the obligatory Spotify post.

Music Over the past couple of days, two questions seem to have been bouncing around the interweb, one more rhetorical than the other. The first is “How great is Obama?”, as so far, in just sixty odd hours, he’s already the President we’d hoped he’d be, offering a timetable for the closure of Gitmo and for pulling US troops from Iraq, firm decisions on how America should treat both its allies and enemies and generally making everyone feel rather more positive about the world than we did even last weekend. I’d very much recommend subscribing to The Guardian’s Barack Obama RSS feed or you favourite news source’s equivalent and watch the world become a better place, one update at a time.

The other, probably more frequent question is “Does anyone have an invite for Spotify?” I asked it myself on Tuesday of all days and Pete offered this link which seems to actually work without an invite. That’s this link. Within half an hour, I’d tweeted back “Thanks very much. That's amazing. Why would you ever need to buy music again?”

That is quite a review considering I had one eye on the Mall in Washington and BBC News’s desperate attempts to have a correspondent get through a sentence without the line going down. It’s very easy to become blasé about new software releases, since most of them are simply new or free versions of venerable warhorses, or in the case of Microsoft new ways of fucking up processes which worked perfectly adequately before, thanks very much. The bloody ribbon in the new version of Office, for example. It's like they've gone out of their way to hide some things. Why would I need to count the number of words in a document?

For the uninitiated, Spotify, is iTunes meets Last.FM though better than both. After registering, download the client, type your favourite musician in the cream search box on the otherwise very grey interface and watch as probably every song they’ve ever released pops up on a list. Double click on something, and (depending on your connection) seconds later you’ll hear that song pulsing from your speakers. It’s gloriously easy, so easy in fact you feel that it must be illegal in these litigious times.

What stops it from being illegal, what pays for the service, is that, assuming you’re using the free service, about once an hour of listening, an advert pops into the music stream or a banner ad becomes part of the interface, the revues from which presumably go both to the company and to pay royalties. There is a premium ad-free ten pounds option too, though the audio ads aren't that annoying and on the uk service are so far only government sourced (tax returns and which gives the whole exercise an even greater legitimacy than something like the original Napster which was fundamentally anti-authoritarian.

That’s it. Suddenly a whole world of music is at your fingertips. Almost. Spotify is still only in beta so although the aim is to have everything ever recorded available, there are omissions, some record companies aren't involved yet, and deleted music tends not to be there. It’s not very good with film soundtracks either or world music and now and then an album is missing from a discography. For better or worse, every top forty album is included, except oddly for Roger Whittaker (in at number 16 this week). I’m listening to Beyonce’s This is Sasha Fierce as I type and thinking about something else.

I said last night that I think this is going to revolutionise music, which it is. Once this remote version goes mainstream and proper favourites storage has been sorted out, we’ll never have to mess about with music mp3s in portable devices again and if the service adds podcasts or talking books in the future, assuming the cost of using the web drops, that’s the mp3 market dead with some types of music radio looking depressed (here is a rather good investigation into these issues).

The idea of working your way through 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die has potential or you can spend a couple of hours listening to Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs (ish). Students who’re studying a particular composer can call up whatever piece of music is being considered, no longer having to hope that it’ll turn up on Radio 3/be returned to the university library/pop through the letterbox from Amazon before the assignment’s due. And since compilations are also included, you can finally hear that track whatisname recorded for some charitable cause a decade ago.

The treatment of music online changes too. Each track, artist and album has a unique URL which means that if Spotify catches on, and I can’t imagine why it won’t, and everyone’s assumed to have a copy, when music websites review albums, they’ll be able to link to Spotify so that we can listen to them. I recently read this interview with Siobhan Donaghy on the occasion of her previous (and probably last) work Ghosts being voted the most underrated album of all time [via]; it’s heavily out of circulation but now you can click this link, Spotify will open and you can decide for yourself.

There are some drawbacks. If you’re on a limited plan, it is expensive data usage wise. I’ve only been listening for an hour and already racked up 100 mb. But as you listen, a cache is created on your hard disk which keeps a encrypted copy of the track so that if you listen again you don’t have to stream the thing more than once (and you can set how big this cache is).

It’s also hellishly addictive as before you know it you find yourself discovering how various artists have covered your favourite and not so favourite songs; Blossom Dearie knocks Blue Moon out of the sky just as Avril Lavigne should not have been allowed within a planet’s diameter of Imagine. Last night I linked to this jazz tribute to the music of Star Wars which I think might be the most exciting bit of noodling I’ve heard in a long time.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, you can also create playlists of your favourite tracks, for your own pleasure and to pass on to other, like a guilt free Muxtape. As well as this Nick Hornby playlist (which usefully shows the gaps in the database -- no Zeppelin, a predictable lack of The Beatles), I’ve created this to deposit some of the music I’ve written about on the blog, last year’s mystery music project and the old soundtrack. You can have collaborative playlists too, Pop Justice (where I first read about Spotify) has one and so have I, should you want to recommend something. I think I’ve written more than enough. You really just need to go and try this – how you listen to music may never be the same again.

This has been the obligatory Spotify post. Because every blog will have one. Assuming they haven't already.

Update: I've since posted some tips on finding new music.


  1. Thanks for that link! I'm going to try it now. Is there a way to scrobble on lastfm what you listen to on spotify? Because that would be great. If illegal downloading hasn't made me stop buying music I doubt anything will though :D

  2. Yes you can scrobble while you Spotify. Though I've just noticed my box is broken. Must fix that.

  3. Thanks muchly for the link :) I can in with the cool kids now!