It’s taken far longer than American music lovers would have liked, but finally Spotify, the world’s premier music streaming service, has launched stateside.
Fans of the service in the UK, Sweden and across Europe have raved on about how great Spotify is for years now, and finally US listeners can get instant access to millions of streamed tracks too.
We’ve put this guide together for our readers across the pond as a primer for everything you need to know to get going with Spotify.
What is Spotify?
Spotify is a music streaming service that gives on demand access to approximately 15 million tracks in an instant. Streaming works a little bit like a music-only version of YouTube, but within a dedicated player, buffering tracks and optionally caching music for quick playback and lowered data usage. The lower bandwidth needed to stream music means that there’s no delay between hitting play and having your tunes playback.
Spotify uses a desktop application for both PCs and Macs to playback tracks, build playlists and browse the extensive catalogue, as well as interact with friends via social networks. Cough up for the paid for versions and you can make playlists offline, as well as listening to Spotify on the go through a mobile application available on a variety of platforms.
Open vs Unlimited vs Premium
Three different versions of Spotify are available to suit different wallet sizes. If you’ve got the money, we heartily recommend the Premium monthly subscription version ($9.99/£9.99). It gives unlimited access to the full catalogue of songs in high quality 320kbps bitrate, allows you to store albums and playlists offline, and also lets you take your favourite tracks on the go with you via mobile applications. Unlimited, costing $4.99/£4.99 a month is great value if you only listen to music on your computer, which has all the same features as Premium without the mobile options. Spotify used to offer a desktop-only ad-funded version of Spotify called Free which, as its name suggests, didn’t cost a thing, drawing revenue from ads alone and offering unlimited PC playback. This is gradually being phased out in favour the Open version, which will be offered for free in the States; it gives 20 hours of free music every month, but limits tracks to a finite 5 plays each, which means you’ll really have to savour playing your favourite songs.
The paid-for versions do offer really good value though; a single physical album purchase would cost the same as a month’s worth of access to 15 million songs on Spotify Premium. It’s worth noting though that you do not own tracks streamed on Spotify; if it ever shuts down, you lose all your playlists and music. In the UK you can use Spotify to purchase tracks too though; a single MP3 costs £1.15, getting incrementally cheaper if you buy a bundle (£7.99/10 tracks, £9.99/15 tracks, £25/40 tracks, £50/100 tracks).
Spotify’s strongest asset, apart from its massive catalogue, is its near flawless user interface. Everything works exactly as you’d hope, and as a result it’s a truly excellent music discovery tool. A search bar sits at the top, throwing up your search results far quicker than iTunes ever managed. The magic here is that practically every bit of text acts as a link. This may sound crazy, but it means you can get to exactly what you’re looking for nearly instantly; search for the French pop-duo Air and you’ll get track names, and album details, as well as the artist name to click on. Double click a track to play it instantly, click the album link to see all other tracks on the album its from, or click the artist name to browse to that artist.
Clicking the artist name and then visiting their “Homepage” can be really illuminating; as well as offering detailed biographies on bands, as well as reviews of their albums, there’s also a related artists tab that is compiled based on the tastes of users who also like the same artist, as well as Spotify’s editorial team.
Spotify also offer radio stations organised by musical genre and obscure sub-genres, as well as showing the latest releases via the “What’s New” tab. The “Top Lists” tab also show what’s currently most popular with Spotify’s users, split between Tracks and Albums, in various locations around the world.
Organising your library into Playlists
If you find a string of tracks or an album that you like on Spotify, you can turn them into a Playlist so that you can access them quickly. If it’s an album you like, it’s just a matter of dragging the album name into the left-hand Playlist panel. If you’re looking to build a Playlist from a collection of artists, hit the “New Playlist” button in the left-hand panel, Ctrl+N, or from the drop down File bar. It’s then a simple matter of dragging individual tracks into that area.
Once you’ve got a few Playlists built, you can organise them into folders by selecting the option from the File menu, and dragging and dropping them onto each other.
If you’re looking to quickly save a track for listening to at a later date, use the “Starred” function. Every song has a small star icon next to it. Click it, and the song will automatically be sent to your Starred folder. It’s like an Evernote clipper for Spotify music.
Importing local tracks
In an attempt to truly topple iTunes, Spotify now offers full syncing support of your locally stored tracks, combining your own MP3’s with Spotify’s streaming catalogue. Simply hit the Edit menu button, scroll down to Preferences, and then check the sources that you want Spotify to scan music from. It’s a great way to plug the few holes in Spotify’s catalogue. In much the same way, Spotify now also supports iPod syncing, letting you sync your mp3 player’s playlists with Spotfy over USB and bypassing iTunes altogether.
Syncing Spotify with the mobile app
If you splash the cash for the Premium version of Spotify, you can take all your tracks on the go with you via mobile apps. The Spotify app is free and features all the same functionality as the desktop version, but requires a Premium account to be really useful. It’s available for loads of Android, Symbian and Windows Phone 7 handsets, as well as Palm devices and iPhones and iPods. No Blackberry support yet, though a version is in the works. Click here for a full list, or visit m.spotify.com in your smartphone’s browser to see if your handset is compatible.
The app features practically all the same features as the desktop version, squeezed into a clean finger-friendly interface. Best of all, any Playlists you create or tracks you “star” will be automatically updated between both the desktop and mobile versions as you change them. Ahh; the joys of a cloud-based future.
Though you can stream tracks over 3G if you so choose, unless you want to suffer the woes of a massive data bill when using Spotify on the go you should use the feature that allows you to have offline access to Playlists. There are a few different ways to do this, but all are simple.
When in the mobile app, press and hold on the name of a Playlist and a little pop up menu will appear, with a checkbox offering the option to make the Playlist offline-ready. Alternatively, if you have access to the desktop application and your mobile device is connected to the same Wi-Fi connection as your computer, Spotify will automtically recognise your mobile device and allow you to make Playlists offline via a PC using the “Devices” tab in the left hand panel (pictured above).
Keep in mind that offline Playlists will take up storage space on your device, so you may want to consider upgrading your mobile device’s storage capabilities where possible. We’d also recommend heading over to the Settings area of the mobile app and choosing the option to only sync playlists for offline playback over a Wi-Fi connection, or you run the risk again of racking up a hefty data bill.
Using social features and sharing tracks
If you’re into sharing music with your friends, Spotify makes this incredibly easy. By giving the desktop application permission to scan your Facebook friends, the application will show you all your pals who are also using the music streaming service. They’ll be presented in the “People” panel to the right hand side of the program. It’s purely optional of course, but allows you to do great things like subscribe to and browse other users’ Playlists, make collaborative Playlists and use the “Inbox” feature to send and receive tracks to your friends.
You can also share tracks and playlists directly to Facebook. Right clicking a Playlist or track gives you the option of copying a tracks’ Spotify URI or HTTP link, which can then be pasted as you see fit. Far easier though is hitting the “Share To…” button, which lets you send a track to Facebook, Twitter, another Spotify user or Windows Messenger. A link will then appear on your wall, news feed or Twitter page, though anyone who clicks it will also need to be a Spotify user to hear them.
For now that is; Facebook is rumoured to be planning a major partnership deal with Spotify that will allow you to playback shared tracks directly from the Facebook website.
In a similar fashion, you can also head over to the preferences section to add Last.fm scrobbling to Spotify, which will inform the sorts of music that Last.fm will recommend to you in the future.
Have we left anything out that you’d like to know? Leave comments in the section below if you have any questions, or via our Twitter feed @techdigestnews , and we’ll update the post with your most wanted info.
By Gerald Lynch | July 15th, 2011