OK, so today I’m going to declare it. The free music war is over, we won, the RIAA and music industry dinosaurs are licked. Forget all the stuff still going on in the courts, the RIAA press releases, they’re all smoke screen. It’s done, folks. Music is free. The battle is now about who controls the access and how it’s monetized, and that’s a completely different thing.
The reason for my, some would say foolish, pronouncement is Spotify, which is a new European music service from Sweden currently running in private beta. I was just sent an invite and I’ve got to say it’s astounding. Think Pandora mixed in with Last.FM, with a dash of imeem and a dollop of iTunes sauce, but better. It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly makes it so wow, but at a stab I’d say it’s the combination of unrestricted access to a fabulous huge A-list catalogue and a no hassle, versatile, consume as much as you want streaming player.
You want to listen to your favourite albums? Just do a search and up they’ll pop. Click play and the whole darn lot starts playing. That’s it. Oh sure, you’ll get an advert now and then if you’re on the free ad supported service, but apart from that it’s just great quality sounds streamed direct to your heart. And if you don’t want the adverts, just cough up £9.99 a month for all the music you can eat, ad free. Or just buy a 24 hour ad free day-pass for a paltry £0.99p. Of course there’s more. You can set up easy to populate playlists (just drag and drop the tracks where you want) and the radio is a joy. Select your fave genres and year and it’ll just keep playing cool stuff until you say stop. That’s it. Amazing?
You get artist bios, album cover art and all that stuff too of course, but get this. How many free music services have you come across which feature complete discographies with every track of every album that’s playable in full? No really, just find the album, track or artist you want – the database seems huge – and bingo you’ve got access to everything they’ve ever done, on compilations, unplugged, live sessions…just astonishing. The player program will also start recommending new artists you once you’ve listened to a few tracks/artists too, which is great.
Oh and you don’t have to worry about setting up playlists or being limited to listening to a track a certain number of times or any of that rubbish. Just click on any track and the program will automatically set up a playlist of ALL that artists tracks sorted by popularity. You can listen again and again, add to your fave playlist, set up a new moody playlist and so on. And there’s an automatically populated artist radio which streams similar genre tracks associated with your fave artist, just click and listen. Hey, stop dribbling, it’s unseemly.
Now I can hear the purists among you saying, ah but it’s only streaming, what about downloads? Well to be honest, who cares? There are clearly plans to allow for the purchase of tracks and albums although the options are grayed out at the moment in the beta, but this is just such a fabulous way to listen to music at home or in the office or anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection. It’s like an awesome jukebox in the cloud, which explains why the company is marketing the 24 hour day-pass as perfect for parties and suchlike. One day all music will be like this. For now, of course, you have the unauthorised option to record the streaming sound from your PC via whatever microphone you have handy, if you see what I mean.
What’s lacking? Well there’s no pretensions to community networks in here, the nearest you get is a playlist sharing option in the premium version, but that may be enough for now.
But you know what is so absolutely brilliant about the whole thing? It’s addictive, and means that you will INEVITABLY find new music that you love and want to buy. It’s what we’ve been trying to explain to the music industry all along, take away the hassle of enjoying music and the demand for it will rise not fall, at which point their challenge is to monetize it properly. What a supreme irony that a service like this comes out of Sweden, home to the infamous Pirate Bay!!? Laugh?
So really that’s it, the future of music. iTunes, Amazon and the rest of the traditional music retail services are really now facing their own moment of decision, as services like this are inevitably going to multiply over time. The licensing issues seem to have been removed, and what with the recent Comes With Music service from Nokia – another all you can eat music service for mobile phones – it looks like the music industry has finally realised in earnest that it’s a new millennium and time for a new consumer model. Awesome.
I’m going to try and get some invites from the company to give out (not the USA unfortunately, only for UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Finland, Norway and Sweden for the beta), so if you want to sample it, then pop your details into the comments and I’ll see what I can do (no promises). It would be nice if you come back here and give me your feedback in the comments too once you’ve tried it.
Spotify is an online music service offering users the ability to stream music on demand using Spotify’s unique technology. Spotify will be marketed both as a premium monthly subscription service and a version which is free for consumers to use, and supported by advertising. Consumers will also have the option to purchase a day pass that gives access to Spotify without advertising.