Friday, November 18, 2011 at 11:53 am.

How 125 days with Spotify changed my music habits

SpotifyNow that I work from home and don’t commute as frequently, I have been listening to more music on my main computer. Not a lot, but for at least 5-15 hours per week. For the past few months — about 125 days since Spotify launched, actually — I have also used Spotify in addition to iTunes.

Here are some of my observations of how Spotify has changed my music habits.

  • When I know what I want to listen to, and/or plan to listen at a higher volume, I still try to listen to it in iTunes first. My computer speakers and headphones are decent, and I prefer a brighter sound, so audio quality and an equalizer are important to me.
  • If I don’t have an album, I will go to Spotify to listen to it. If I like it enough to play it more than twice, I’ll probably buy it from Amazon or iTunes. (Have done this a few times already. I’ve actually probably spent about $60-$80 on Amazon and iTunes since I started using Spotify.) I have also not bought certain albums that I had planned to, because listening to them a few times on Spotify proved to be enough. I have also found, liked, and purchased at least one album that I discovered on Spotify’s limited editorial (front page) section. More of this, please.
  • Why am I still buying songs when I am paying for a subscription to listen to as much as I want? Part of it is the sound quality. Part is that syncing stuff to my iPhone (and playing it back on all devices) is still much easier in the iTunes world than the Spotify world. And part of it, probably, is some weird psychological desire to still “own” something I care about.
  • The whole “stuff your friends are listening to on Facebook” feature is neat. At first, I used it as a gag, playing Weird Al and Nickelback songs to scare people. It’s something I wanted AOL to build into AIM in college. But here’s what I really want: A live playlist of what my friends are listening to, within Spotify, that I can listen to. Updating in real-time as people listen to more stuff. It might not work for everyone, but I seem to have enough friends listening to Spotify most of the day that it could be interesting. Of course, the playlist itself might suck, but that’s a different problem.
  • I paid for Spotify’s $10/month premium plan, mostly to get rid of the commercials. I am typically an advertising fan, and I still miss 90s Chicago-radio ad jingles. But Spotify doesn’t offer those types of commercials. And it’s annoying to listen to a quiet album while I’m working or before bed and get interrupted with a DAVVVVID GUETTTAAA promotion. It seems Spotify is serving up annoying, unrelated ads just to get you to pay to turn them off. (And it worked!)
  • I love that Spotify offers a standalone app — I do not want to listen to music in yet another Chrome tab, which is why Pandora and Rhapsody haven’t lasted for me. But the Spotify app is pretty disappointing. It doesn’t feel like a great Mac app. It reminds me of TweetDeck — a strange, dark gray thing that is tremendously useful but feels cheap and awkward. Maybe this doesn’t matter to most people, but it matters to me.
  • I’ve run into a few problems with Spotify’s music selection, but not as many as I’d feared. I guess this was a problem in the early days of iTunes, too. I assume it will get better, and not worse, but we’ll see…
  • Some of the stuff I read from musicians pulling out of Spotify or trying to raise money for their next record on Kickstarter makes me feel like listening to Spotify is as dirty as browsing the selection at my local bookstore and then ordering everything from Amazon. But I guess that’s the way the music business crumbles. It’s better than stealing, no? And I’ve been trying to go to more concerts and buy more merch to support the bands I really like.

In general, I really like that Spotify exists, and I plan to continue to use it and iTunes/Amazon in parallel. If anything, it makes me wish that Apple would just take my money and start its own subscription music service already. (The same way seeing the JooJoo in person made me really want an iPad.)

But Spotify still isn’t a mainstream business success yet, and Apple has been smart to stay away from subscriptions as long as it has. Beyond the huge challenge of getting people to sign up for them, there are also some technical and user-experience issues: How to differentiate between music someone owns and music they’re “renting”? Does DRM become necessary again? Why would most people subscribe if they’re mostly stealing music, anyway? Etc.

I also plan to test Rdio out a bit. The company has been kind enough to loan me a free account, so it’s on my list of things to experiment with. But for whatever reason, it feels like Spotify is getting more traction than Rdio. And if Spotify can succeed in making music streaming a social activity, those network effects could matter.

Related: Sirius XM has 85 times more subscribers than Spotify