The Spotify series #1: why (and how) I use Spotify

With its long-delayed launch last week in the US, there’s been a fair bit of interest in music streaming service Spotify. I haven’t seen any librarian blog posts yet, but there’s been a lot of discussion on Google+ and among my Facebook friends. So I thought I’d share my experiences, as somone who’s been using Spotify for a couple of years, both in the free and paid version.

As a disclaimer, I love Spotify. One of my main reasons for buying my smartphone was so I could use mobile Spotify.  I’m a bit of a fanboy, basically.

So: Spotify is music streaming service with a free, limited version and a subscription version that costs 10 currency units per month (£10 in the UK, $10 in the US, 10 euros in the EU).  The free version is limited to 10 hours/month and 5 plays of any one song, it also has ads. The subscription version can be used on mobile devices and has no ads. It also has a Radio feature.

The Spotify database contains around 10 million songs. (Rdio apparently has 7 million – I’ve never used Rdio and can’t because I’m outside the US, but I’ve seen many comments from Americans that they have tried Spotify but are sticking with Rdio).

Spotify’s major strength is the size of its database. At 10 million, there is a huge range of content here [1]. Unfortunately, the social side of Spotify isn’t great (I’ll discuss this more in a later post), so it’s best used for known-item searching.

How I use Spotify

1. Creating playlists for festivals. Any European music festival will have dozens of playlists. Here’s mine for the End of the Road festival (folk and indie/alt-rock). Without really promoting it I have 30-odd subscribers, only a couple of whom I’ve met. I create comprehensive playlists, others go for one song per artist, or the top five songs. As a result, by the time I go to a festival, I’ve been primed with a handful of bands to check out, that I would never have known about. (My discovery of the Duke and the King, and the Low Anthem, especially, I owe to Spotify).

2. Checking out new releases. Spotify’s new releases feature is weak, but there are third party sites that do this better. I subscribe to Spotimy‘s new releases playlist, which updates weekly. They also have playlists for the best reviewed albums, and more. It’s trivial to browse the Spotimy playlist and check out artists that I might never have bothered with, otherwise. Some users create monthly playlists – the best I’ve found is I Am Not the Enemy‘s 50 song monthly playlist of indie, Americana, electronica and more.

3.  Generally browsing playlists. Spotify isn’t good at this, unless you’re already friends with the creator, and they have set the playlist to public. Otherwise, you have to rely on someone sending you a URL. Luckily, the excellent website Share My Playlists does exactly what it says – anyone can upload a playlist, the best will be publicised. It contains anything from recreations of known playlists (Rolling Stone or Pitchfork ‘best of’ lists) to playlists created by labels or artists, to general thematic or stylistic or personal playlists.

4. Checking out new bands. Here, Spotify works really well with the songs I play on Spotify are scrobbled to, which suggests recommended artists and gigs. I can quickly go back to Spotify to check out the bands: I’ve discovered David Cronenberg’s Wife and Dignan Porch, both playing at my local pub, this way.

5. Discovering new music. Spotify contains a radio setting, which lets you play tracks based on a mix of genre(s) and decade: 60s soul, 70s punk, 80s hiphop and 90s pop, or any other combination. (50s techno doesn’t work very well). And because Spotify is a library rather than a radio station, you can skip forward or backwards, or start listening to other tracks by any of the artists. Spotify also has artist radio, good for discovering bands similar to those you already know. (Note that I’m told that the radio function isn’t available on free Spotify).

6. Playing through an artist’s discography. So far, I’ve listened to every Sonic Youth album, in sequence.

In the next post: what Spotify does badly, and what Spotify is not.

[1] In an unscientific test, I checked for albums by my 12 most played bands on

  1. Wilco: all albums including the live Kicking Television, but only some of the tracks from the Mermaid Avenue albums they recorded with Billy Bragg.
  2. The National: the last three albums and the Virginia EP, but not the first two.
  3. The Mountain Goats: 10 out of 13 studio albums, plus 3 compilations.
  4. Pixies: All five albums plus two compilations and the B-Sides compilation, and a number of singles. At the BBC is the only one missing.
  5. The Magnetic Fields: All eight albums plus the House of Tomorrow EP and some singles.
  6. The New Pornographers: All five albums.
  7. The Flaming Lips: A huge number of EPs and albums, not quite comprehensive, but it’s mostly here.
  8. Ramones: A few classics missing: Road to Ruin and Leave Home, plus the mid-career trilogy of Animal Boy, Halfway to Sanity and Too Tough to Die. Still, that leaves 9 of their 14 studio albums, plus two live albums and several compilations.
  9. The Beatles: none (only iTunes has legal Beatles content online)
  10. Glasvegas: both studio albums.
  11. Eels: All nine studio albums, two live and all three compilations.
  12. The Low Anthem: all four albums.

About simonchamberlain

New Zealand librarian and music fan, living in London.
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