Tag Archives: itunes

Spotify vs. Apple iCloud

Depending on which side of the wall you sit, Apple’s iCloud is either the greatest advance in music technology since the original iTunes or it’s just another (albeit very slick) music locker service. One thing is clear however: the emphasis is still very much on music that you already own. iCloud is not a direct competitor to Spotify: it’s a scan-and-match music locker to compete with Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive, rather than a subscription service that gives you instant access to millions of tracks.

There are however more similarities between iCloud and Spotify compared with the other lockers: both have licensing agreements with the major record labels (although many independent labels are excluded from iCloud) and neither Spotify nor iCloud require you to upload music before you can listen to your songs on other devices.


Absolution for Your Downloading Sins

Both Spotify and iCloud offer solutions to music pirating, but while Spotify simply makes their service easier and faster to use compared with downloading, Apple has chosen to position iTunes Match as a way to monetize illegal downloads. It’s a clever strategy, as it provides absolution to the pirates and cash to the record labels. As TuneCore CEO Jeff Price says:

“The truly innovative and radical part of the iCloud service is its ability to allow copyright holders – the labels, artists, publishers and, possibly the songwriter – to make money off of music not bought the first time around. Each time a subscriber streams or re-downloads a song via the iCloud service, the label and publisher (and possibly the songwriter for the public performance) get paid.”


iCloud’s Stream is Dry

For me, a streaming music subscription model is clearly the best option for anyone who can spare a fiver a month and who has more than just a passing interest in music. So the question is: why doesn’t Apple’s iCloud do streaming? They bought the technology (LaLa) a while ago. They were heavily rumored to have signed streaming music licenses with the major labels. So why hold back?

Perhaps the label deals just came too late in the day for Apple’s big announcement. Or perhaps those rumors weren’t true and merely refered to the matching service that monetizes illegal downloads. Another possiblity is that Apple (or the record labels) just don’t see a streaming service as something that will make them as much money as downloads. They have such huge brand loyalty that any “new” music offering would still be idolized and thought of as progressive. iCloud retains the status quo of iTunes Uber Alles, consumers continue to purchase track-by-track, and the labels get a bonus of additional income from iTunes Match.

Whatever the reason, if you do use iCloud you’ll still need a fair bit of local storage for all those downloads.

Where iCloud Beats Spotify

There are a few advantages iCloud has over Spotify: it comes with a built-in fanbase at launch, it’s easier to understand conceptually for casual listeners (since it retains the notion of  music files and “My Collection”) and you can access your library on twice as many devices compared with Spotify.

Where Spotify Beats iCloud

I titled this article Spotify vs. iCloud but perhaps that’s a bit misleading. Like Google and Amazon’s offerings, iCloud is a music locker where you download music instead of streaming it. You purchase music on a track-by-track basis and have storage limits to consider when you want iCloud to manage non-iTunes purchases. Unlike Spotify, iCloud doesn’t offer access to tracks you don’t already own (unless you subsequently buy them). So once you get past the generalization that they’re both music services, comparisons tend to break down. As BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones puts it:

“Spotify’s a different kind of service, it allows you to stream music even if you don’t own it. So perhaps Spotify will think iCloud is really just second-hand news.”

If you did want to compare the two though, Business Insider neatly sums it up in their article Why Spotify beats iTunes in the cloud:

  • iTunes does not stream music
  • Spotify will do “scan and match” better
  • Spotify lets you stream or download any song to your device at no extra cost
  • You can create better playlists with Spotify (even if you don’t own the music)
  • Spotify does social much better than Apple’s Ping
  • Spotify integrates with Last.fm
  • Spotify also works with Shazam

Spotify is also available on many more devices compared with iCloud, particularly Android smartphones and tablets.


Dueling Banjos

For iOS5, Apple borrowed many ideas from Google (and Instagram, Dropbox, Flickr, Instapaper, GroupMe etc.) but for iCloud it fell short of taking true music streaming as offered by Spotify et al. It might offer subscriptions at a later date but for now, Apple are training their users with the benefits and convenience of having music in the cloud.

This popularization of cloud-based music plays right into Spotify’s hands. Just as music fans learned to move from owning stacks of CDs to folders full of MP3 files, so Apple is pushing the next move to a remote access model rather than locally stored music. As more people begin to let go of the 20th century notion of a personal music collection, cloud-based access begins to become the music model de jour. It’s then simply a matter of choosing between a locker for your existing collection, or on-demand access to a limitless world of musical discovery.

The last word goes to Daniel Ek (founder and CEO of Spotify) who told mocoNews:

“We believe music should be connected. People want to discover more music. Not just [listen to the] same music.”

Now that’s how to think different…

Music Streaming Options for an Apple Family

John Lamont is a professional photographer and visual designer based in Central Scotland. A technology expert and father of three, John’s family home is full of Apple products. He currently uses iTunes with some particularly time-consuming steps to make sure everyone in the family gets to listen to what they want. Could Spotify offer a better solution?


A Musical Family

John and his family have a wide musical taste, with each having their own particular genre preferences (although the two teenage boys both love their metal). John ripped all his old CDs a while ago and with MP3 purchases since, his iTunes collection now weighs in at over 18,000 tracks and growing.

The Lamont household has two Mac desktops and a MacBook Pro laptop. There’s an Apple TV networked in the lounge which is used to sync music over WiFi to an Apple AirPort Express in the kitchen, in turn connected to a hi-fi and used for all the household’s music. John and his wife have iPhones and the teenagers all have iPods.


Upsetting the Apple Cart

John’s obviously a big Apple and iTunes fan, but he realizes there are several limitations with his current setup. “iTunes is a very frustrating architecture to manage in a multi-user environment,” he says. “Since iTunes isn’t networkable, I have to use one iTunes account to add any newly bought music. It shares music from one library to another desktop or mobile, but restrictions mean that I can’t sync that remote music to a second library for storage on an iPod or iPhone.”

The upshot of all this is that John has to manage the entire family’s music storage and syncing through one Apple Mac. This PC has his passwords on it, and John says “I’m too fond of money to give my 11 year old free-reign in the iTunes account with on-click buy enabled!”

John’s process to manage all this is a nightmare for any busy working father:

When the kids want to change music, they trawl the main iTunes library remotely on the second desktop Mac. They write a list of artists/songs they want added/deleted from their playlist, leave it with me and I’ll edit their playlist. When that’s finished they drop their iPods into the dock and iTunes syncs the changes. What a pain in the a**!

In An Ideal World

“In considering nirvana,” says John, “I’m looking at Spotify and wondering if it could deliver a better solution. I’ve tried Spotify freemium and the choice is jaw-dropping.”

John analyzed the music he bought for his children and checked the playcounts. He found that their music tastes went stale quickly, especially the chart buys. Previously averse to the music-rental idea, John’s now coming around to the idea. “Why buy and not listen? Does rental make more sense for my family’s ever-changing tastes in music?”

So John’s requirements are:

  • Listen to music from different rooms in the house
  • Listen at same time
  • Kids sync devices themselves
  • Sync iPhone with playlists
  • “Some sort of buy password/barrier to avoid youngest buying the Gorillaz back catalogue – again!”


Solution 1: iTunes Home Sharing

Home Sharing in iTunes lets you stream and transfer music with up to five other computers on your local network. I don’t have any Apple products so can’t test this out, but I asume John has loooked into this and not found it suitable.


Solution 2: Spotify Family Accounts

A Spotify account can be used on up to three computers, so with 5 people in the family it might seem that two accounts is all that’s needed. Unfortunately music can only be played on one computer at a time: if you’re listening on one Mac and someone hits play on another, your music is paused for the duration.

Some kind of Spotify family pack subscription option would seem ideal then. But despite many requests for family-based subscriptions, this still remains missing from Spotify. According to the company:

We’re very interested in this and we’d love to make it happen. However, the changes would require new licenses which is a very time consuming process. Hopefully one day it will happen.

Further comments from Spotify seem to suggest it’s not going to happen any time soon.

So John would need a separate Spotify account for each family member. Assuming it’s just the kids that need mobile, that works out at:

  • 1 x Unlimited for John = £5/month
  • 1 x Unlimited for John’s wife = £5/month
  • 3 x Premium for the kids = £30/month

Total cost: £40/month

This may be out of John’s monthly budget, but it does provide the least amount of hassle as everyone can manage their own music and listen to it whenever they want.


Solution 3: Spotify on Sonos

Spotify is now integrated in Sonos, the multi-room wireless music system. The killer-feature here is that you can listen to different tracks in different rooms, all at the same time and all from a single Spotify Premium account. By setting up zone players in each room, each person in John’s family can have music streaming from both Spotify and iTunes whenever they want. Sonos has iPhone apps too, so there’s no need for the kids to log in to John’s master Mac.

With only one Spotify subscription, all John would need to do would be to set up some top-level playlist folders, one for each person in the family. They can then add and manage their own playlists independently.

This would seem to be the best option for John except for one thing: the cost. Sonos systems aren’t cheap, but at least you can mix-and-match the ZonePlayer variations to bring the price down a little. John would probably need five “zones” so that amounts to:

  • 1 x Sonos ZonePlayer 90 (connects to amp) for the living room = £279
  • 1 x Sonos ZonePlayer 120 (connects to speakers) for the kitchen = £399
  • 3 x Sonos ZonePlayer 120 for the kid’s bedrooms = £1,197
  • 1 x Premium Spotify subscription = £10/month

Total cost: £1,875 + £10/month

John might be able to shave off a bit by using a Sonos S5 (£349) instead of a couple of the ZonePlayer 120s, but this is still a pricey option. Compared with option 2, John could have over 5 years of Spotify subscriptions for the whole family for the same price.

Still, the Sonos solution is pretty cool and I’m sure it might tempt John’s inner gadget geek.


Solution 4: Waiting for Cloudo

Apple is expected to announce its iCloud next month. Having finally inked deals with most of the major record labels, only publisher deals remain in the way of the Apple LaLaland…

If you’ve any advice for John, please let him know in the comments below or at:


John has written an excellent article on what happened next. Check it out here: Comrade iTunes, this is Spotify.


Spotify & Online Music: Survey from Leeds University

Richard Pilkington is a music student at Leeds University. His final year paper is on the future on music distribution, where he discusses peer-to-peer downloading, online music streaming services and how musicians are affected by how people access music. Richard’s main case-study is on Spotify and its crusade against illegal downloading. While completing his final paper, Richard has kindly allowed the Pansentient League to share the results of a survey he conducted to assess the success of Spotify amongst 15 – 25 year olds. The survey results make for very interesting reading: read on for more!

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New Spotify Apps

UPDATE: both apps described below are currently offline


Two great new web-based applications have arrived to complement Spotify: Spotify Collections, an online personal playlist manager and SpotifiTunes, an app that uploads your artist list from iTunes and creates a webpage with links to Spotify.


Spotifitunes maps your iTunes library to Spotify to create a personal list of artists. To setup, just upload a file from iTunes which the site then analyses and creates an alphabetical smartlist of all your artists in iTunes. Click a letter to expand the list then click an artist’s name to seach for that artist in Spotify:

You can even specify a URL for you collection, for example here’s developer Phil Nash‘s collection at http://spotifitunes.philnash.co.uk/phil. I don’t do iTunes so can’t test this out properly myself, but from what I’ve seen (and the feedback on Twitter) it seems to be an invaluable app for users of iTunes and Spotify. There are a few glitches (such as duplicate entries, how it handles artists with “The” in their name), but the site is still an early alpha so expect to see updates and improvements soon.

Spotify Collections

Web-based personal playlist manager that lets you create and share your playlists. Once registered, you can easily build a list of albums: the site groups these by artist to provide a neat web-based playlist management tool.

To use, first select from one of the 23 top-level genres then create a new collection (you cannot create new genres yet, unfortunately). You can then paste Spotify URLs or URIs and the tool automatically gets the artist and album name then adds it to your collection. Here’s one I made called Discophonica:

Clicking on an artist’s name expands the selection so that you can choose which album or playlist you want. There’s a social networking aspect to the site too: all collections are public and anyone can add a comment to your collection. You can also add any collection to a list of favourites. There is also an ability to add custom playlists (in this case you are prompted to manually enter some details).

Being web-based, adding your albums to Spotify Collections makes them searchable from any PC and you don’t need to worry about backups. It’s a good alternative to using a bookmark manager (my prefered way to manage lots of playlists) and is definitely much more advanced and usable than Spotify’s own in-built playlist manager (mostly because there isn’t one). Developer Alan Moore is actively working on updates and improvements, so let him know if you have an suggestions.

Independent Distributors on Spotify (Updated)

Birmingham-based digital distributors Ditto Music left a comment yesterday (“Spotify Missing Your Favourite Artist“) which I thought was worth promoting here to a full post.

Ditto Music offer digital distribution for independent artists and unsigned bands: their retailers include iTunes, Napster, and now also Spotify. Here’s the comment in full:

Congrats to Spotify for providing a legal alternative for music lovers everywhere.
We distribute around 10,000 artists and have just signed a contract with Spotify to supply them with content.
So if you are an unsigned artist , check out www.dittomusic.com where you can upload your music to Spotify free of charge.

And if you are a music lover then you can hear music from great Ditto artists like Lil Wayne, Tupac, The Streets and loads more 🙂

This seems like an easy (and cheap) way for independent artists to get their music onto Spotify. I’ve no experience with these guys myself, but it looks like it’s worth checking out: read their FAQ for more. If you’re worried about losing control or that it’ll cost you too much to add your music, note they say:

A small one-off fee to cover expenses and admin of £2 per month covers storage/maintenance and our accounting company. That is the ONLY cost. You keep 100% of profits and copyright.

You can now also upload to Spotify via Record Union.

Music Streaming Services: A Comparison

I’ve been looking for the perfect music streamer ever since I got my G1 Android phone and decided that carrying a smartphone and an MP3 player into the shower was just excess baggage.

I love my music: at home I have about 200GB of MP3s and a few hundred CDs (not forgetting the boxes of vinyl now in the loft). On the move, I used to take my 30GB MP3 player to listen to at work and on my 30-min walk home every day. I listen to a large range of bands and styles and so like to have access to as much of this as possible when out and about; none of yer 1GB Walkman phone or 8GB ipod nano nonsense for me.

I’ve spent the past week or so comparing the merits of several music streaming services. I tried out:

  • Last.fm – my first choice as I’ve been using for a couple of years now so have it trained well. Last.fm knows what I like and ever since it started streaming full tracks it’s been one of my favourite websites (see previous posts on its Android app and Fire.fm Firefox plugin).
  • MySpace – again, I’ve been on MySpace for a few years now so have a large number of “friends” (i.e. bands I like but aren’t every likely to meet in person). The MySpace player has improved considerably over the years and is no longer limited to 4 songs only.
  • imeem – I hadn’t tried this before getting the G1 but it had its own Android app
  • Orb – a little different from the rest, Orb is basically a media streamer that streams your existing mp3 collection via a website.
  • Spotify – dubbed the “itunes killer” this is service that’s currently in all the news stories. It’s still in beta, and you need to be located in the UK (or other parts of Europe), but this does seem like it could be the perfect music streamer.

Here’s my summary of these five streaming services, comparing them on a range of features that were important to me (e.g. will it stream to my Android phone, will it scrobble tracks to Last.fm etc.):

As you can see, there’s no clear winner; indeed, only imeem fails to cut the mustard. So which one will I use?

imeem did not impress me much. The Android app was fine, but its network of related artists was poor (at least it was for the styles I like – synthpop, electro, trance) and there were many artists I tried but wheren’t found. The Android community seem to love imeem so perhaps I missed some key feature.

MySpace is still the place to go to hear about what your favourite bands are up to, and the sheer number of artists on there is almost overwhelming. But there’s no app for Android (the MySpace app in the Android Market doesn’t stream the tunes so it doesn’t count here) and the number of tracks available from any one band is still restricted. Also I consider MySpace almost NSFW as some band’s pages are just way too bloated and loaded with dodgy imagery (or maybe I should just listen to less Industrial and goth music).

Orb was almost the perfect app, with its ability to stream my entire music collection to wherever I happened to be. But I found it flakey: some days it would stream to my Windows Media Player at work fine, other days it refused and would only stream to Winamp. I tried it many times on my G1: in theory it should have worked fine, but the success rate was infuriatingly low. Whether this was due to my upstream or the Orb server or my 3G downstream to my phone, I don’t know. Of course to use Orb I had to leave my PC on all the time which may be another disadvantage if I plan to be away for some time. Orb doesn’t scrobble either, and album art didn’t work at all in Winamp. Despite all these negatives, I have been using Orb quite a bit: it can play my entire collection after all.

Last.fm changed my life a while ago and the recent release of an official Android app has only increased my loyality. I can fire it up in the morning, select a tag or artist station, then spend hours happily enjoying tracks from its huge range of artists. For the shuffle generation, Last.fm is the perfect music streaming service. But if you only want to hear one artist, or you want to listen to an album from start to finish, then you’re out of luck.

is certainly revolutionary and being able to play full albums in the way the artists intended is a killer feature. It removes the need to “own” music in the traditional sense and could see the end of download mp3s and ripping CDs. But its range of content is currently rather limited, there’s no Android app (i.e. this is for when I’m at work, not walking home) and although infrequent, the commercials do become annoying after a while. They want £10 a month for the commercial-free version. Perhaps not just yet, but once the content fills up I could well see myself upgrading.