Saturday 25 July 2009

Anyone heard of Spotify?

I discovered a new online music service this week called Spotify, after reading an article about it in the London Evening Standard. It’s similar to an online radio station in that it streamlines music from different musical genres, but you can also listen to the back catalogues of various artists as well as creating your own music play lists.

Two Swedish entrepreneurs Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon based in Stockholm set up the company. They’re currently causing a big stir within the internet business community as Spotify is seen as one of the most promising start up businesses in years.

Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon - founders of Spotify

Spotify has over 6 million tracks for subscribers to listen to. You can listen in two different ways. You can either listen for free, but if you do so it means you have to listen to adverts between songs. Alternatively you can pay a monthly subscription of £9.99 and listen to music advert free and with better quality music in terms of the audio sound.

I’ve downloaded the service onto my laptop this week, and I’ve been checking it out over the last couple of days. So far it does look like quite a good service, and I can see it possibly becoming a rival to iTunes.

Unlike iTunes where you can listen to 30 seconds of an artist’s track before deciding whether you want buy it by downloading; on Spotify you can listen to any song in full if it’s in their library.

Apparently following Michael Jackson’s death a few weeks ago, users of Spotify listened to his songs on the site, more than 10 million times within a 20-hour period! Impressive stuff!

Funnily enough when Jackson died I did the same thing but listened to a lot of his old tunes on You Tube, which is where I listen to a lot of music. In many ways I’ve used You Tube for the same function as people are using Spotify.

The thing is, for all the hype that Spotify seems to be getting, I can’t think of one reason why I should upgrade to the £9.99 monthly subscription fee. From what I can tell this seems to be the great challenge that Spotify faces. I’ve read figures saying that they’ve got over 2 million listeners, but so far no figures have been released to show how many of these people have upgraded to the subscription service.

The company is looking to expand from its Western European market and move into the America market with the aim of making a profit by the end of the year. One area, that they’re looking at moving into, and one which could prove crucial in the long-term success of the company, is that of launching a mobile phone version of the service. At the moment you can’t download any music from Spotify, so you can’t listen to music when you’re out and about like you can with an iTunes and an iPod

If Spotify does prove to be a long term success and more people subscribe to a monthly subscription, it means that the way people listen to music will again be evolving and changing in quite a radical way.

It could potentially mean in future, that some people will never actually buy or own their own music in the traditional sense again. Instead they’d essentially be renting their music collection. The only access they'd have in listening to their favourite artists would be by paying a monthly subscription.

As somebody who’s always bought music, and continues to do so (I’ve never illegally downloaded a track in my life) I don’t really like this idea at all! Maybe my attitude is too ‘old skool’ but I still like having a physical copy of a record.

I know some people will read this and think I’m living in the past, but even though I do download tracks, there are still loads of records by artists that I would rather own in the physical form of a CD.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing. If I was 15 years old today and just getting into music I’m sure I wouldn’t feel it necessary to physically own records, I’d probably be happy listening to music on my mobile whilst annoying people on the back of the bus! But for me being into music is still about going out and buying records.

I think for the time being I will use Spotify, but only as a way of checking out artists and tracks I haven’t previously heard before or been familiar with. One thing I would say is that the world of internet and dotcom businesses does seem to be very faddish, people are always looking for the next big thing, there always seems to be a lot of hype surrounding new business ventures, so we’ll just have wait and see how things develop with Spotify.


  1. Rod,

    I completely agree with you about possessing music, although you and I are of the same 'generation' so perhaps that is understandable.

    In truth though my collection which isn't small is now primarily digital as opposed to owning CDs/tapes etc,

    I used to download songs, but only as a way of discovering music, if I liked an artist, I would buy their works, if I didn't I wouldn't, but equally, neither would I continue to listen to their music. It was this justification in my mind which made it acceptable to download music from P2P sites.

    Its not for me to judge others, but I chose some time ago to stop doing that, although how much that was to do with 'morality' and how much it was to do with the amount of spyware/adware that accompanied the downloads/downloading programmes, I honestly cannot say. I can say that I never once, to my mind, cheated an artist out of royalties, as I always bought the album/single, if I listened to the music more than twice.

    To my mind you've hit the nail on the head, however, with iTunes. As you can only listen to a seemingly randomly selected 30seconds of a track, I know that having stopped downloading music, I have not bought as an eclectic range of music as I used to.

    And that is where the rental concept could be profitable. I would be willing to pay a small monthly amount - say £3.99 - to allow me to listen to a song/album in full, up to say 3 times, with the option of then purchasing the track(s). Assuming, I'm not the only person out there who enjoys discovering new types of music/artists, and providing the monthly fee was enough to be considered nominal, I think that this is where companies like 'spotify' should focus their attentions.

    I wondered what you thought.


  2. Hi Adam

    Thanks for your comments; you've raised some interesting points.

    Having spent the last 20 years buying music I find the concept of suddenly 'renting' my music collection a slightly odd one. I also think that I'm the sort of person who likes possessions I like owning stuff and being able to see the stuff I have.

    If someone comes round to my house, they can see my record collection, my books, photos, magazines and they'll get a sense of who I am as a person. My possessions say something about me. I get the impression that you could end up visiting some people's houses, and their entire life experience and interests will be on a laptop!! That's not going to be me.

    On top of that, I also don't have this assumption that some people have, that all music can be consumed for free. The music business is an industry, musical artists are producing a product, If I want to own or consume that product why shouldn’t I pay for it in some way?

    In terms of my record buying habits, even though I do buy CDs, I am downloading more music, but I'm finding that whether I buy a CD or download depends on certain factors.

    I've bought 2 CDs recently, Bob Marley and Empire of the Sun, both albums only cost £6 at HMV. On iTunes they would have cost maybe £7 - £8. It wasn't that long ago that most CDs cost over £10 quid so I didn't mind buying these albums on CD for that price.

    If they were being sold for £10 or more I would have downloaded them from iTunes! For me it's all about cost. I don't see why I should ever pay more than £10 for a CD again.

    Most of my downloads come in the form of buying single tracks mainly from iTunes and another site called Traxsource.

    Traxsource specialize in House, Techno, and electronic music. Most of their downloads cost $1.99 (so that's maybe £1.50?) Again I don't mind paying that, as back in the day I used to buy that type of music on 12" vinyl and pay £7 or £8 pounds! £1.50 isn't going to kill me!

    In relation to Spotify, it's a great way along with iTunes of discovering and hearing new music, but the monthly subscription still doesn't appeal to me.

    I like your idea of having a limited period of listening to tracks before deciding whether or not to buy it. I had a similar idea based on how Traxsource do things.

    On their site you can listen to a track for up to 2 minutes or so, you then get a good idea of what that track sounds like. If you like it you can buy it. This is a lot better than iTunes 30 second snippet of a track.

    Maybe Spotify could do something similar, you could listen to a track for up to 2 minutes or so, then if you want to hear it in full, either download the track or album, or if not you can subscribe to the monthly subscription. I think they could make some money in that way.

    I would continue to buy and download tracks and those people who want to 'rent' can subscribe.

    If Spotify wants to allow people to listen to music entirely for free, then that's up to them, but I do believe the production of music has a value.

    There's a culture developing whereby we think getting something for free is better or somehow an entitlement. It isn't.

    Similar things are happening in print media. I'm one of these odd people who still buy newspapers most days.

    Yes I could only read free newspapers like the Metro or London Lite, but if I want serious in depth analysis and real investigative journalism on topics like MP Expenses or the War in Afghanistan, what is the Metro seriously going to tell me? I need to spend £2 on the Sunday Times for that sort of thing! But then that's what I'm paying my money for!

    It's only a matter of time before newspapers start charging subscriptions for their online content. Writers like musicians are producing a product so again we have to pay for it.

    I'm going to stop now, I think I written enough!


  3. How about a festival just using Spotify playlists?

    Check it out. We have 50 VIP spotify passes to give away for the weekend so you can listen advert free


  4. What a coincidence.

    Someone at work mentioned this same website to me only last week and I completely forgot to check it out! I know what you're saying about having a physical copy of a track.

    I'm so sick of looking at my blank CD covers with my scrappy writing on them with stuff I've downloaded - I'd much rather look at my glossy Defected collection on display on my shelf!!


  5. It is ironic that HMV is now cheaper than online, when it used to be the other way around.

    Although, whenever I've popped into HMV looking for a specific album its always been much more expensive than buying from, say, Amazon.

    I also find that music stores can be a bit overwhelming in terms of choice, and I'm far more likely to buy something random, or make an implulsive purchase online than in HMV.

    Interestingly, though the opposite is true for Blu-Ray/DVD where I'm far less likely to buy online and am far more likely to come out of HMV with a number of random choices - such that I limit my HMV attendance so that I don't go broke...

    As for spotify they have applied to have an application put onto the iStore, and are awaiting approval from Apple. In theory, therefore, it could be a matter of days before you can have Spotify on your iTouch/iPhone.


  6. "Surely this debate is actually about the commodification of society. We are all treated as consumers, taught to be consumers, and end up in part defining ourselves by our possessions.

    We are told to be what we own. I don't see any great loss to society if we learnt to avoid doing this(although I am as guilty as anyone).

    You own the album/book so that other people can see you are a person of good taste - what’s the point of reading Dostoevsky you can't leave it on your shelf for other people to see? Personally, I think we should look at the intrinsic value of music/art and not the monetary value given to it.

    File sharing is just as much about this, access to whatever you want to expand your horizons for your own benefit.

    After all what value does a CD have, its not of better quality than MP3's(lower bit rate mp3s cut out the frequencies human hear can't detect), the art work is too small and a forgotten form to be meaningful, and they cost pennies for labels to produce (actual records are a different thing altogether, and have had a small increase in sales).

    Also, sharing music is nothing new, as cassette swapping was a long established (and even cult)practice into the 90s.

    So Spotify by reaching the compromise of free streaming music, and stilltreating us as consumers (they make they money by streaming an advert every15 minutes) will no doubt do extremely well.

    I think its a positive - itgives you access to try all the music you wouldn't buy, because you can'tbuy everything you want just to see if you might like it - but it doesrequire you start to stop defining yourself by your possessions, as youdon't 'own' this music, you "rent" it (to quote above).

    Spotify has pretty much every release by a major label and vast majority of largeindependents, so gives you access to a large proportion of released music(obviously dependent on being able to afford broadband). Its really following the template of streaming user orientated radio like butwith complete choice as to what you listen to.

    As part of 'the generation' that was still in school when napster hit, I've been used to access to wide variety of music I would never have been able to get a hold of where I lived. By the time Metallica were suing Napster the next free peer-to-peer file sharing programme had already taken off so that the media debate had already missed the boat.

    Through Limewire, Bearshare,Gnutella, Kazaa etc until each one fell away before the real (unnoticed)revolution of torrents that give you access to an album potentially in minutes, or a discography in an hour (self policed to avoid virus’ etc). So I'm used to buying and *ahem* occasional free access, but this has not prevented me from buying vinyl, attending gigs or supporting artists I careabout.

    Its also got me into things I would never have had the chance to,its expands access to the point where geography is of little importance(always good for those outside of major cities).

    Don't forget that recent developments in underground music have thrived onthis access, see Grime and Dubstep, through internet streaming radio, free music blogs and file sharing - it often operates outside of the usual music industry structures (which wouldn’t give this sort of thing a chance) much for the benefit of its development and those following it.

    It also doesn't mean that the artist has to be cut out of the loop financially. Embrace the fact that you don't have 'taste makers' filtering your access to music, you can hear it and judge it for yourself - if a radio station refuses to place a track in its playlist it no longer matters, you will hear it anyway if you want to.

    So I think you should embrace the opportunity to expose yourself to things you never would have heard, and just buy records of the smaller bands you wish to support hanging out on worthwhile independents, and forget the consumerism that is forced on you, forget defining yourself by your possessions, and lets all try and move away from commodification."


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