The ways that smartphones have impacted and changed the way we consume media is truly amazing. Pairing a portable media device with an always-on data connection has forced us and content providers to rethink consumption and think beyond local storage, landing us with some of the best cloud streaming services imaginable.
One huge cloud streaming service that stormed the market late last summer was Spotify. Among others, Spotify has made people think outside the boundaries of owning music and to consider paying a monthly fee to "rent" music. But not everyone has made (or will make, for that matter) the switch. For instance, in his article on why he uses an iPhone 4S, our own Aaron Baker explained that he likes owning his music and went on to say:
"When I mention the ease of use of the iTunes ecosystem and my desire to find something similar for Android or Windows Phone, I'm greeted with an array of cloud music options. I can appreciate the "send it to the cloud!" trend that's taking off as of late, and it works really well when you have data connectivity. Not so much when you're in a WiFi-less airplane, in a dead zone (which, much to my chagrin, still exist), or getting close to your tiered monthly data allotment. All things that still happen to me on a daily basis. Each alternative also requires too many steps. Downloading an app, streaming music, moving a song to a playlist, clicking 'make available offline.' Too much."
I, for one, am one of the many who have tried to push the questionable world of streaming media on to Aaron. From the day that Spotify launched its beta service in the United States, I have been a faithful user and feel that I would have a hard time going back to the way things were before, when I had to own my music. The switch to Spotify as my primary music service was completely painless, and much to my surprise, turned out to be one of the better decisions I made in 2011.
Nonetheless, people (especially my friends and family) hound me over why I pay to listen to music and why I don't just buy albums. To be simple, it's ease of use and peace of mind. To expand on that a bit, here's why Spotify (and other forms of streaming) has worked so well for me:
No more wasting time loading music
I buy a lot of phones – well, I used to. Throughout 2010 and 2011, somewhere north of 40 devices have come and gone. I was on a smartphone buying rampage and would get bored after just a couple weeks with a device, so I would buy another and sell the old one. As you can imagine, trying to keep up with your own music starts to become a chore when you're manually loading your music on a phone every few weeks.
Sure, a microSD card saved me a bit of trouble in the process, but not every phone has an SD card slot (Nexus S, iPhone 4/4S, etc.). And nothing quite compares to simply signing into an account and virtually any song you could ever imagine being at your disposal. To have those songs available to you when the network may not be, create a playlist and mark it for offline listening. Fairly straightforward and simple.
Cross-platform, cross-device sync
When you switch devices as much as I have in the past, you start to pick up on a few things, like all of the different computer software you have to use to manage all of your music. Android devices won't sync with iTunes, and you can't manually load your own music (via file browser or Finder) on the iPhone. Therefore, you have to learn different ways to use and setup each phone the way you like it with the media you want on it.
With Spotify, you don't have to worry about that. The desktop client will allow you to sync your own music with the service, regardless of the mobile platform you are using. Spotify now supports iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, BlackBerry and Palm devices (not webOS). As for all of the music you have stored in playlists and starred in your Spotify account, they'll be there when you login to the app, instantly. Make a change on one device, the changes appear on the other devices immediately. When you carry two phones, a tablet and a MacBook daily, and listen to Spotify from them all, this cross-device sync is irreplaceable.
I never have to own a song ... ever again
There's nothing I hate more than keeping up with my own music library. Granted, I do it when I have to, I don't like to do it. I used to be anal about my library – every song, every album and every artist had to be titled in the same format and in a specific place within the library. As you can imagine, when you own somewhere around 40GB of music, that becomes quite a chore.
If the music isn't mine and I'm just "renting" it each month, it's not so bad. I don't worry about how something is named or what order the albums are in. It no longer matters. And for those songs or albums I only want to listen to once or twice, I don't have to own them anymore, I can simply listen to them until my heart is content, then forget about it forever. The downside is that after, say, a year with Spotify, I will have spent the equivalent of 12 or so albums, but I will have nothing to show for it. If the service were to be taken away tomorrow, I would be $70 in the hole and have no more music to my name than I had seven months ago. (That said, I would just switch to another streaming service.)
A seamless switch between offline and online listening
Like I stated before, if you want to listen to songs with Spotify but know you're going to be in an area with spotty (or no) coverage, simply make a playlist and mark it for offline listening. To revisit one of Aaron's points, this is "too much" and possibly more difficult than simply adding all of your own music and just listening to it locally. Maybe for some. For me, it has been the most hassle-free music experience I've ever had, thanks to the seamless switching between streaming and local playing. I can listen to my owned music and stream music within the same playlist and never know the difference.
The night before flying off to Las Vegas, I scrolled through a few of my favorite Spotify playlists (that I've created over the span of a couple months) on my iPhone and tapped a toggle that read "Available Offline." It's not like I have to create a playlist every time I login to the app – I have an account and develop these playlists over time with my computer, and they automagically appear on my phones. When I login to the app, all I have to do is decide which ones I want offline.
It's good to keep in mind, though, that Spotify does not come without some flaws of its own. For instance, I've had playlists consisting of several of my favorite bands run completely dry. Over a matter of two weeks, one of the artists' songs disappeared from the playlist, then another and another ... and so on until the entire playlist was empty. Needless to say, Spotify was going through some licensing issues with a few record labels at the time and the bands' songs were being pulled from the service. Over time, a great deal of them finally returned and all was well. But rest assured, I was furious and about two Between The Buried And Me songs way from canceling my account.
It has its quirks – like forgetting to make some of your favorite music available offline before heading into a spotty area and being almost entirely without music – but it works remarkably well, particularly for someone who carries multiple devices and is constantly switching to new phones. It's also worth noting that I don't use Spotify entirely by itself. I compliment it with Google Music for those times that Spotify doesn't have something I'm craving (that I already own). And until Spotify adds radio listening (very similar to Pandora) to their mobile apps, I will continue to use Pandora to discover new artists.
Overall, it has served me very well and completely changed how I feel about owning music. I may never buy a song ... ever again.