spotify into your mp3 folder. This creates an Internet Shortcut to the album.

So now my My Music subfolders have a combination of mp3s (for albums not on Spotify) and Spotify shortcuts:

This is a great way to save on storage space. For any artist, there’s no need to have shortcuts for all the releases: just pick one (e.g. your favourite album) as it’s an easy click to all the other releases on Spotify.

There are a few things missing from this solution though, primarily these Internet Shortcuts are still files stored on my local home PC. To manage my cloud-based albums and playlists requires an online solution: for that I use my web browser’s Bookmark Manager with a few extra add-ins. Full report coming soon!

MP3s ur History!

Time to reclaim some disk space: how much of my mp3 collection is now on Spotify?

I reckon Spotify has:

  • A fair amount of the synthpop and electronica (missing VNV Nation, And One, Seabound, Anthony Rother)
  • Much of the Industrial/EBM (except for KMFDM – I bought and ripped all their albums, so that amounts for a fair chunk of this)
  • Most of the Rock – Indie – Punk (except for The Toy Dolls – again, I bought and ripped all their CDs)
  • None of the Psy – Goa – Psybient
  • Most of the Retro
  • Much of the Downtempo – Warp – Triphop (although need to investigate this further)
  • Some of the Dark Disco – Disco – Radiophonica (missing lots of the new New York disco bands though; artists like Chromatics and Glass Candy)
  • None of the Progressive – Trance – Minimal

So, at a guess I’d say Spotify can stream to me about two-thirds of my mp3 collection. Time to delete then, or maybe I should wait a few months to be sure Spotify is here to stay?

Pie chart made using JDiskReport.