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Spotify: Life Without iTunes

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This week’s arrival of Spotify in the App Store (right now limited to UK, Sweden, France, Spain, Norway and Finland stores) could be the ideal opportunity for us all to throw iTunes in the trash and experience the freedom that Spotify has to offer.

Speculation was rife as to whether Spotify would even make it into the App Store. However, Apple’s (s aapl) somewhat unexpected approval of the all-you-can-eat music service means that iPhone and iPod touch users can now listen to anything and (almost) everything, wherever they may be.

For the moment, Spotify is available exclusively in Europe. Released initially for both Mac and PC, the desktop version of Spotify looks and functions quite similarly to iTunes, except with one major difference: everything in the store is free.

Users of Spotify are granted the freedom to cherry pick their favorite tracks, nibbling on morsels of music and sampling the latest flavors, and the tools to legally share them too. You’re able to select any song and instantly generate a URL linking back to the full track, making sharing music a breeze.

The Spotify iPhone app has changed everything. I’m no longer tied to its desktop application. With the iPhone app, I’m able to download and listen to thousands of tracks on the go, which gets me to thinking, is it time I threw iTunes in the trash?

Playlists Versus Libraries

Shifting over from iTunes to Spotify has been a more difficult transition than I expected. Making use of the iTunes “keep my music folder organized” option, my own iTunes library is stored on an external HD where each track is properly named, tagged, numbered and even dated. If I could, I’d wear a top hat and monocle while showing guests around my immaculately maintained iTunes library.


When I’m at home, it’s all about the album experience. I prefer to consume music as the artist originally intended, whether it be the epic tones of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon and Sigur Rós’s Ágætis Byrjun, or the bloops and glitches of Kraftwerk’s Computer World and Aphex Twin’s Chosen Lords.

Out and about however I don’t even tend to listen to music anymore. Over the past couple of years I’ve succumbed to the joys of podcasts via iTunes, subscribing to The Bugle, Answer Me This and Totally Rad Show amongst many others. As a result of this, I’ve increasingly felt as though I’m losing touch with my music collection.

The Album Is Dead

Listening with Spotify is an entirely different experience, though. Like many Europeans who are lucky enough to have a Spotify invite, or affluent enough to pay for a €9.99 premium account, I’ve begun to focus on consuming and sharing music exclusively via playlists.


It’s been a tough transition over to Spotify for me, specifically because there’s no iTunes-style music library. With Spotify, the album is dead, felled by his younger and more agile counterpart, the playlist.

Without the personal music library, the heart of iTunes, there’s none of the satisfaction of flicking through your collection in Cover Flow. And with Spotify managing its vast selection of tracks, never again will you glow with pride after correctly tagging, naming and selecting cover art for your latest procurement.

The App Effect

The Spotify iPhone app doesn’t attempt to ape iTunes or the iPod, rather it plays to its own strengths. In effect, the app further establishes Spotify as an entirely new platform for discovering new music. Although the app is available for free, the service can only be accessed on iPhone by premium subscribers.

The €9.99 monthly subscription fee (equating to roughly $14.50) is worth it though. You’re granted unlimited access to Spotify’s growing library, consisting of almost 4 million tracks. And while there are occasional disappointments in both the mainstream and esoteric departments (there’s currently no Immaculate Collection and very little Boards of Canada), more frequently you’ll find yourself overwhelmed at the breadth and depth of what’s on offer.


Imagine having a free-pass to access everything in the iTunes Music Store. It’s just like that. In the past day I’ve tried a little bit of The Breeders, delved into some classic Radiohead, sampled the delight’s of Jason Schwartzman’s Coconut Records, and, via Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour collection, discovered the joys of Gene Harris, Roy Brown and J.B. Lenoir. It feels liberating and exciting.

Using the desktop app, you’re able to design elaborate and lengthy mixes or, as I do, build playlists out of individual albums. You can then wirelessly sync your playlists to the iPhone app. And here’s the best bit: all of the tracks that are synced to the iPhone are actually downloaded to the device, you can take them with you wherever you go and listen offline.

Life Without iTunes?

The freedom that Spotify offers encourages you to spend more time digging deep, inevitably discovering mountains of new music. No longer can I derive pleasure from pruning my tracks and tending to my albums, but then who cares? With Spotify, I spend more time actually listening to music.

It’s not quite time for me to throw iTunes in the trash though. While I imagine Spotify will have podcasts covered in due course, until they do, iTunes is all but essential. Plus there’s all the albums and artists in my collection that just aren’t available in Spotify, meaning I won’t be wiping my iTunes library just yet.

Until Spotify integrates seriously expands its library and integrates podcast subscriptions, iTunes will be afforded a stay of execution. In the meantime, I’ll be leading a dual life, enjoying podcasts and a few select albums via iTunes, while exploring the vastness that is everything else with Spotify.

While Spotify is currently only available in Europe, stateside readers should be able to try the service soon as Spotify is pegged to arrive in the U.S. before the end of 2009.

34 Responses to “Spotify: Life Without iTunes”

  1. Not all songs are on spotify. The Beatles, Red Hot Chilli Peppers etc are missing. So it’s not all go-go-go.

    However, it is damn good at “mythbusting”. That is, you can genuinely see if you like a tune before you buy an album.

  2. Personally i am chuffed that a service like spotify has come around. I used to work in the digital distribution industry so have a fair idea of how hard it can be for new artists to make their music accesible whilst not simply giving it away. Spotify bridges this gap. I can listen to new artists with no cost to myself and yet the artist will still get paid. Brilliant!

    Lets be honest. No one has enough money to purchase all the music they really want. I have in the past been a peer to peer user simply because i had no money. Not an excuse, but a reason. Spotify now allows me to satisfy my love for music without (a) breaking the law or (b) feeling terrible about robbing artists.

    Am am an Android user and an iPod touch owner. I am seriously considering purchasing the premium subscription. Surely the most appealing feature of spotify is that is is multi platform syncable! I can sync my mac at home, my pc at work, my android phone and my ipod touch with absolutley no messing around!

    Come on people. Spotify is what we (music makers and music lovers) have been waiting for.

  3. I think there are a few assumptions several commenters are making. We need a little clarification before we continue to discuss this:

    – Subscribing to Spotify means access to their platform and service. Therefore ending a subscription doesn’t result in ‘the loss’ of music per se.

    The logic that some of you are using is like claiming that canceling your membership to Netflix means that you’ve lost all the films. Of course, you never owned the films in the first place and, if you’re familiar with the service in both cases, you would have never been under the impression that you actually owned anything.

    – My final point was that Spotify may not supplant iTunes, or indeed any other media player. As a service though, it offers a listening and discovering experience different to that of a standard media player.

    At no point did I claim that Spotify was an ‘iTunes killer’, it’s probably best I don’t try to defend a statement that I didn’t make.

    And finally, with regard to the Spotify and artist royalty discussion, as I mentioned before, I’d love to see some good solid references for this. As a recording artist myself, I’m certainly interested to find out more.

    However, misquoting Torrent Freak and taking the article out of context (Ksbja, I’m looking at you here), won’t help advance the discussion. The salient quote from the article is surely this,

    “He says that Sony Music, after “suing the sh*t out of The Pirate Bay” is acting just like them by not paying the artists.

    “I would rather be raped by Pirate Bay than by Hasse Breitholtz and Sony Music and will remove all of my songs from Spotify pending an honest service,” he says.

    Sony? Dishonest? Surely not…”

    Point being, as I mentioned earlier, it sounds more like it was Sony who were being dishonest here.

  4. I just hate how Spotify rips off artists. One of them sad that they’d rather “get raped by The Pirate Bay than go with Spotify” ( If I want free music, I go all the way to get something that’s free (CC music) or something shared (not encouraged). Alternatively, there’s iTunes store. That is, either be “fair” and buy/DL something free, or be “unfair” and get for free anything. Just don’t pretend to be “fair”.

  5. Synthmeister

    Portability is one reason subscription services haven’t taken off.

    The other reason is that your music disappears if you stop the subscription or if Spotify goes under.

    The Zune model where you get to keep 10 tracks per month (I think) is much, much better. But then, like Craig Ferguson said, “The Zune zucks.”

  6. As a new European user of Spotify I have to say that the most exciting feature for me personally is the portability in my Android phone. I do own music though was encumbered by having to copy everything on my HTC Magic which isn’t an Ipod killer. Though the Spotify app changes the game completely in my case. Now I can organize my playlists from my laptop and take it with me. Portability is the reason that subscription services didn’t take off before; Spotify definitely has raised the industry standard. Business models are constantly forced to change because of technology. Just look back at the CD to MP3 revolution that is the Itunes Store. Logically this is the next step, taking us again deeper into the ‘cloud.’

  7. I mirror Jarod’s sentiments. I’m in the US, so I obviously haven’t used Spotify. However other subscription services do exist and they haven’t been able to supplant iTunes as the digital music application of choice in terms of sales and usage. iTunes works under the premise that people would rather own their music instead of renting it, and given the impermanence of those services, resulting in people’s loss of their music plus the money they paid for it, that assumption hasn’t been proven wrong yet.

    My challenge to the writer is to explain how Spotify is different enough from previous subscription models to challenge the assumption that subscription models don’t work as iTunes killers.

  8. Subscription based models don’t work. If they did, they would have been popular a long time ago. iTunes is king because it does what it’s supposed to the way it’s supposed to be. All these wannabe are pure junk. It’s no surprise they offer their services for free. It’s called being desperate and knowing that no one in their right mind (except for an idiot) would throw their money on broken service like Spotify. It’s available on in Europe. GOOD. They can keep it!

  9. And what’s gonna happen when, eventually, spotify shuts down it’s service ? You end up with just plain… nothing for your money.

    That was the reason why I never bought any DRMed music (which stops playing when the provider shuts down) and I will never subscribe to Spotify. Just a waste of money.

    Note : it’s a shame that the notion of ALBUM is going to the trash like this. The cohesion of the ALBUM is important for many artists…

    • I think you’re missing the point Eric. Spotify isn’t about purchasing tracks, their business model is a subscription that effectively enables users, folks like me and you, to rent the tracks as long as the subscription is active.

      On the desktop, the tracks are streamed. On the iPhone, you can stream and take a limited number of tracks with you for offline listening.

      There’s no purchasing as such and Spotify doesn’t market the service like, say, Microsoft did with their effort.

      While I think the DRM discussion is an important one, I don’t think it’s necessarily relevant in this particular discussion about Spotify. You’re not purchasing the tracks, you’re subscribing to access to their library and service. It’s a crucial difference.

      Regarding the album, I agree that the notion of ‘the album’ is changing. This may be a problem for some artists, for myself, my album is intended to be 13 or so tracks that form a cohesive and coherent whole.

      However, looking at how people listen to my music, via, I can see that almost everyone – musos included – listen to it in whole the first time, then dip into to the odd track here and there, while listening to other random tracks by other bands. While this isn’t what I intended, I can accept that different people will listen to my music in different ways.

      Spotify is designed around the notion of playlists. However, you’re also given the choice to listen album by album too. I’d argue that this is the best of both worlds.

  10. Ok folks, further to Linz’s much-need clarification, here are a few handy info tid-bits about Spotify:

    – The desktop app streams at up to 320kbps

    – You do not need an Internet connection to listen when using the iPhone/touch app (that’s kinda the whole point)

    – In fact, you can take up to 3,333 tracks with you for playing in offline mode (again, that’s kinda the whole point)

    – The Spotify desktop application functions in much the same way as a giant iTunes library, you browse through music just like iTunes in list/category view

  11. The streams that go to the mobile apps are actually 160kbps in Ogg Vorbis format and with the additional, but necessary, overhead it will be a little more than 170kbps that goes to your phone.

  12. The ultimate irony would be to see Microsoft release a Zune Pass application for the Cocoa Touch platform. That would actually be pretty awesome since that is really the only appealing part of the Zune platform IMHO.

  13. DarwinOSX

    How about you need an internet connection to listen. 64kpps? I think not. No control over format and bit rate? No. No way will this replace iTunes. There is a reason why subscription services have not done well. Spotify is nice for what it is but that’s all.

  14. I mainly use the spotify desktop app to quickly listen to a song I don’t have, or to find new music I don’t know by just clicking around.

    But as a full fledged music application? No way! It’s very hard to search for specific genres, the search results are almost unusable, you can’t browse through music without listening, for short there’s really not much of an interface at all!

    Spotify is really a very shoddy and unfinished product in my opinion.
    So iTunes can stay for now.

    • No, I’m sorry to correct you on that but I feel it’s necessary. Spotify streams songs to the iPhone, iPod Touch and Android platform (to this date) at 160KBPS which is more than a standard MP3 track playing at 128KBPS. For premium users on the desktop version you receive 320KBPS at high signal and 256KBPS at a standard wi-fi signal… so they use a variable bit rate.
      It’s best to support your answer with backing (I hope you do the same) so here it is; (view the technical information section to the bottom of the page)

  15. Yep, there is a discussion here in Sweden that the artists make very little money on music in Spotify. Read more (Google translated),

    Apple decided you can’t run apps in the background – don’t blame Spotify for this. You need to JB your iPhone and download “Backgrounder” to be able to run apps in the background.

  16. You forgot to mention that spotify can’t play music in the background, meaning you are forced to sit with the app open on your iphone in order to listen to your latest playlist.
    Which is, to me, the only dealbreaker with the whole service.

  17. Spotify sucks.

    The artist gets no pay. For six months they get about 30 dollars!!! Spotify owns by the recordlabels. In a couple of years we don´t have any artist left if we use services like Spotify.

    So Spotify suck big time!

    • This, and a few other articles address this particular problem with Spotify: (unfortunately, it’s only available in Norwegian)

      The article is about a small record company that received only 800 NOK ($120) for the use of their entire catalog for the last eight months (including at least 100 000 plays for one of their albums). Spotify’s problem seems to be that there are not enough paying customers yet, so the cash flow isn’t big. Let’s hope this changes with the iPhone and Android applications.

    • Hey DS and Macuser,

      I make music myself and I’m still unsure about exactly how effective Spotify’s royalty payment system is.

      As Josh said, it’d be handy to have a couple of links/references for this (in English please!). I’d really like to look into this – all I’ve heard so far are rumors and word of mouth.

    • Torbjørn Vik Lunde

      There has been several Norwegian bands and artists in the media complaining about pay.

      However, the media also reported some Swedish artists now making more through Spotify than through iTunes.

      I think we should give Spotify some more time, I think it could work out great and become a good alternative.

      Personally I’m an album-guy so I still prefer iTunes, but I can definitely see why people who simply want to listen to songs would prefer Spotify.

    • Spotify have in newspapers here in Sweden spoken about this problem. Spotify does not regulate how much the artists get paid, they just give the labels what the contract says. Then the label decides how much its artists should get.

      So Spotify does not suck, the labels sucks.