I first crossed paths with online digital music about a decade ago during the dying days of Napster. At the time my access to the internet came via a local dial-up ISP that would occasionally allow me to connect to the outside world at the full 56k that my modem was capable of. While 56k was still pretty decent for the time it was not “digital media” kind of fast, so my exposure to Napster was limited to download speeds capping out at “real slow”. This lead to very few, painfully slow downloads of the misnamed and incomplete audio tracks that already littered Napster by the time I found the service.
A few years later, I had a DSL line and was starting to entertain the concept of upgrading to a broadband cable modem. At about the same time iTunes came along offering to manage my existing audio files and shortly there after they added a store filled with download-able musical selections. iTunes did not have all of the artists and titles out there, but they did have decent quality audio files. I happily welcomed iTunes into my home.
As time went on, I found out that what iTunes lacked (and continues to lack) is good way to introduce me to new artists. For help with new artists, I turned to Pandora. About three years ago, I started out with their free service and then moved on to the Pandora One premium service and its $36/year cost (this is money well spent.) These folks offer a good quality, portable product that allows me to listen to music via computer at work or home and on my iPhone while mobile. I think so much of this service that I have, on occasion, gifted Pandora One to friends. Pandora has helped expose me a number of artists that I might not have enjoyed otherwise, examples include: The Hold Steady, The Blakes, and Okkervil River.
Pandora has lead me to many purchases on iTunes. I have ended up with some albums that I like and some that I did not like. This is because Pandora’s greatest strength is also a weakness. Pandora delivers plays random music basic on a initial music choice. As Pandora delivers tracks, I can vote them thumbs up or down and Pandora then uses this information to make selections as to other tracks that I might enjoy.
Along the way Pandora has found tracks that I do enjoy, but on Pandora there is no real capacity to play more songs from the same album. I can go to iTunes and preview the first 30 seconds or so (I think they recently upped this to a minute) of each track on an album, but this is really no way to listen to music and make a determination. The only option has been to just buy the album and this does not always work out.
Recently I heard about a new service called Spotify and my initial reaction was a bit negative. Why would I need that? I have iTunes and I have Pandora. (Being a fan of all things technology, I still requested an invite.)
The Spotify invite arrive about 10 days ago. I downloaded the iPhone app and activated my account via the invite. Upon activating my account, I found that I could not download songs from Spotify to my iPhone app without signing up for one of their premium level accounts and giving them $5 or $10 a month. I am not opposed to spending the money for a decent service, but fearing another Hulu Plus type beta experience, I chose not to use their service.
A few days later, I found out that my initial fears were unfounded. Having heard so many positive things about Spotify, I decided to go back and take another look. I downloaded their Windows client and spent a day listening to Spotify. I was very impressed by what I found. Spotify has a seriously impressive music selection consisting of multiple albums, if not entire catalogs, of just about every artists that I could think of. They also have a social component that allows a person to see what there friends are listening to on Spotifiy.
Spotify is definitely the service that I have been looking for to round out my digital music needs. I have suggested to quite a few folks that they request a Spotify invite of their own. I will continue to subscribe and listen to music on Pandora, but now I also have the ability to listen to more of a chosen artist’s work and reach out to iTunes to purchase individual albums on a less frequent basis.