Spotify online music service arrives in U.S

You may have not heard of Spotify, but millions of Europeans are intimately aware of the world class online music service. Now, Spotify is available in the U.S., in free, premium, and mobile versions. There has been a lot of domestic online buzz about Spotify, but many Americans are unaware of what may arguably be the largest legal online music service, with a claimed 15 million tracks of music available.

At present, users who would like to subscribe to the free version of the Spotify service must have an invite to join, and several affinity groups and consumer products are offering invites to Spotify. The general public can request an invite on the main Spotify Web page (www.spotify.com/us/hello-america), and an invite will be sent via e-mail as capacity becomes available. An invite is not necessary for those who would like to subscribe to the paid Spotify service, which starts at $4.99 per month for the “Unlimited” subscription, and $9.99 monthly for the “Premium” service. Spotify is available in PC and MAC versions for desktops, laptops, netbooks and most smart phones, making these millions of music tracks readily available whenever and wherever needed. The free desktop version is advertiser supported, with ads displayed along the right edge of the desktop display, and an occasional short audio ad after a number of selections have been played; the paid subscriptions do not display or play ads. The offline versions are only available by paid subscription.

I received an early invite to Spotify, and signed up for the free version. After registering online using the registration code provided by Spotify in the e-mail invitation, I downloaded the 5 megabyte installer for the desktop version. The installation ran smoothly, and upon completion, opened the desktop utility. On the left edge of the desktop utility are a series of choices that can locate and display any music already on the computer, import playlists from Windows Media Player, add titles to a playlist, and display any compatible devices that may be connected to the computer. The “What’s New” feature opens a tabbed central window that displays new releases, the most popular tracks and albums selected by users, and “Feed” displays music shared by your friends on Facebook as well as the latest news from Spotify.

The millions of tracks available can be searched by title or album from the search box, and results can be easily selected into playlists. According to Spotify, “ ... creating playlists is as easy as drag and drop. Each new playlist is saved to your account, and will be accessible from wherever you use Spotify.” Being a fan of classical Gershwin, I did a search for “Rhapsody in Blue,” and well over 100 versions and related titles appeared. On the left of each item is a gold star that can be selected, and this helps create the playlist. On the left side of the window is a button “+ New Playlist,” which I clicked on, and aptly named Rhapsody in Blue. I clicked on the “Starred” link on the left, and the selections that I had chosen were all displayed; I painted the list, and dragged the starred list over to my newly created Rhapsody in Blue playlist, and my customized playlist was immediately created. I added some “An American in Paris” and “Porgy and Bess,” and created my version of about three hours of musical bliss. As each item in the playlist is played, the image of the original album cover appears on the bottom left corner of the display.Spotify offers the opportunity to share tracks and playlists with others. I had to try it, and clicked on the playlist title in the left column, and a “Share” link appeared on the top of the page. With a single click, the playlist can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Microsoft Messenger. The Spotify software instantly posted my playlist on Facebook, and with the displayed link at open.spotify.com/user/iwilsker/playlist/1EYbroWYaBd72nf4hldVXR, anyone can download the free Spotify player and listen to my playlist. I downloaded the Spotify installer to my laptop using the same username and password created for my desktop computer, installed it, and the playlists I created on my desktop magically appeared on my laptop! One click, and I was listening to my favorite music.

The features of Spotify, including any prepared playlists, can be played over most mobile phones with a free or paid subscription, but a paid subscription is necessary to access the playlist offline. In order to listen to streaming Spotify over a mobile or smart phone, a paid premium subscription and a 2.5G or 3G (or faster) connection, or WiFi, is necessary. Users of iPhones or Android devices can download the Spotify app giving full access to Spotify, including synching your own music files with Spotify. According to the Spotify Web site, apps for Symbian phones (mostly from Nokia), Windows phones and Palm phones are in development and are expected to be available soon, but apps for some of these phones might have recently become available. Apps for other phone operating systems may possibly be available, which can be determined by connecting the phone browser to m.spotify.com, and following the on screen prompts. If an app is available, it will be displayed, along with installation instructions.

For those who may desire additional features, the “Unlimited $4.99” or “Premium $9.99” monthly subscriptions will provide additional benefits over the free service. The Unlimited version has all of the features of the free version but does not display or play any advertisements, and has the ability to be available for up to 14 days when traveling outside the U.S. The Premium version has all of the Unlimited features, plus increased functionality on mobile phones, offline availability of playlists on both computers and mobile phones (no Internet connection required), unlimited international access (for travelers going outside the U.S.), enhanced sound quality, and the capability to play Spotify through connected music systems (possibly without a computer). It should be noted that at present, offline content is limited to a precise maximum of 3,333 tracks, which should be adequate for most users.

For those who would like to legally access millions of tracks of online music, and play or share tracks and playlists at will, Spotify may be very entertaining. Oh, and my Rhapsody in Blue playlist is still playing on my computer.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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